Radiant Black debuted in February 2021, helmed by writer Kyle Higgins and artist Marco Costella. Higgins’s background is a unique blend of east and west. His resume includes New52 Nightwing and Batman Beyond 2.0. While his more recent successes feature licensed comics from Tokusatsu (Toku) franchises Boom Studio’s Power Rangers and Marvel’s Ultraman.
In a recent interview, Costa stated the sources of their inspiration.
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.”
Sentai takes its name from the live-action Super Sentai Toku franchise, beginning in 1975. Better known in the west by the name of its American adaptation Power Rangers. Super Sentai usually depicts a team of people who transform into superheroes with color-coded uniforms.
Radiant Black comes from a publisher with previous successes in independent comics. Image Comics as an artist-owned company allows its creators a unique vision. First Todd Marcfarlane’s Spawn gave the studio its first real success. Recently Kirkman’s Invincible received a mega-popularAmazon adaptation.
Now, Image Comics launches Radiant Black, thereby bringing eastern inspired comics to a western audience.
Eastern comics often revolve around Henshin Heroes. The name comes from Kamen Rider shouting “Henshin!” before transforming. In Japanese Henshin means “change body” or “transformation.” Hence, a Henshin Hero changes between normal and powered forms.
Compared to Clark Kent whose powers are always on, their powers are only active when they change. Super Heroes wear costumes to hide their civilian identities. A Henshin Hero’s costume is their power. This creates a distinction between their civilian and hero identities.
These stories split focus between civilian life and hero work. This is the unique focus Radiant Black brings to the genre. It focuses on the lives of ordinary people as much as their extraordinary powers.
Meet Radiant BlackRadiant Black tells its story with its characters and their everyday lives. Nathan Burnett begins the story by moving back into his parent’s house from LA. He returns after failing in his career as a writer with over 30,000 dollars of debt.
Nathan’s debt is a modern problem. Average student loan debt from 2020 to 2021 for Bachelor’s Degrees ranged from 26,000-35,000. National median rent went up by 17.6 percent in 2021. Many young people live with debt like Nathan’s.
The characters of Radiant Black are not “teenagers with attitude.” Instead, the cast is all above 20, and modern everyday life is the story’s focus.
In fact, when fate drops powers into Nathan’s lap? He feels no call towards crime fighting.
Nathan believes his writing career is more important than fighting crime. In fact, one chapter puts a hero’s work aside ultimately and instead shows Nathan editing an old short story. He only puts the suit on once in the entire chapter to help a car with a flat tire.
Real life writes a lot of the plot for Radiant Black. Nathan’s conflicts are with debt and his stalled career. He wants to write novels, not save the world.
This leads to the comic’s first big twist: Nathan is not the hero.
To die is to lose everything. Will you do all that is required? <To save your species?> Will you take his life?
When the voice in Nathan’s head tells him being a hero requires everything from him, he ignores the call. A battle against rival radiant results in the need to place him in a coma. Once this occurs, the story steps out of Nathan’s narrow perspective. From then on it becomes a cast of everyman characters struggling with everyday problems.
The Cooler Radiant Black
While Nathan ignores it, Marshall jumps at it. He takes on the mantle after Nathan’s injuries. His goal is revenge at first. Red, however, is not a one-dimensional villain. She takes her mask off.. Just like him, there is a person behind that mask.
After he loses all desire for revenge and looks for another reason to fight.
Marshall wants an escape. He works as a clerk for a video rental store in 2021. His new powers seem like an escape from his life. Again, this makes his conflict between ordinary life and extraordinary circumstances.
Radiant Black shows how a modern world may react to its first superhero. Marshall receives hate on Twitter for causing property damage with his fights. Public reaction on social media and news networks influences him. When the public cheers for him after heavily injuring a criminal he becomes more violent.
He spends a lot of time outside of hero work trying to market himself. There is a scene where he tries hiring an agent. The result, however, is the public does not like him and the police do not cooperate with him.
Marshall fails as a hero when he is alone. He only gets better when Nathan is back in his life. When villains nearly kill Marshall, Nathan saves him by becoming a hero right alongside him. He decides to share powers with Marshall.
Marshall: “I’m… I’m afraid.”
Voice: “Understandable <but illogical.> <You are a part of existence.> But not alone.”
Neither of them is the hero of the story. Just like in real life, there is no main character.
Radiant Black vs. Radiant RedRadiant Red first appears as an antagonist in Radiant Black. Like most comic book villains, she uses her powers for her own gain. When a fight lands Nathan in the hospital, Marshall targets her for revenge.
Then, Red takes her mask off and apologizes. Not exactly your typical supervillain fare.
That moment humanizes her, and Red becomes one of the main characters. Red’s origin turns out to be similar to Nathan’s own. Her story begins when she suddenly finds herself in Nathan’s debt. She abuses her newfound powers by robbing banks to pay off her debts.
