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Last year, writer Kyle Higgins, artist Marcelo Costa, letterer Becca Carey, and editor/designer Michael Busuttil launched Radiant Black, an Image Comics series that followed what happens when a down-on-his-luck guy encounters a strange cosmic object in his hometown, then transforms into a powerful new superhero. Drawing on everything from Spider-Man to Ultraman, Radiant Black emerged as compelling new take on superhero action from a creative team working outside of the Marvel/DC bubble, but from the beginning it was clear this wasn't just a solo hero story.
As soon as Image launched Radiant Black, it was unveiled as the first chapter in an expanding superhero universe that would eventually grow to encompass multiple creative teams and titles, all playing in a bigger sandbox that came to be known to the creators as the "Massive-Verse." The expansion soon began with Inferno Girl Red, a Kickstarter-funded graphic novel from writer Mat Groom and artist Erica D'Urso, but just a few weeks ago, the expansion became an all-out explosion.
Late last month, the Massive-Verse launched not one, not two, but three new titles within its continuity, focused on expanding the stories of existing heroes and introducing readers to entirely new ones. It began with the crossover event one-shot Supermassive, which saw heroes like Radiant Black teaming up with a new character known as Rogue Sun, a New Orleans-based superhero with his own backstory and power source. A week later, writer Ryan Parrott and artist Abel launched a Rogue Sun solo series that deepened the lore surrounding the character, and launched a superhero saga all its own. Then a week after that, writer Cherish Chen and artists Miquel Muerto and David LaFuente launched Radiant Red, a miniseries spinoff following another cosmic-powered superhero readers first met in the pages of Radiant Black.
For Higgins, whose journey to this moment began with an inquiry from Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson challenging him to launch a new superhero universe, it's an exciting time, but it all goes back to talking about superheroes with your friends.
"It’s been a wild year, for sure," Higgins told SYFY WIRE. "I was talking about this with some friends last week — it’s one thing to plan and build and think you might have something that could work… and it’s another for it to actually work. We spent a lot of time building out the foundation of Radiant Black, from the aesthetics to the book design to our covers, marketing, big animated launch trailer, our orchestral scores and blacklight issue… we approached every aspect with the same dedication and, honestly, sense of wonder that we’ve really tried to hold onto throughout all of this. I like to joke that it all starts with one of us going, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” but that’s only half a joke. We really do work with some of the best people in the industry and none of what we’ve accomplished in year one is possible without Marcelo, Eduardo [Ferigato], Igor [Monti], Becca, Michael, Alec [Siegel] and a host of other insanely talented creators who have been gracious enough to come play in the sandbox. Honestly, it makes me smile to think about. I could not be more proud of everyone."
Higgins considered Supermassive to be the "Season Two Premiere Event" of the Massive-Verse, a story that would simultaneously set the stage for the next chapter of Radiant Black and set the table for the emergence of Rogue Sun, Radiant Red, and Inferno Girl Red later this year. When it comes to the other books, though, each title is its own story, with its own creative team and its own narrative goals, with the Massive-Verse serving as the connective tissue to fuel more crossovers. That meant each group of creators got to explore their own favorite ideas.
In the case of Rogue Sun -- the story of a New Orleans-based hero powered by a sun, and the long-lost son who stands to inherit his mantle -- that meant Parrott and Abel were able to play with ideas of heroic legacy in ways that Radiant Black couldn't.
"I've always been a sucker for legacy heroes. The idea that there could be a Viking Rogue Sun or a Pirate Rogue Sun just speaks to the action figure lover in me," Parrott said. "But the father/son relationship was always the core conceit of the series. It all stems from personal experiences from my parents divorcing when I was little to finding ways to bond with my father as a teenager. For me, these types of stories tend to work best when you can take all the trappings of the superhero genre (the fighting, villains, mantles) and make them a metaphor for the problems we all face in real life. And in this case, it's trying to fix a broken family."
In the exclusive preview pages below, you can get a taste at what's to come in the pages of Rogue Sun, as Abel's design work on the character carries the action forward while also setting him apart from the rest of Massive-Verse crew.
