Monday, February 12, 2024

The flawed beauty of Radiant Black

I read a lot of manga and a decent number of horror or crime drama graphic novels. But it had been a while since I’ve read any super hero stuff and that was all I read comic book-wise when I was younger.

So when Humble Bundle had a bundle of Massiverse graphic novels from Image, I decided that it would be a chance to go back to my roots. Which is actually pretty fair since there is clearly a lot of influence from Marvel Comics.

If I were to describe the Massiverse in one sentence it would be ‘A superhero universe where every hero is Peter Parker in super sentai armor’

Which actually sounds pretty awesome.

Peter Parker isn’t the first example of a superhero with normal people problems but he has become the quintessential example. That’s a big part of what makes everyone love Spider-Man. And, really, Power Ranger outfits look cool. (The creators previously did a Power Ranger comic book so this choice makes sense)

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Massiverse lives up to that potential.

The series that got the line started is Radiant Black and I think it really highlights the strengths and flaws of the line overall.

After failed writer Nathan Burnett has to live back in with his parents, he discovers a mysterious black hole that lets him transformed into the armored form of Radiant Black. A side effect of this is that he is drawn into a cosmic conflict involving other colors of radiant and the potential destruction of the Earth.

The visuals are really good. I particularly love how the creators lean into the radiant helms being expressive. There is clearly a bigger picture and I honestly feel like this is designed to be a single story and not a never ending serial. And the creators are clearly intent on having their heroes be flawed human beings.

However, one of the downsides of the line is that flawed human element can be pushed too far. The second Radiant Black (won’t explain any further to minimize spoilers) is pretty much a copy of Randal from Clerks who is an antagonistic glory hound trying to monetize Radiant Black. He stops being relatable or sympathetic and I don’t think that’s intentional.

(On the other hand, in another series in the line, Rogue Sun, the fact that everyone who has been Rogue Sun is a total jerk does seem to be the point)

Another problem, arguably even greater, is how poorly they show or explain the characters powers. A problem that goes across pretty much every series in the line. Having an a character can do doesn’t just give a reader a sense of their limits, it informs them what the heck is going on.

Just the Radiants alone are confusing. They share some powers but exactly what those are isn’t explained. I didn’t understand Radiant Red’s powers until she got a mini-series. And I had to go to outside sources to find out what Radiant Yellow’s powers were.

The one character where this approach works Bibi from Dead Lucky. Some elements of her powers may actually not be powers at all but side effects of her mental illness. And I still understood what she could do better than characters from other books.

I enjoyed my read. Good graphic design goes a long way in a graphic medium. However, it can’t be a coincidence that, after I finished, I started binging manga.

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