However, the situation grows more complicated when we learn it’s not her debts she’s paying off. Her fiancé, Owen, is a gambling addict whose habit lands them both in debt. While Nathan’s responsible for his own debt, Owen is the cause of Red’s.
Owen also isn’t the only addict in the relationship. Sure, Owen cannot give up gambling, but Red cannot give up on Owen. Red continually tries to leave, only to stay. This highlights her dependency on their relationship.
I’m sick. There’s something wrong with me, and I need help Satomi. And I can’t do this without you. I should never said what I said. I can’t fix this. I can’t fix anything without you.
Radiant Black and Real-Life Addiction
Red’s story continued in the Radiant Black spinoff Radiant Red. She struggles just as much with leaving Owen as she does against a new villain. This reflects an everyday reality for a lot of women.
Codependency is sometimes termed a “relationship addiction.” Red’s actions resemble dependent personality disorder, which involves submissive, clinging behavior to avoid abandonment.
Red steals because she thinks fixing their debt will fix their relationship. Yet, the money sits to pay their debts sits hidden in the vents for her entire mini-series. It fixes nothing. In fact, her decision to steal leads to further disaster when a villain finds her identity and blackmails her.
Eventually, Owen seeks out help for his addiction. During this time, Red participates in a nighttime heist in exchange for keeping her identity secret. She believes she is helping their relationship by keeping them safe. However, her nighttime activities result in her missing an important group therapy meeting for Owen.
Being in a relationship enables Red to focus entirely on Owen’s problems instead of her own. Still, this doesn’t fix her own emotional issues. In fact, she feels unseen.
Red does not think about her own wants. She works so hard on their relationship because she does not know who she is when alone. When she becomes Radiant Red, she starts feeling seen.
Satomi: Can you hear me? Wow.
Radiant: I see you, Satomi. I have always seen you.
Radiant PinkPink first appears as a more light-hearted character who contrasts with Red’s darker personality and circumstances. Pink’s backstory reveals her double life as a hero and Twitch streamer. This chapter is cowritten by real-life Twitch streamer MEGHAN STRAWBURRY16 CAMARENA.
Pink’s chapter shows how much streaming eats up her daily life. Pink overworks herself for a career many find frivolous. She struggles with taking one day off after her stream breaks.
Z: “You literally came over and asked me to drop everything because your stream was broken.”
Eva: “I did not! I came over because I wanted to see you and I thought since the rest of your week is crazy with whatever beard guy you’re obsessively studying–”
Z: “At least what I’m doing matters.”
All-day-long dialogue her Twitch chat appears in dialogue bubbles begging for her return. Pink’s demanding career does not allow for a social life. Her chat expects her constant presence online.
The reality is streamers sell a fake version of themselves. Which their audience then purchases. Pink’s story reflects the harsh reality of streamer life. A Twitch Streamer is a self-employed worker. They often work long hours without overtime, holiday, or benefits.
Radiant Black once again shows its character struggling with an aspect of modern life. Pink feels an equal pull towards her online and offline life. Working as a hero on top of all of that only makes her life more hectic.
Radiant Black and Psychoanalytic Theory
Pink’s ex-girlfriend Z, a psychology student, name-drops Freud and Jung in discussions about their failing relationship. Both early psychologists theorized about different parts of the personality. Freud divided personality into three, the Id, Ego, and Superego.
First, the Id operates from the pleasure principle. The pleasure principle is a desire to satisfy both biological and psychological needs. Next, the ego following the reality principle tries to satisfy those desires in a socially acceptable way. Finally, the superego dictates a person’s moral compass.
Pink similarly divides her life into three parts. In front of her audience, she is a childish, cheerful gamer. In front of her mother, she is a diligent girl working a hard job. When acting as a hero, she uses her powers for a higher moral purpose.
Freud believed an unbalanced personality causes anxiety in everyday life. Similarly, Pink’s different personas are all in conflict with one another. Pink goes by “Evaplayss” while streaming, “Eva” with her loved ones, and “Radiant Pink” when fighting crime. Radiant Black spinoff Radiant Pink focuses more on her identity issues.
Pink tries to use her platform for charity by having her hero identity appear live on stream. She accomplishes this by having a friend sit on-stream and pretend to be her, while she wears the armor. The fact her audience believes a lookalike is her is already telling. Her friends continually voice concerns she is stretching herself too thin.
Ironically, it’s only when an accident teleports her alone to another dimension does she begin learning about herself.
I am Radiant Pink! I am Eva! We’re the same person.”
Pink wrestles with issues of her identity behind the mask in her origin story and solo series. Radiant Black is a series that focuses on who these characters are, as opposed to what their powers are.
Radiant YellowYellow first appears together with Pink. In her origin comic, he acts as a guide leading her to discover her powers. While he appears knowledgeable, his origin story later reveals that he’s equally clueless about his own life as Pink, Black, and Red are.
Radiant Black uses creative paneling to tell Yellow’s story in a unique way. The artist divides each page into four columns. Each of the four horizontal columns follows a different day in Yellow’s life. The comic shows these days happening simultaneously.
