Radiant Black introduces readers to Nathan Burnett, a down-on-his-luck writer who has just moved back in with his parents. On a night out with his best bud, Nathan stumbles upon some kind of superpower suit. Y’all know how that goes, right?
From the very beginning, the protagonist is heavily relatable. And no, it’s not just because the main character shares a name with this reviewer (as well as his intense writer’s block). In Radiant Black, Nathan is someone who continues to soldier on in the face of one setback after another. It’s hard to feel normal or successful these days, and Kyle Higgins writes Nathan as a character that feels like he still hasn’t given up, even though he seems like he might be ready to.
And his friend Marshal is the perfect counterpoint. Full of unearned bluster and a complete sense of self, Marshal represents the more brash parts of Nathan, the confidence and strong will that he wishes he could have. Their friendship should be grating, as should Marshal’s constant barbs, but there’s a pigheaded kind of charm about Marshal. This issue really sings when it comes to the interactions between these two characters. It makes total sense why these friends would fall in together, and it should be a blast to see how Marshal’s pride balances out Nathan’s uncertainty, especially given how nervous Nathan seems to be about his newfound power.
Oh, right. There’s superhero stuff in this book, and it’s a blast.
The illustrations and colors are exceptional throughout the issue. Nathan’s first transformation sequence is a exciting and kinetic splash page in which the energy bolting from his body splits the scene into multiple panels. Each little snippet shows his horror and confusion as more of his body is consumed by this otherworldly armor. The following sequence involving a series of levitating objects is thrilling, especially due to the fact that Nathan’s body language shows that he’s confused and terrified of what he’s doing.
This series already appears to be playing with superhero tropes. Upon his first transformation, Nathan immediately panics and throws up — with his suit helpfully allowing the vomit to pass through the helmet area. It’s a funny moment that’s made even more entertaining, thanks to Marshall’s reaction.
However, it’s not just the flashy and silly superhero stuff that benefits greatly from Marcelo Costa’s artwork. The more human elements are conveyed brilliantly here, including an early moment when Nathan bursts into tears, but also looks like he could begin laughing at how ridiculous his life has become at any second. Everyone has experienced an overwhelming moment like this, and the vulnerability on his face is enough to immediately endear Nathan to the reader.
Becca Carey’s lettering also goes a long way toward conveying Nathan’s growing sense of helplessness. Toward the end of the issue, when Nathan is finally coming clean about his lack of success as a writer, some of his asides seem almost strangled out. His words become smaller, dwarfed by the balloon and the preceding sentences. It seems like he can barely bring himself to admit any of this out loud, even to himself.
The books closes with a few fun set-ups for where this series will take us. While a good bit of this issue treads familiar “superhero origin story” ground, it looks like these tropes will still be explored with a particular sense of humor and an emphasis on human relationships.
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