"It was a really interesting process, because I love to draw medieval/gothic stuff," Abel said of his design process. "As Ryan gave me the directions of what Rogue Sun should be like, I understood that he was the type of guy that should definitely be there when you look at him: dramatic, heavy and dynamic as the fire inside him. It was really exciting to make the first drafts keeping this in mind. As I like to say, it was like Rogue Sun was there all the time, just waiting to burst out in flames."
Meanwhile, over in the pages of Radiant Red, we follow a hero we've met before in the pages of Radiant Black, and get a closer look at her own personal struggles with her new gifts. Radiant Red is a young woman named Satomi, who gains her newfound powers just as she's grappling with an immense financial crisis and emerging marital troubles. So, she uses her power to rob banks, something that initially puts her at odds with Radiant Black. But as readers will discover when reading the series, and as writer Cherish Chen set out to emphasize, it's all much more complicated than that.
"When I first started on Red's solo series, Kyle, Michael, and I talked about keeping our characters rooted in 'real people problems,'" Chen said. "I use this as a North Star for Satomi all the time. I don't think many people self-reflexively view themselves as a 'hero' or a 'villain' -- people have a hard enough time honestly labeling themselves as 'good' or 'bad.' So in that sense, Satomi's view of herself is a little more full-bodied; she's trying to make choices based on what she thinks is right, or smart, or necessary (even when they're not) and we're going to set her up on a journey to discover the consequences of those choices.
"And when it comes to my opinion of her? I think she is wonderfully and tragically human. That's the best part of writing her, and ultimately I do believe she has the strength and courage to be a hero, in her own way."
In the pages below, you can get a taste of Satomi's journey ahead in Radiant Red #2.
Then, of course, there's the flagship series. As it enters its second year, Radiant Black seems to be emphasizing more than ever that it's the story of not one hero, but two. There's Nathan, the struggling writer forced to move back in with his parents who first discover the power of the Radiant, and then there's Marshall, the local film nerd and Nathan's best friend, who took over the power after Nathan was seriously wounded. Though he wouldn't say more about what that dual hero dynamic means for the book going forward (other than to dub it "very interesting indeed"), Higgins did tease the massive journey ahead within the pages of Radiant Black, even beyond the bounds of other potential Massive-Verse series. And those bigger stories, Higgins assured us, are coming.
"We are for sure only just getting started," Higgins said. "As fans will have picked up from the teaser at the end of Supermassive, we’ll be meeting The Dead Lucky later this year. We’re always looking for more ways to tell stories about our other Radiants that don’t quite fit into Radiant Black. The upcoming arc of Radiant Black is called “Rogues Gallery”, so we’ll be putting Marshall face to face with some new threats. And beyond that… well, we’ve been teasing for a while that there’s cosmic forces out there looking for the Radiants. They probably won’t stay gone forever."
In the pages below, you can get yet another taste of what's to come in the pages of Radiant Black #13.
The ever-expanding body of superhero creators and characters known as the Massive-Verse is now a little more than a year old, and it feels like it's still a burgeoning sandbox, or a field of stars growing in a hospitable nebula. There's lots of room to grow, lots of places to play, and much more to see. Not bad for an expanding superhero project that, for Higgins, still boils down to getting great imaginations together and just letting them go for it.
"I’ve said this in interviews prior, but there is nothing I love more than working with friends, getting each other psyched up and excited, pushing and challenging each other, supporting and lifting each other up," Higgins said. "And to me, this speaks to the aspects of Supermassive and our “Massive-Verse” that make this such an incredibly fun creative collective to iterate in. At the end of the day, outside of the stuff I’m writing/Radiant Black specific properties, these aren’t my books. Rogue Sun, Inferno Girl Red, The Dead Lucky… these are books owned and run by their respective creative teams. I’ve been a sort of 'facilitator' on each series, everything from an editor (Inferno Girl Red) to a creative consultant (Rogue Sun), but at the end of the day, with creator ownership being integral to the success of Image Comics as well as my own personal philosophy, helping other creators who I love and believe in get their series off the ground, is something that I feel very honored to be able to do."
Radiant Black #13 and Rogue Sun #2 are in stores March 30. Radiant Red #2 follows on April 6, and The Dead Lucky and Inferno Girl Red arrive later this year.