INTERVIEW: Radiant Black Editor Michael Busuttil talks about the Tokusatsu influences behind Image’s Next Big Hero by Lan M.

The world is about to meet their next big Indie superhero.  Radiant Black #1 hits comic shop shelves on February 10, 2021, written by Kyle Higgins (Rise of Ultraman, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers), illustrated by Marcelo Costa (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, SELF/MADE), lettered by Becca Carey (Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and edited by Michael Busuttil (SELF/MADE, Ranger Danger Podcast).  

The title follows Nathan Burnett, a down-on-his-luck novelist entering his thirties whose life is turned upside down when he’s given powers from an unearthly force. Ahead of the first issue’s release, Comfort Food Comics chatted with editor Michael Busuttil over email about the influences behind the book, and whether or not we’ll see a Christmas-themed issue in the near future.

[Parts of the interview have been edited for clarity.]

Comfort Food Comics: Give us a brief summary of your origin story, and how Tokusatsu fits into it.

Michael Busuttil: Here’s the really short version: Mat Groom and I started a Power Rangers rewatch podcast called Ranger Danger in 2013. A couple years into that, Boom announced that Kyle Higgins was going to be writing their [Mighty Morphin] Power Rangers book; a listener tweeted at him and he agreed to do an interview with us. That led to a regular monthly series where we broke down every issue of his run [wr. note: Boom Room, which can be found here], which led to us helping answer some of Kyle’s questions behind the scenes, which ultimately led to Kyle editing SELF/MADE, an Image book that Mat wrote and I designed. Kyle and Mat kept working together after that (they’re currently co-writing Ultraman for Marvel), and I’ve done some little design jobs for Kyle here and there; Kyle decided he needed an editor to keep Radiant Black moving and thought I’d be a good fit.

CFC: How did the Radiant Black team come together?

MB: Kyle and Marcelo were already working on the book before I came on; Marcelo was the colorist on SELF/MADE, and I think Kyle just happened to be talking to him one day and found out that he’d be interested in drawing it as well. I honestly don’t remember Kyle asking me to edit the book; I think it might have been after Image approved the pitch? We’d talked about me being involved in some way from pretty early in the process, and I know we’d talked about the idea a lot in several previous forms before it became the book it is now, which is why it’s tough for me to pinpoint exactly when I officially came on board. Becca was recommended to us by a letterer friend of Kyle’s; I knew her design work, but she lettered some sample pages for us and it was very quickly obvious that she was a perfect fit.

CFC: Radiant Black marks your debut as an editor for a comic.  Tell us about how the experience has been so far.

MB: It’s a very big book to be learning from scratch on. We’ve got one artist pencilling and colouring (so an incredibly tight schedule), multiple covers per issue, a busy writer, backup stories, and some other things coming up in the future that I can’t quite talk about yet; as I write this we’re about to send issue 1 to the printer, and issues 2 through 6 or maybe even 7 (and the first trade) are all on my radar as needing some sort of attention. I think Kyle is also trusting me with some responsibilities that he would have handled on his Image books in the past, and so it’s definitely taken us a couple of months to work out the boundaries of each of our jobs and how to work best together. It’s kind of like learning to juggle while someone is actively throwing new juggling balls to you.

All of which is to say… I love it. Kyle, Marcelo, and Becca are all delightful to work with, and having the sort of attention that allows us to do multiple covers and start to plan slightly longer-term is absolutely a blessing in the current market. It’s taken me a little time to hit my stride – I think issue 3 is the first issue where I feel like I had an impact on the finished book as an editor – but I could do this forever. 

CFC: Radiant Black is the latest in a long line of Indie superheroes, and you’ve even got a nice pull quote from Invincible creator Robert Kirkman himself.  What is it like to add onto that legacy?

MB: Oh, terrifying. Launching any book at Image is a pretty big deal, and getting to launch a superhero book at Image, where they’re still somewhat rare, only adds to that. All I can really do is hope that we get to tell the story Kyle and Marcelo want to tell for as long as possible, or until it’s done; if it happens to penetrate the comics consciousness like a Spawn or a Savage Dragon – or, yes, an Invincible – that’d just be a lovely bonus. 

