Generally, superheroes motives make sense. They want to save the world, make up for past wrongs, and follow a code of conduct that we can understand, if not outright respect. We get them.
But supervillains? Those characters are who are really fascinating.
We’ve all had this conversation: “If the villain has the power and ability to create/ own/ use these superpowers, why can’t they find a legitimate way to make money off of them?”
I mean, seriously. Think how many supervillains could have taken their power and gone legit with them, and been incredibly successful. All of DC’s ice themed villains could end global warming. Marvel’s mad scientists could cure diseases, end world hunger, and be bigger heroes than any of the actual heroes ever were!
And yet, they don’t. Now, obviously there is a story element here. If every villain went legit there would be no one for the heroes to fight, and because of this we’d get some pretty bland stories. And obviously there would be a lot of bad guys who want more than money and adoration, but still, even when we think we understand them, there is always another layer.
I mean, think how many different interpretations there have been about The Joker and you see the issue. We generally do not fully understand their motives, because if we do, there is a danger we might begin to empathize with them. And if that happens we start to have difficulty seeing them as the bad guys, and instead start to see them as victims themselves, sometimes as bigger victims that the tortured heroes that fight them.
We’ve seen that happen before, especially in the 90s with the rise of Anti-Heroes, a kind of catch all for villains turned heroes that described a particularly brutal subset of violent vigilantes. What’s funny is how quickly though these anti-heroes fell in with the superhero community. I mean, did you ever think you’d see The Punisher working with The Avengers, or Harley Quinn auditioning to be a Robin?
That’s the thing about villains though. As much as we might dream about being the hero, deep down inside we can understand the impulse to be a villain, and as much as we might want to deny it, with the level of power they have, if we were suddenly granted the same abilities, we might make the same bad choices.
All of this takes us to this week’s book, Image Comics’ Radiant Red from Cherish Chen, David Lafuentes, and Miquel Muerto. It’s a book about the temptation for evil, and the impulse to be a hero. It’s also a cautionary tale about the dangers of power, and the consequences of acting without thinking.
So let’s crack in this week and see if Radiant Red can earn the mantle of hero, or will forever be doomed to be a villain.
Here’s the blurb:
Fan-favourite creative team CHERISH CHEN, DAVID LAFUENTE & MIQUEL MUERTO return for a FIVE-ISSUE MINISERIES telling the next unmissable story from the world of RADIANT BLACK!
To her students, Satomi Shen is a diligent middle school teacher. To her fiancé and parents, she’s the rock of their family. To the world, she’s RADIANT RED, a criminal turned matter-absorbing superhero.
But with a mysterious stranger in her classroom, a nosy reporter on her doorstep, and $2.5 million hidden in the air vents of her house, she’s going to have to decide who she is, and quickly—before the world chooses for her.
If you’ve been reading Radiant Black from Image Comics, you’re already familiar with this character. Upon getting his superhero costume, Nathan Burnett quickly learns that he not the only one to find a super powered costume. New reports start coming in about another costumed figure in a very similar suit that has gone on a series of bank robberies, and this figure’s similarities to Nathan are making life very difficult.
Eventually it is discovered that this new figure, known eventually as Radiant Red, is not only a woman, but also motivated by far more than simple greed.
Throughout the course of her appearances in Radiant Black, Shen is fairly enigmatic, with only bits and pieces of backstory dripped throughout. Eventually Shen seems to come around to being more heroic, but just like her work as a supervillain, her heart doesn’t really seem to be that into it, and she’s doing it more because she has to, not because she has any interest in actually being a hero.
Jumping off from this, issue one of this new five-part mini explores just what things do motivate Satomi Shen. We learn about her home life, her family, her job, and we also learn that her secret isn’t as safe as she thought it was. Issue one ends with her having to once again make a decision with serious consequences for her future, and sets up a new power dynamic that will begin to change the course of the character’s future forever.
Radiant Black has quickly become one of my favourite indie superhero titles, and has done a great job reminding me why I loved indie superheroes so much. As much as I love my DC heroes, (and yes, some Marvel heroes as well), independent comics allow so much more room for growth and exploration. Even with the end of the comics code so many years ago, it still feels like the overriding mindset of so many comics from the Big 2 is that villains need to be stopped or redeemed into more family friendly packages. Deep inside all villains want to be the hero, and in their own eyes they are.
But in Radiant Red you really don’t know what way Shen will go. She certainly doesn’t love being a villain, and worries about the consequences of her actions, but at the same time she doesn’t really show any interest in being a hero either. She’s not a bad person, but she’s allowed her circumstances to justify her actions before, and has shown no compunctions about hurting people that get in her way, so the choices she makes, and the path she will eventually walk, is a lot more nebulous.
If you love Radiant Black, Radiant Red is a must read for you. I really dug the first issue, and am excited to see where this series will eventually go. It’s always exciting to be in on the ground floor of a new superhero universe, especially one with this much potential.
If you haven’t checked this world out so far, do yourself a favor and give it a read!
Until next time, stay safe.