The first shows the day of his daughter’s birth. On the second day, he lays off people from his tech company due to increasing automation. On the third day, he is working a job at Best Boy after automation stole his original job. The final day takes place in a far-off post-apocalyptic future.
The four stories converge when Yellow acquires his powers in the future and decides to travel back.
Our connection is final, permanent. For this duration of your life (you are a part of existence.) Loves. Regrets. Hates. Mistakes. Nothing can be taken back.
Yellow’s ability to travel into the past is obviously not realistic.
However, many real people suffer from similar problems as Yellow in the late stages of their life. Amazon recently laid off over 10,000 workers because of increasing automatization. Yellow graduated with a Ph.D. yet works at Best Buy. There are studies exploring a recent trend of “overeducated” workers.
The term “overeducated” means having a higher degree than the job requires. Many students who struggle with finding a career in their chosen field settle for lower-paying jobs.
Radiant Black features a rare example of a middle-aged superhero in Yellow. Yellow’s time travel powers are an allegory for the regrets many people in his stage of life hold. It also reflects a belief many people hold at his age that it is too late for them to change.
Radiant Black’s Rogues GalleryIn Power Rangers, Rita Repulsa awakes from her prison on the moon and decides to conquer the Earth. The show follows a monster-of-the-week format where the rangers beat up faceless enemies. The bad guys are inhuman monsters. Radiant Black’s cast of villains is as human as their heroes.
Firstly, there’s Red, who commits crimes because of a desperate financial situation. She injures Nathan by mistake, a mistake she pays for when she turns herself in. Red’s situation sets up the pattern that later villains follow.
For example, Doppler is a character with a physical disability. As a result of a botched surgery, she suffers from painful hand tremors. This chronic pain renders her unable to play her music. Villains suddenly appear in her life and offer her a power suit. She only puts it on because it helps her with her pain.
When cornered by Marshall and Pink she becomes terrified. She begs them for mercy. The heroes do not throw her in prison. Instead, they defy the typical superhero formula by giving her another chance. Marshall lets her go because his focus as a hero isn’t on stopping crime.
Do I look like a cop? Get out of here.
Radiant Black turns the idea of heroes and villains on its head. The villains are normal people in suits, just like the heroes. They become villains because of their real-life troubles, not for the sheer evil of it.
ShiftShift stands out from the more realistic villains in Radiant Black. Out of everyone he most resembles a classic maniacal villain. One plotline of his even parodies comic book villain stereotypes.
In this plot, Shift gathers several other crooks. They team up for a coordinated strike against Black. The name for their team the “5yndcate” with a 5 instead of an s. Presumably, this is pronounced Five-yindicate, which is a direct reference to the Sinister Six from Spider-Man.
However, Shift is not just a one-note bad guy. His introduction is a play on Nathan’s. Shift is also worrying about his finances, but that’s because he wants more money for his job in corporate espionage. He also uses his powers for stealing money like Red. The difference is Red is desperate to pay off a debt, whereas Shift is a career criminal.
In contrast to Shift’s flatter character and motivations, the heroes appear more well-rounded and human.
Jung, like Freud, also theorized about the mind. However, Jung’s theories focus on the division between the conscious “persona” and the subconscious “shadow” self. Jung’s theories are relevant in superhero comics, a medium where characters often divide their identities in half.
Jung posits the shadow, or subconscious mind, is the true part of our personality that we hide. In contrast, the conscious mind, or persona, is what we show to the world. The civilian identity for heroes would be their persona, and their hidden secret identities their shadow.
Shift prefers wearing his suit. He does not live in the real world like the other characters. His job is his life and his job is stealing from others. When fighting against the heroes he acts as a darker shadow to them.
Shift appeared in Radiant Red as a symbol of Red’s repressed “shadow” self. When he learns of her identity, he blackmails her into performing a heist. He reflects back on the worst side of Red, a thief who uses her powers for selfish gain.
During their interactions at night, Shift insists Red’s real self is a criminal. In the daytime Red’ acts out her normal life with Owen, hiding her criminal activities during the night. Her interactions with Shift divide her identity in two.
Eventually, Red ended rejects Shift but acknowledges her own wrongdoings. Her resolution is both her normal life, and the crimes committed in the suit are the real her. Once again, Radiant Black focuses on conflicts within one’s self, not with costumed criminals.
What Makes Radiant Black’s Characters Unique?Radiant Black updates the superhero formula by focusing more on characters’ civilian lives than their alter egos. It uses inspiration from the Henshin Hero genre which focuses on ordinary civilians transforming into heroes to tell this story.
The protagonist swap with Nathan and Marshall establishes this as a story with more than one character. Red combats real-life issues of addiction rather than villains. Pink shows the real person behind the Twitch Streamer. Yellow shows life does not stop at old age. The villains show that there’s always a person behind the mask.
These struggles which define everyday life help in defining Radiant Black’s characters. Kyle Higgins connects with his audience by writing a story about characters struggling with their problems. That is what makes it truly “modern.”