The Power Rangers are teens with attitudes for a reason. Like all young superheroes, as they come into unimaginable power, their youth paints a fascinating contrast to the responsibility of growing into young adults. But what happens when someone who’s already done their growing up gets that power?
That’s where Radiant Black comes in. Written by Power Rangers and Rise of Ultraman’s Kyle Higgins, and with art by Marcelo Costa (likewise of Power Rangers fame, with work on Firefly, Self/Made, and more) and lettering by Becca Carey, the new Image Comic series follows the life of would-be-novelist Nathan Burnett. A down on his luck writer who finds himself returning to his hometown and the life he thought he’d left behind, Nathan actually finds what’s left of his life turned entirely upside down when a glowing light transforms him into a psychokinetic masked superhero.
It’s got a big vibe of the kind of personal struggle and superhero antics that feels very evocative on not just Higgins and Costa’s prior work with the Power Rangers ongoing at Boom Studios, but that series’ own larger-than-life roots in the world of Japan’s tokusatsu heroes. To find out more about the new series, io9 chatted with Higgins and Costa over email about inspirations, collaborating on a creator-owned take evocative of the franchises they’ve loved and worked on, and making a more mature hero reckon with the growing pains of adulthood. Check all that out, as well as an exclusive look inside the pages of Radiant Black #1 below!
James Whitbrook, io9: Why did you think now was the time to focus on a creator-owned series like this?
Kyle Higgins: Well first and foremost, creator-owned comics are incredibly important to me. They scratch a very different itch than Work-for-Hire, and while I haven’t had a new creator-owned series out since The Dead Hand, I have several in the works. Building worlds is fun—building worlds for yourself is even more fun.
The background for Radiant Black—including a miniature black hole as a source of superpowers, how it works and where it comes from—was something I’ve been thinking about since I left Power Rangers. The more I’ve gotten into tokusatsu over the years—with series like Kamen Rider, Ultraman, Super Sentai, etc.—and the more I’ve familiarized myself with their different storytelling conventions, scope, and themes, the more I’ve found myself thinking about how those elements cross over with what we—in America—traditionally think of as superheroes. My first real foray into blending these styles was with Rangers, and now, of course, I’m co-writing Ultraman with one of my favorite people and writers, Mat Groom. But even before Marvel reached out for Ultraman, I knew that I wanted to build something of my own that was influenced by certain aspects of tokusatsu, filtered through a very personal lens.
Then, late last year, Eric Stephenson (Image Publisher and Chief Creative Officer) and I were chatting about contemporary superhero comics and whether there might be a place for something brand new. I told him that building a series like that would be an absolute dream and, in a bit of a coincidence, I had already been toying around with something in that space...
io9: Tell me a little bit how you came around to the ideas that formed the basis of Radiant Black.
Higgins: There’s really two central ideas at the core of this book. The first is what I was just talking about—transformational superpowers by way of a miniature black hole, and all the cosmic world building and mysteries that go along with it.
The second idea is much more personal. About a character named Nathan Burnett, a writer who has just turned 30, and whose dream since he was a teenager was to be the next great Los Angeles crime novelist, like his hero Raymond Chandler. But, despite being in Los Angeles and working towards that for about eight years now, Nathan and his writing haven’t gained much traction. In fact, Nathan may have missed his shot. And so, with mounting debt and his only source of money coming from rideshare driving, he has to move back home to Illinois.
This is a generational story—and not in the “fathers and sons” sense (though, we do have some of that, since Nathan moves back in with his parents). What I’m referring to is more about the tenets of our times. Something that keeps me up at night, to an increasing degree, is just how much the world and the workplace have changed since, say, my parents were my age. How many people I know, who at one point or another, have had to move back home. Who have felt directionless. Who have realized that the path we were sold—college, career, marriage, family—may have been attractive and attainable for some, but certainly not for all. And, not nearly as attainable as it had been for generations prior.
The rise of the gig economy. The proliferation of social media and the false expectations it can imbue us with. The crippling self-doubt and imposter syndrome in an era of celebrity for celebrity’s sake. Nathan’s situation is something I relate to on a variety of levels—getting into your 30s and feeling like you’re not on the right path, or not even knowing what the right path is, I think is incredibly relatable. Or at least, it’s something I’ve struggled with quite a bit over the years. I’ve worked very hard, but I’ve also been very lucky. I’m doing OK, but I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be. I have debt, failures and plenty of insecurities. In 2016, after a bad breakup, I moved back home for a bit, too. While this isn’t a story about me, there’s a lot of me in this story. Down to Nathan’s hometown also being Lockport, Illinois.
So, the idea of building a new superhero who is living in current times and struggling with current generational issues—pandemic aside—was something that really excited me. And something I haven’t really done before. Add to that the opportunity to write about some of the things that keep me up at night, and you get the setup for Radiant Black.
io9: What’s the process been like for the two of you as creatives—what was it about Radiant Black that made you want to work together on this kind of superhero book?
Marcelo Costa: Radiant Black has two things that I love—superheroes and Sentai. When Kyle told me he wanted to mix these two worlds, it was immediately interesting to me. I knew we had the opportunity to create something very special here, especially because of the characters and the timely challenges we’re building for them.
Higgins: Absolutely. And, the really cool thing is, that Marcelo and I had actually worked together before, but in a very different capacity. Originally, we met through Eduardo Ferigato, who brought Marcelo in to color his and Mat Groom’s excellent Image series that I was the editor on, Self/Made. I was blown away by Marcelo’s coloring and artistry, and I wasn’t the only one. Dafna Pleban, my editor on Power Rangers, loved Marcelo’s colors so much that she started hiring him for Rangers work. Marcelo colored a few issues I wrote during Shattered Grid, plus our Soul of the Dragon graphic novel. It was during that time that we started chatting a little bit, and I also remembered Eduardo telling me how great of an illustrator Marcelo was, and that he also really liked Sentai.
