(w) Kyle Higgins (a) Marcelo Costa (l) Becca Carey
Kyle Higgins is a writer who is often overlooked, but consistently puts out [at worst] solid, enjoyable comics. More often than not, his work defies expectation. Look no further than his work on BOOM! Studios’ Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which are far better than they have any right to be. Strip away any sense of nostalgia, and they’re still really good comics. Then there’s his oft overlooked Nightwing from DC’s New 52 era, the miniseries Gates of Gotham, and of course his previous Image series, C.O.W.L. Higgins’ writing often delivers unadulterated fun within the confines of the superhero genre, a trend which he continues with artist Marcelo Costa in Radiant Black #1.
What is perhaps most surprising about Radiant Black is how relatable it is. An open secret in the industry is that readership has aged up. Despite the efforts of publisher’s to make their characters seem younger, the fact is that comics are expensive, and younger readers just can’t afford the Wednesday Warrior grind. Teenage superheroes appeal to younger readers, and there just aren’t as many anymore. Because of this, Higgins and Costa use the template of Peter Parker or Mark Grayson, but age him up to deal with the realities that today’s readers face.
Nathan Burnett is a protagonist for today. While his financial hardships are partially his doing – trying to be a writer but unable to write past the first page for years – the general circumstances are much broader. Higgins’ script dedicates much of this first issue to understand Nathan, so that by the final page there is a true connection between him and the reader. His career failures have forced him to move back home, and while he is welcomed back by his parents with open arms, there is an undercurrent of shame. This shamefulness is alleviated by Nathan’s hometown friend, Marshall, whose continued prodding and ribbing of his buddy is full of naturalistic dialogue. Their relationship is fully developed and fleshed out, a good thing as this is where Higgins and Costa dedicate most of their time.
Speaking of Costa, his artwork is very impressive. Performing the penciling, inks, and coloring, this issue’s success is just as much the result of his efforts. Much like Higgins’ C.O.W.L. collaborator Rod Reis, Costa is making the transition from colorist to full fledged artist – a move which pays dividends. The coloring within the issue is fantastic, using a rather realistic palette for the majority of the issue before throwing bold splashes when the superheroics kick in. The coloring is also important with regard to adding definition to each object or character on the page, making this aspect of the artwork critical to bringing this world to life.
Costa’s coloring approach extends to the artwork as a whole. Characters and objects are decidedly average looking. Contrary to most comicbook art, there are few stylistic flourishes. Nathan, his family, and any other characters that show up are normal looking. They aren’t supermodels, nor are they grotesque, but believable as people you might run across at the supermarket. It is only when the superhero elements show up that, once again, the art elevates to something exceptional. This is by design, as Costa does a great job in convincing readers that there is nothing weird or abnormal about this world. It is supposed to look like the world outside your window, which makes the superhero elements that much more impactful.
Radiant Black #1 lays the foundation for what may be the best new superhero since Robert Kirkman’s Invincible. Though it does rely heavily on conventions of the genre, fantastic artwork and character development makes for an engaging story. While living up to the standard set by this issue may be a tall task, Kyle Higgins’ writing has a history of consistency, while Marcelo Costa’s first foray as a sequential artist is a revelation.