CFC: The singular Henshin hero hasn’t really been seen in the United States in over a decade (with 2008’s Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight being the last of its kind).  Tell us about the approach to bringing that genre back to American audiences, given how much focus the superhero landscape has been on the classic cape hero.

MB: This is an interesting question. As someone who grew up watching Power Rangers and Sailor Moon alongside the various 90s animated Marvel series, I don’t know that I’ve ever really mentally drawn a distinction between the two – surely Lynda Carter spinning around to become Wonder Woman, say, or Superman ducking into a phone booth, are almost as much a henshin sequence as a Kamen Rider slamming a key into a belt. Iron Man in particular actually feels really specifically like a version of that archetype – where Captain America and Thor always have access to their powers, Tony Stark is Just A Guy, and he’s useless against Whiplash on the racetrack until the briefcase comes out and he can “morph” into Iron Man. My feeling is that audiences aren’t actually as unfamiliar with it as they think, especially in the superhero-tinged variety.

I actually think the more interesting tokusatsu influence comes in how Kyle’s approaching the villains of the series, which… well. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

CFC: Both you and Kyle have had experience writing for Boom Studios’ Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series, and additionally, you have experience co-hosting the Ranger Danger podcast.  What have you learned from those experiences, and how does that factor into the creative process behind Radiant Black?

MB: I think the biggest factor here is just that, after five years of regular conversations starting on the podcast and continuing into our regular lives, Kyle and I know each other pretty well; I cannot imagine learning to edit a comic from scratch and on the fly with a writer where we didn’t already have that level of trust. Kyle knows that I’ve got pretty solid story instincts, and that I don’t make suggestions unless I genuinely think they’ll make the book better; I know that Kyle needs some time at the start of an issue to get himself happy with it before I start to make suggestions, and if he stands his ground about something it’s because he feels strongly about it. You can certainly develop those relationships with new people over time, but being able to just jump right in has saved us a lot of time.

CFC: Interesting that you bring up the conversational aspect of your creative process. With Radiant Black’s debut, will we see the return of something like the Boom Room?

MB: We talked about doing some sort of podcast angle from very early on in the book’s creation, but I had some hesitations. I felt in particular like it would be a bit weird for me to be asking a bunch of questions that I either did or should already know the answers to – if there’s importance to a scene that I don’t get until the book goes to press I feel like I’ve failed a little as an editor, you know?

Luckily, Kyle had some ideas. As I write this we haven’t quite locked in what we’re doing yet, so I don’t want to say just in case that changes, but stay tuned to the Radiant Black twitter account. We’ll be saying something pretty soon.

CFC: What does the creative process behind an issue of Radiant Black look like?  How does the communication between members of the team work, and how does *gestures at current world events* factor into that?

MB: The process is pretty standard, I think. Kyle writes an outline and then a script, Marcelo does thumbnails and then inks and colours, and then Kyle does a lettering pass before Becca comes in to letter. We’re all regularly weighing in on all of those steps with ideas and thoughts; if a new character needs designing or we want a new lettering effect for some reason we try to get those going early, so everyone has as much time as possible to revise and tweak. For me, most of the work comes in at the outline stage – the earlier we catch potential problems, the fewer people have to be involved in fixing it.

Most of our communication is email or Google Hangouts chat; the four of us are across four different continents, so it’s pretty vital that we have lines of communication that are asynchronous. Kyle and I will sometimes voice call or video chat if he wants to talk through an idea, especially in the early stages of an issue, but it’s almost entirely text-based. Ironically, because we’re all so separated geographically, it was basically unaffected by the pandemic other than in the ways that it’s made everyone’s lives generally harder. I do hope that one day we’re all able to be in a room together, though. That’d be nice.

CFC: What kind of vibes should we expect from Radiant Black?