So, in October of last year, after Eric and I had spoken about the idea for Radiant Black, I was on the hunt for an artistic partner. I asked Marcelo if he might be up to do some samples, and from his very first designs, it was clear this was going to be a great fit. Communication is the most important part of a creative relationship. We talk every day, over Gchat, and we’re always bouncing around different ideas. Trying different designs, talking through story and art ideas that excite us. Honestly, this whole thing has been an absolute blast.
io9: Most often than not when we’re getting a superhero origin story, it’s a younger character who’s usually on the cusp of big things in their life before the whole superpower things happened. Why did you hit on Nate as not just an older character, but one who finds this fate at this low point in his professional career?
Higgins: I think it’s for that exact reason—that we don’t see it done very much. Also, like I was just saying, a lot of the generational issues we’re going to explore, work better with a slightly older character.
There’s that famous story, too, about Frank Miller developing Dark Knight Returns in part because he realized that he’d become older than Batman. I just turned 35, and this might be my last chance to write some wish fulfillment superhero stories for someone as old as me (laughs).
io9: Talk to me about the process of building Nate’s supersuit look. There’s a simplicity to it that is really effective and feels like there are touches of Power Rangers’ own design sensibilities in there, with a bit of Daft Punk to boot. What were the influences there?
Costa: This is difficult to answer. I feel that a good superhero design needs to be modern, simple and unique. It doesn’t work if you create something too complex, you need to go straight to the point. Strip it down and find the most interesting graphic representation that reads well, even when it’s tiny.
For this book, the idea has always been that Radiant Black could be both an urban hero battling bank robbers in the city as well as a galactic warrior who battles alien threats. The design had to have characteristics that would work for both. We worked on several concepts and several different suits, but none gave us the result we wanted. It was only when I abandoned all previous ideas and started over that Radiant Black really came to life. It was an incredible moment.
Higgins: Oh, it certainly was. I remember exactly where I was when Marcelo sent what has now become the final design—I was walking down a street in Halifax, Nova Scotia after a convention, absolutely freezing, when Marcelo sent the new sketch. I literally stopped on the sidewalk and started texting it to my friends because it was so perfect.
And just to echo what Marcelo was saying, superhero design is such a tricky thing. It’s an incredibly important part of whether or not a new character will work, but it’s also very easy to overwork it. I remember being so excited when, earlier this year, I showed Declan Shalvey—a fantastic artist and designer in his own right—and he pointed out how well the costume read, even at one-inch size. Which I took to mean, we were really onto something.
The one aspect of the suit design that I was really adamant about, though, was the inclusion of expressive eyes. Having written a decent amount of Power Rangers, I’m almost permanently scarred when it comes to thinking about trying to convey emotion through static helmets (laughs). Especially in comics, where you don’t have an actor’s voice or performance to help, it’s even trickier. Daniele Di Nicuolo came up with some really creative solutions, showing an eye or a piece of an expression, through the visor. But even that was tricky to pull off. So, knowing that the powers and the costume were going to be energy-based, it made it a really easy decision to embrace doing Expressive Energy Eyes for Radiant Black.
io9: Seeing glimpses of the first issue, there’s a sense of intimacy to the scale here that feels different to your prior work in this space. Was it important for both of you to have a book that played with superhero archetypes but wasn’t, at least immediately, this big, high stakes, grand-scaled thing?
Higgins: Yeah. Don’t get us wrong, there will definitely be some of that coming up. But the way it’s going to work is really from Nathan’s perspective—we’ll learn about the cosmic, as he does.
Costa: Yes. We are creating an entirely new universe with a host of different characters but it all starts with Nathan. We’ll follow his growth as both a person and a superhero, and both paths play off each other.
Higgins: Exactly. Early on, I was describing this book as Friendly Neighborhood Problems with Interstellar Scope. When we get into the history of the Radiant, how it works and was made, plus who made it…that’s going to open up some really huge avenues. But none of that will matter if we don’t connect with Nathan.
io9: Between books like Power Rangers and now Marvel’s Ultraman mini, it feels like we’re seeing a resurgence of this kind of transforming superhero archetype in comics. Do you see Radiant Black as part of that, and if so, why do you think we’re starting to see these kinds of superhero stories in comics across the board now?
Higgins: That’s a good question. I’m not sure I’m the best person to weigh in though, considering I wrote—or am writing—all of those (laughs).
Costa: You like transforming heroes!
Higgins: Apparently I do! (laughs). A more serious answer to your question though, with regards to Ultraman and Rangers, I think those two are a bit of a coincidence. We launched Power Rangers in very early 2016. And during that run, completely unrelated, Tsuburaya sorted out whatever rights issues surrounded Ultraman in order to bring him back to the west. I know for a fact that Ultraman is a property that’s very close to CB Cebulski’s heart and Tom Brevoort is a big Kamen Rider fan, so it’s not exactly a coincidence that Marvel landed the license. Tom was also my very first editor in comics, and I had just done a Winter Soldier miniseries for him in 2018, which no doubt helped keep me in mind when it came time to find an Ultraman writer.
As to whether or not it’s the beginning of a trend…stay tuned, I suppose. The old adage “what’s old is new again” could certainly apply. Personally, I love the transformative superhero archetype—I’d love to see it come back in full force. If Radiant Black can be a part of ushering that back in, even better.
All of that said, we have some wrinkles in Radiant Black—both from a character as well as a concept standpoint—that are very different from anything in the genre that has come before. Honestly, I’m just really excited to finally be able to share this huge, personal project with the world.
Radiant Black #1 is set to hit shelves on February 10, 2021.
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