Comics critique often feels like it has a barrier of entry around it. Where do you start? It’s important to us here at GateCrashers to provide a platform and help to usher in a more welcoming era of comics criticism. To this end, we are launching a new weekly column where a small team with intersecting viewpoints will discuss a comic issue that warrants discussion. The teams will be changing every week but you’ll see many familiar faces return over time. The idea is to have critics both seasoned and new offering their unique takes, for a broader, more holistic view of a comic rather than a single critic’s opinion. You may have seen our Fun-size reviews on our Twitter – this round table is a natural evolution of that. We are very excited to bring you this content every week, starting here. This week’s comic is Radiant Black #3, written by Kyle Higgins, art by Marcelo Costa, letters by Becca Carey, and edited by Michael Busuttil. So now I turn it over to our team of critics to tell you how they felt about it:
Vishal: I’ve not been convinced by this book – the first two issues didn’t do anything particularly interesting, serving instead as generic origin and villain setup issues for a generic superhero. It doesn’t help that I’ve got very little interest or experience in Tokusatsu. But this issue really turned it around for me – Kyle Higgins is clearly tapping into something genuinely personal, turning it into a story that I don’t know anyone else could write. The struggle of writer’s block is something I found genuinely relatable and compelling, and the slice-of-life heroism amidst that set the character and series apart from the generic superhero content we’re getting elsewhere. If the rest of the book is this good, Image could have a new Invincible on their hands, or potentially something even better.
Ritesh: The most immediate thing about Radiant Black I noticed upon publication was its presentation and design. It was so, very clearly, a modern Post-Hickman superhero book, and so I assumed there was a formal awareness in the text. Not experimental (for neither is Hickman), just…formally aware. And this issue is probably the most aware it gets so far, with the prose and tinkering around of prose. But weirdly enough, the sort of modern formal design sensibility is at odds with the book here, as the way the book does thought-balloons almost feels rather dated? Not that thought-balloons automatically are (see their prominent use in manga), but here, it felt weirdly retro to me. Perhaps it’s because it’s more a ‘realist’ rather than ‘expressionist’ text, but maybe also because they feel ‘tacked on’ to the artwork rather than integrated, part of the image. Part of why that Hickman-esque design works is because of that integration, the marriage of imagery and text into one seamless whole.
Sean: So I’ve been writing about The Multiversity lately and it’s gotten me thinking about where superheroes ought to go next. There have been many answers as of late, largely predicated upon the assumption that the superheroes ought to be inherently good. That there is no need for the core ideas of the superhero to change. This has led to works like Commanders in Crisis, Archenemy, and Radiant Black which, while not inherently bad works in and of themselves, don’t necessarily lead towards new directions. At most, taking what’s already within the genre and gesturing to something new.
In much of the hype for Radiant Black, there were comparisons between it and the tokusatsu form of superheroes. But, given the three issues currently available, the practice seems to be more in line with more traditional superhero stories. There’s as much Green Lantern as there is Kamen Rider. It could very well be that the story hasn’t hit its stride yet. There are some ideas I quite like (a superhero using social media to help people, for one). But overall, I don’t think this series is doing it for me. Maybe I’ll come back to the series when the trade comes out.
Reagan: I would like to preface this with the fact that I forgot that I had read the second issue until I sat down to write this.
Radiant Black is good in the moment, it just isn’t particularly memorable nor do I find myself thinking about it as I go about my business. Maybe that’s a consequence of the slow-pacing or maybe I just don’t vibe with the book in the way others do. Regardless, Radiant Black just feels forgettable in a way that some of the other books coming out now don’t. It’s the kind of book that I would let fall to the side in favour of others.
Loathe as I am to compare them, Image has two books coming out right now that they’re marketing with comparisons to Power Rangers. One of them is this, the other is Home Sick Pilots. Both of them are bad comparisons but that is a conversation for elsewhere. It’s strange how despite their supposed similarities, one book can grab my attention and make me think about it weeks after I’ve read an issue while I forget that I’ve even read the other one in the first place.
Lan: To the book’s benefit, Costa’s art keeps improving every issue. The colours feel full and expressive in this issue. Carey’s lettering, while not particularly novel, does a great job at conveying the feelings in our protagonist’s thoughts. As for the plot itself, it’s hard to write it off while feeling that it will most likely read much better in trade as a complete arc. The series seems to be leaning away from the Tokusatsu influences it boldly wore during its original marketing, and is leaning into the slower, more methodical pacing of books like Ultimate Spider-Man and Invincible, to more of a benefit than a detriment. With time, I can see a lot of the character groundwork being done in these early issues pay off down the line. But I would also like to see Radiant Black kick some ass, please.