Hyper shiny, filled with incredible light shows and occasional big-power punch-ups delivered by artist Marcelo Costa, Radiant Black looks from the outside like a great, wild ride, a book with big energy and big vibes of a really youthful Iron Man book.
The sad truth of the matter, however, is that Radiant Black isn’t sure where it needs to go — which characters to dedicate time to, which non-super dilemmas, or how, exactly, to get to the point in the story where the concept opens up and the real, post-origin story begins, with the implied Power Ranger/Voltron vibe of the book nowhere in evidence.
Our main character is Nathan, a failed writer with a mopey, self-defeatist attitude and an impossible amount of debt. He’s moved home to his parents’ house in Illinois and struck back up a neglected friendship with Marshall, a movie buff who never left. An incredible uphill struggle is made — by the character, by the reader, by the comic itself — with the character’s crippling inability to write. This is after the book introduces us to the micro-black hole-powered super-suit that is implied to be the true story of the book, but which fails to alter the character’s life in any perceivable way.
Look, every fiction writer in the world has a story in them about a writer who is concerned with how writing is hard, actually. It’s part of the cultural DNA, a relic of the echo chamber that is writers writing for writers, and it’s as sappy and hackneyed a woe-is-me trope in comic book form as it is in any medium, but it reaches all new lows when an entire issue of a superhero book about cosmic flight suits avoids any actual super-powered conflict to focus, instead, on some poorly implemented brainstorming about a not-very-good short story our protagonist is failing to write. This certainly makes the third issue of the story its least effective, but it’s only a symptom of a much larger problem in Radiant Black: mismanagement of the story’s time.
Over the course of the six issues collected in (Not So) Secret Origin, we are introduced to the Radiant suit, a second (red) suit with which Radiant Black has recurring conflicts, and an abstract dream-quest robo-monstrosity who provides cryptic but ultimately uninteresting portents of doom. All of these concepts are presented almost in the background of the first four issues as the book tries to grind some life into its static, shallow cast and its larger, more personal lives. It seems the team behind the book understands their failures all too well, because the book actually gains momentum — and lays out its larger Go! Go! Power Rangers trajectory — after it effectively kills off its wooden lead, presents actual sci-fi superpower stakes, and introduces a villain in its fifth issue. All that stilted, teeth-grindingly dull establishing of character is wiped away, providing backup protagonist Marshall a tiny bit of motivation to become a better, more driven character.
The standout issue of the collection is issue #6, which is a quick, concise, and emotionally powerful origin story for the Red Radiant; this only manages to highlight all that wasted time and space in the first four issues. In 22 streamlined, emotionally real pages, the character of Satomi is established, her relationships honestly defined, and a firm motivation provided for her, all while managing to give her a compelling and action-packed introduction to her Radiant suit. Bing, bang, boom, a much more interesting character is presented in a quarter of the time it took for mopey ass Nathan to lose brain function and hand over the keys to his black hole Iron Man suit.
For all my griping — and all the spinning of the book’s wheels — the final two issues of this collection reignited my excitement, making me much more willing to join the adventure in progress; the radical upset of real action in the fifth issue had the effect of a conceptual defibrillator, jolting the book to running speed and setting its sights on eventual (and thankful) action. Somehow, in the small real estate of two issues, Kyle Higgins turns the whole enterprise around and commits to a stronger narrative direction, providing guest artists Eduardo Ferigato and Darko Lafuente room to shine with actual super-heroics and villainy. Delivering the Radiant Black suit to a character with sudden pathos and a revenge complex, then finally introducing the larger, rainbow-colored Radiant squad (and their foil) corrects course in a major way, and the next issue — also out this week — stands ready to either deliver the series into its own action. . . or tumble the book back into its shaky self-indulgence.
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