MB: You know when a bunch of friends get together for the first time in a while and you all ask how everyone’s doing, and everyone says they’re fine, and you all know that you’re maybe all a bit less than fine but no-one wants to be the first person to bring it up?

At its core, I think Radiant Black is a book about being in your 30s in 2021. Kyle has said that it’s not a book about him but there is a lot of him in the book. It’s about wanting to Do Something With Your Life. It’s honest and open and vulnerable; I think people might be surprised by how much that’s a key part of the DNA.

Oh, but there’s also like rad superhero fights and the ecstasy of flight and the feeling of maybe making a difference in the world and evil aliens from outer space and stuff. That’s all in there too. It’s a large book, it contains multitudes.

CFC: How do you see Radiant Black growing in one year, two years, and beyond that?

MB: Right now we’ve planned out pretty thoroughly to the end of the first arc in issue 6, and Kyle and I have talked about the broad strokes of the second arc, so I have to be a little careful here because I know some of what’s coming. In the first year, I think people should expect us to broaden out the cast – I absolutely don’t want people to assume that means more superheroes, but definitely bringing in some villains – both cosmic and mundane – and definitely some more human characters that let us explore more facets of what it means to be an adult in 2021. 

If we’re lucky enough to still be doing this book beyond that… there’s a whole universe full of people out there. I expect some of them will come calling.

CFC: Rapid-fire, what’s your favourite season of Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, and Power Rangers, and what series are you currently watching?

MB: My Kamen Rider experience is pretty limited, but I really enjoyed the couple of episodes of Zero-One I’ve seen; the second episode has an all-time-great transformation-as-character-explanation moment that absolutely blew my mind. I’m gonna cheat on Super SentaiSuper Sentai Strongest Battle is a miniseries rather than a full season, but it’s four episodes of balls-to-the-wall Koichi Sakamoto-directed delight. Favourite Power Rangers, right now probably a tie between Lightspeed Rescue and Dino Charge. We’ve just started heading into Power Rangers Time Force for the podcast, and a couple of episodes in, it is already very very good.

CFC: Not-so-Rapid-fire, what’s great about tokusatsu and why should readers get into the genre?

MB: Oh boy.  This is a big question. I think there’s two main things that keep bringing me back to tokusatsu; I can’t say this is a thorough overview of the genre, but it’s what appeals in it for me.

The first is that these stories are told through a different cultural lens than western superhero stories. The forms have different conventions and expectations; I find tokusatsu to be often surprising not because it makes bad choices, but just because it makes unexpected ones. Things happen at different speeds, stories take different shapes. It’s like going to another country and driving on the opposite side of the road – not completely different, but just different enough to keep you on your toes.

The second is simply that most of these stories are intended as short-form from the start. In any given season of Kamen Rider you get 40 to 50 episodes, and then that season is done and we move on to different characters telling a different story. To the degree that there is any continuity between seasons, it’s usually limited to crossover events and anniversary seasons; you can choose and watch any season in any order. 50 episodes is a lot, so you still get most of the benefits of serialisation – slow-boiling side-plots, shifting character focus, the occasional absolutely wild Christmas episode – but you still get to experience a story with an end.

CFC: Will we be seeing any wild Christmas/Halloween specials in Radiant Black?

MB: We looked at the calendar at some point and this whole first arc is actually set shortly after Thanksgiving, so it’s not impossible we’ll hit Christmas on-panel at some point in maybe the second arc. 

A specific Christmas or Halloween-themed bad guy, as you often get in Super Sentai, might be a bit of a stretch for the world of Radiant Black, but I don’t want to rule it out entirely – maybe one day if we’ve got a Radiant Black Annual in us we can fit in something a little less canonical and a little more… festive.

CFC: Any final thoughts about Radiant Black?

MB: I hope people enjoy it! We’ve been working on this book for more than a year now, but that kind of all feels theoretical until the actual book is on the shelves and regular people get to read it. Without spoiling anything, there’s some pretty big swings coming up in future issues, and I hope people stick with us.

Radiant Black will be available at a comic shop near you on February 10, 2021.

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