Radiant Black #1, published by Image Comics, February 2021, is an amazing start to what should be an excellent series.
The story begins with Nathan Burnett, an average Joe and a writer struggling to make ends meet. Actually, he’s so far in debt that he can’t even see “the ends” from where he is and he has no viable way to actually make them meet. When we meet him, he’s having a hammer and tongs argument with his bank over a loan application they’ve denied. Nathan explains that his new novel is on the verge of being published and money will soon pour in. The bank is not buying it – but they’re ever so polite.
Without bridge funding, Nathan is going to have to make drastic life decisions and he’s not looking forward to that.
Nathan is having this conversation while waiting inside his car. It seems that Nathan, the “on the verge of success” writer, is making those ends kind of meet by driving for a ride-share service.
In this economy, who isn’t like Nathan or who doesn’t know someone like Nathan. I was closer to living the life of Nathan than I’d like to admit when I was working for Rockstar San Diego. Scary!
So Radiant Black starts off by putting the reader into the shoes of someone on the down and out.
It gets worse. Nathan’s parents welcome him back in, with heavy guilt overtones heaped on him by his dad. His best high school buddy, Marshall, makes a big deal about taking him out on the “new/old” town to show him how things haven’t really changed that much since the last time they met.
Marshall is not exactly the best role model for Nathan. The two bond a bit over drinks in a familiar watering hole and Nathan shares more details about his failed writing career. Marshall eddies back and forth between being almost empathetic to his chum’s situation and forcing him closer to the edge of the precipice he’s teetering on.
Don’t Look Now …
… but when the two buds leave the bar, there’s an inciting incident hovering nearby.
It looks like an artist’s rendition of a black hole, very stylized and cool, approaching the two young men, floating in the air, enticing them to investigate it further by not enticing them at all.
It hovers while they talk about it, theorize about it, and then …
… Nathan grabs it.
Yes, he grabs the inciting incident! Cue lightning effects … and, as with all proper inciting incidents, nothing will be the same again for either Nathan or Marshall.
As was said before, Radiant Black is an amazing start to what should be an excellent series. Nathan is every bit a Peter Parker-esque figure, all that youthful angst, and boyish indecisiveness. Maybe he’s a gifted writer, maybe not. We don’t know. The reader naturally gravitates toward him as he takes on the persona of Radiant Black, the superhero identity given him when he touches the black hole entity. The question is: will he be a better superhero than he was a writer?
We have an equal fascination with his friend, the mercurial, not-so-innately-sympathetic Marshall. Because I don’t want to overdo the Spider-man analogies (where Marshall would be similar to the not-so-brilliant version of Harry Osborne), let’s just say he’s actually more like Eddie Haskell from the 60s era Leave It To Beaver TV series. All moxie and brio, but seemingly little to back it up.
There’s so much to discover about each of the main characters and their relationship with the new world they’re thrust into. Also, where did the Radiant Black powers come from that drive Nathan (and the story) forward? With great power comes great … responsibility? Hmm. More like “comes great uncertainty and even a little bit of reluctance,” especially as the story aims to include at least one additional radiant figure and the struggle it represents to Nathan.
Superior Words & Pictures
Kyle Higgins’ writing is spot on. I read issue #1 a few times to be sure of that, however. He imbues his characters with real-life qualities so that they are very relatable. He isolates the action in set-piece locales so that you’re able to suspend your disbelief during even the most unbelievable of moments – and there are some pretty unbelievable moments. At times Marshall is almost too “out there” in the way he takes on authority figures, but without that “break but don’t bend” mentality you’d have too soft a character type to play against Nathan’s much more beaten down identity.
Marcelo Costa’s artwork is very solid. He captures Nathan’s expressions extremely well, especially during the first act of the story where Nathan is talking on the phone. Ask any actor; making the mundane seem interesting is a challenge. Talking on the phone can be as exciting as watching paint dry, but these shots are very well delineated. Costa’s handling of the action is likewise done well. Overall, a great job of pencils, inks, and colors.
Most comics don’t acknowledge the logo maker, but I must say that Rick Bloom’s Radiant Black logo is transcendent. It looks equally good splashed across a double-truck page spread as it does on Nathan’s superhero-configured chest. T-shirts? Who mentioned anything about T-shirts? But it would look really, really good on T-shirts. There. I mentioned it.
Becca Carey’s lettering complements the panels but is especially good when Nathan and Marshall are engaging in rapid-fire speechifying. Such panels are not very spacious, so the tucking of the one-word balloon into another really gives that impression of speed speaking.
I couldn’t help but ask myself the question as I re-read issue #1: What would the story have been like if Marshall, and not Nathan, had grabbed the black hole object? Vastly different, I surmise. But that’s a different story altogether.
Given my own version of the 20 Minute Rule, I read Radiant Black for 20 minutes and was very satisfied with how things were going. I continued to the end of issue #1, then re-read it. Then I emailed my editor so I could write about it.
Considering all that …
… bring on issue #2. I’m already ready.