I really just… can’t with modern day Marvel or DC. And that’s really frustrating.
In an era where independent comics are proving they are capable of anything and everything–of telling any kind of story under the sun, from realistic coming-of-age dramas to sprawling sci-fi space operas–you know what I still want?
I’ve grown up on Marvel and DC, and for me, comic books also equate to superheroes. And that’s a Me Problem, 100%. I accept that. When I want series not about superheroes, I go to movies or manga.
But when I read a comic book, I want whisked away to tales of extraordinary beings and fantastical powers being used as metaphors for our own real life struggles. I like bombastic costumes and onomatopoeia and larger than life plans!
And yet, I find the current output from The Big Two to be… underwhelming at best, most of the time. At least from their flagship titles. Everything there is stagnation and reheated ideas. How many years can you tell the same stories of 30 year old Peter Parker? How many Robins can Bruce Wayne go through while he seemingly never ages?
So what I most want is a solid independent comic helmed by a consistent creative team with a unified vision, giving me their take on the superhero genre. I’ve really enjoyed books such as Savage Dragon, Invincible, and Black Hammer.
So imagine my joy when a buddy informed me of a relatively new series called Radiant Black!
TITLE: Radiant Black
Writer and Artist: Kyle Higgins and Marcelo Costa
Protagonists: Radiant Black
Antagonists: Radiant Red
Man, writers LOVE writing about writers.
It’s a really weird trope, but a super common one when you start noticing it, and as a writer myself, I noticed it a long time ago and have never ever been able to stop.
The amount of protagonists across various levels of fiction who are writers as opposed to any other kind of profession is weirdly disproportionate. And I can kind of see why from a thematic standpoint: writing is Man Vs Himself. Insecurities and psychoses and limitations and desires all wrapped up in one ball, and it’s incredibly easy to project those kinds of character flaws and struggles out into a bigger “plot” and create a two-tiered dynamic for a central character to face.
But you know what?
I bet you can do the same thing with, like, architecture. But writers don’t know what architects go through; we know what WRITERS go through. So that’s easy.
And so, Radiant Black is–or, at least, it starts off as–the story of Nathan, a failed writer who is buried in debt and has moved back home with his parents to sort out his life. During a night out with his best friend Marshal, Nathan has a superhero secret origin where he touches a floating black hole and is transformed into the hero Radiant Black!
For a while, Nathan’s inability to write or accomplish much out of his life mirrors his newfound abilities that he refuses to really work on or even accept until he’s forced into it. He finds another like him, the apparently more villainous Radiant Red, and ends up fighting this antagonist in a typical misunderstanding between funnybook character empowered beings.
And then, halfway through the book, Nathan dies and the power moves on to Marshal, who is more willing to do what the the voice inside his suit wants him to.
Okay, so Nathan doesn’t DIE-die. It’s a typical work-of-fiction cop-out. He is revived and taken to the hospital where, as of the end of volume one, he remains in critical condition. But I was still thrown for a loop when the book just whoopsie-daisied and swapped heroes out on me!
Yes, this scratches that itch I mentioned earlier about wanting a good, focused superhero story that probably won’t be married to keeping these characters mired in the same status quo for fifty years while a hundred different creative teams rotate through.
I don’t know if it’s the basic story elements similarities or not, but Marcelo Costa’s art is very reminiscent of Ryan Ottley from Invincible. The faces, the body shapes. It feels very familiar. It’s grittier and more shaded for sure, but I do get that impression. Which is a good thing! Because Ottman knew how to draw a fun heroic story, and so Costa’s art already seems to inherently belong in such a world.
The shift from Nathan to Marshal was unexpected (though on a re-read, the clues are all there), and it really threw me for a loop. On the one hand, I kind of felt like the story tricked me by focusing on Nathan for the first several issues, but after thinking about it? He’s clearly coming back in later issues to set up some kind of dynamic with Marshal over the RB powers. So for that alone, I really want to keep going with this series. Who is the ACTUAL central protagonist here?
One scene in particular that I dig sees Nathan responding to a tongue-in-cheek request for help on Twitter from some fans who had a tire blowout en route to a Chicago Bulls game. Nathan shows up, realizes he has no idea how to change a tire, and ends up flying the family to the game. During a day he has set aside to get some writing done but kept finding excuses to… not do any.
I think most people who know my taste in things know I really enjoy when stakes are narrowed down, and they can’t get much lower than “family is going to be late for a basketball game”, but that issue gives as good of a look into who Nathan wants to be (and who he inescapably is) as any other.
Also, I know what it’s like to find reasons not to write! So you got me after all with your Writing About Writers Writing, Kyle Higgins!
Oh, and one a final note, unrelated to this book? For anyone who has been reading my The Chosen story over on my website, that’s a story I’ve been working on for YEARS. Longer than Nathan and his story idea, even. I’ve decided to once again restart it and start quasi-publishing it on my site.
Well, in Radiant Black, there is an Asian American girl with light-inspired powers who goes by the name Radiant Red.
Imagine how reading that felt to me when one of the characters in my story is an Asian American girl with light-inspired powers who goes by the name Radiant.
I mean, the POWERS are dissimilar enough, but still…
ANYWAY, it’s led to my hitting some thesauruses to try to rename my character. THANKS, RADIANT BLACK.
Radiant Black is a really enjoyable comfort food sort of book telling exactly the kind of story I wanted to find more of. So I might already be bought in, but I am a fan. Familiar art and a mysterious story combine to create one of the best modern Capes books on the market.