Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Marcelo Costa
The superhero genre often uses the “super” element as a way to explore experiences that in real life would be ordinary. Radiant Black certainly fits the genre, as it starts with the classic origin story trope to propel the narrative forward. This first issue, titled “(Not So) Secret Origin,” is reminiscent of Marvelstyle comics in the sense that the hero starts as a regular human until a life-altering event changes him into a superpowered being. It is a relatable story about a struggling writer drowning in debt.
Kyle Higgins states in his afterword that his intent is to portray a flawed and realistic superhero going through regular insecurities. His style highlights on the characters’ emotional reactions. One is able to read between the lines when there is more going on behind the words. This is complemented well with Marcelo Costa’s vivid illustration of facial expression. Costa also balances cold and warm colors depending on the setting allowing for the characters to blend in while being distinct, making for a visually pleasing aesthetic. The sharp lines of the illustration are contrasted by a consistent soft lighting that adds a bit of a noir feel to the comic, giving a more personal tone to the story. Much like a noir is often about an exhausted detective, Radiant Black is about an exhausted writer.
We are introduced to the protagonist, Nathan, at his low point. He is past the part of his life when he had assumed his career would take off and instead must move back in with his parents due to overwhelming debt. There we meet his old friend Marshall, who makes an impression with his bold but questionable “mixed metaphors,” as Nathan puts it. In their discussion of Nathan’s failed career, we learn that Nathan is reluctant to receive help.
This becomes the main theme for the rest of the issue since Nathan is aggravated by Marshall’s attempts to help. When Nathan undergoes the typical transformation that is usually the catalyst in superhero stories, it is a tad rushed and random, but the character’s reactions make up for that. His new powers, rather than create another problem for Nathan to solve, highlight his established issues with receiving help.
Nathan’s superhero outfit’s sleek design is evocative of the Terry McGinnis suit from Batman Beyond as well as Iron Man’s helmet. This combination is aesthetically pleasant, and the central emblem is colored with black and neon white, which feels very futuristic.
While the acquisition of his powers at first appeared to be a completely random event in terms of plot, they came to him when he was at a low point. Often a superhero’s power is connected to some aspect of their personal lives. I soon came to the conclusion, at the risk of overreaching, that this may not be a coincidence. Since his powers come from a mini black hole, it might serve as a metaphor to the current state of Nathan’s life. He is deeply in debt, and he is going through writer’s block which hinders his career.
A black hole destroys anything that gets caught in its intense gravity. Nathan feels that he has destroyed the opportunities that he had, leaving him emotionally hollow with the absence of accomplishment. His debt, like a black hole, sucks away his ability to fend for himself. By the end of the issue, Nathan embraces his new powers as an opportunity to redefine himself outside of being a failed writer. It is Marshall that reassures him and grounds his identity as a writer.
Nathan and Marshall are a typical ‘best buds’ dynamic with a hint of tension. This is due to Marshall’s forthright personality that contrasts with Nathan’s more low-key but equally stubborn personality. More than once, Nathan corrects Marshall’s use of adage. Since this is only the first issue and focused on establishing the setting and plot, Nathan and Marshall are not yet fleshed out beyond these first impressions. Since Marshall took an active role in helping Nathan figure out his new power, combined with their tendency to clash, I get the feeling his role will be something beyond a sidekick in the future. He might be supportive, but he is also very snarky.
The plot isn’t particularly unique so far because it adheres very close to commonly used superhero tropes. However, the use of tropes is not necessarily a negative and could simply be a device to begin the narrative. Thus far, the tropes work, but the comic should avoid leaning too hard into them at the risk of being a crutch and instead focus on characterization. Given that the title of this issue is “(Not So) Secret Origin,” along with Higgins’ experience writing for superhero comics, he is clearly self-aware of his use of convention. There are many ways this comic can find its identity, and one way is if it keeps its focus on Nathan as a writer while using his new powers as a supplement.
Overall, Radiant Black, while not a standout yet, has a lot of promise. It’s a fun read with dynamic dialogue and an engaging art style. Starting the protagonist at his lowest point career-wise is an intriguing element that has me curious to see what happens next and how his new powers will influence him.