Friday, June 21, 2024
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Comics Corner – Queer game streaming and superheroics collide in ‘Radiant Pink’

Anyone who’s tried their hand at becoming even a part-time streamer knows there’s a lot more to it than just sitting around playing video games. Beyond the time demands of regularly broadcasting and the challenges of building a loyal audience, there’s the struggle of balancing the public persona presented to viewers with maintaining a personal and private life for yourself. But what if you also had to juggle all that with saving the world?

That’s the question at the heart of Radiant Pink, a new mini-series published by Image Comics. Spinning out of the events in ongoing parent title Radiant Black, the comic follows Eva, a pro-streamer who can transform into the eponymous Radiant Pink, an armoured form with teleportation powers. Sadly, she’s already learned that even the ability to be anywhere in an instant isn’t enough to save her relationship with her now-ex girlfriend. To bury the pain, Eva throws herself into saving lives, both as her costumed persona and through charity fundraising streams as “EvaPlayss” – streams that are blowing up thanks to the occasional celebrity appearance from a certain pink superhero. However, close to burnout, could new love interest Kelly save Eva from herself? Considering Kelly is part of a plot to take Radiant Pink down, probably not…

Queer game streamers to the rescue! (Cover to Radiant Pint #1, art by Emma Kubert, © Kyle Higgins & Marcelo Costa)

Eva made her debut in the pages of Radiant Black #5 back in June 2021. Created by writer Kyle Higgins and artist Marcelo Costa, the series is something of a deconstruction of Power Rangers-style transforming heroes (Higgins had previously written the ongoing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic for Boom! Studios) with each colour-coded character coming into their powers individually, before slowly being drawn into contact with one another. Even now, nearly two years from the series’ inception, the “team” still hasn’t come together as a formal group, although the four main Radiants so far – Black, Red, Pink, and Yellow – regularly cross paths.

While Radiant Black is primarily centred on the eponymous “Black Ranger”, every sixth issue to date has shone the spotlight on another Radiant, with February 2021’s #12 focusing on Eva and revealing her background and origin. Written by Higgins and Meghan Camarena – a streamer herself, as Strawburry17 – it established Eva’s ambitions to make it a career out of streaming, and how her inability to switch off from her fans’ demands cost her her relationship with Z, a psychology student.

Camarena returns for the Radiant Pink mini-series, co-writing with Melissa Flores (writer of The Dead Lucky, another comic set in the same continuity as the Radiant series), and teaming with artist Emma Kubert and colourist Rebecca Nalty to expand Eva’s world. Picking up story and character threads from the spotlight issue, the mini-series has treated readers to a deeper look at Eva’s home life and friend circle, and a closer look at how her tendency to push herself to the brink to help people is consuming her.

We agree, Eva IS pretty fricking cool! (art by Emma Kubert & Rebecca Nalty, © Kyle Higgins & Marcelo Costa)

That tendency is how she meets Kelly – after a children’s hospital Eva is visiting as Radiant Pink is bombed, she over-extends her ability to open teleportation portals in an effort to evacuate every patient. While Kelly, an EMT working at the hospital, helps in getting the kids to safety, Eva’s drained powers misfires and strands the pair on an alien world.

It’s a great meet cute for the pair, filled with sparky dialogue as Eva and Kelly banter and bicker in the face of disaster. The two women have clear and immediate chemistry, which continues to build in the second issue as they try to portal their way back to Earth. However, a great romance might not be on the cards, as Kelly appears to have had some hand in the bombing that led to their predicament.

This is perhaps the one story point that makes Radiant Pink slightly inaccessible for newcomers. In the core Radiant Black series, it’s established that scattered alien technology tied to the still-mysterious origins of the Radiants can be repurposed to drain energy from the heroes, charging up armour that in turn gives others various powers. Kelly is shown working with another couple who set the bomb, in order to lure out and drain Eva. While it’s probably not unfair to presume that many readers will be coming to this book from the ‘main’ title, therefore knowing the rules of the universe, a touch more clarity for anyone jumping in blind wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Eva serves superhero realness! (art by Emma Kubert & Rebecca Nalty, © Kyle Higgins & Marcelo Costa)

Wherever the story goes though (the first two issues of Radiant Pink are available at time of writing, with the mini-series set to run for five), it’s a real delight to see a queer take on the superhero staple of a fractious love interest with a villain – or at least an antagonist who starts out opposed to the hero. Batman has Catwoman, Spider-Man has Black Cat, and now Radiant Pink has Kelly (who, despite lacking a feline pseudonym, does beat up a giant alien cat monster in issue two, so the pattern sort of tracks!). Where the series takes this romantic rivalry remains to be seen – Kelly’s motivations remain unrevealed at present, although bombing a children’s hospital to drain Pink’s powers isn’t exactly a foundation on which to build a relationship! – but it’s a great little touch that taps into the history of superheroes as a genre.

It’s also especially refreshing to see how normalised Eva’s queerness is under Camarena and Flores. There’s no angst or uncertainty, with Eva declaring herself a “queer icon” on-stream, and no hesitation from her in flirting with Kelly. Despite feeling like her world is fraying, the one thing Eva seems to be confident in is her queer identity – issue two of Radiant Pink even sees her glibly mention an ex-boyfriend, without any implication it was “just a phase” or similar clichés.

As first dates go, a tour of the multiverse is pretty good (art by Emma Kubert & Rebecca Nalty, © Kyle Higgins & Marcelo Costa)

Radiant Pink’s queerness was also echoed by a landmark moment in the actual Power Rangers franchise that the Radiants take inspiration from. In Power Rangers Dino Fury, Green Ranger Izzy Garcia (played by Tessa Rao) recently became the long running property’s first openly LGBTQ+ character – a major moment in kid’s television. Having been queer-coded from the series’ earliest episodes – notably including ripping off a skirt built into her morphed form – Izzy came out in the series’ 13th episode, The Matchmaker, where it’s revealed she’s dating a girl named Fern. While it’s almost certainly a coincidence – the Power Rangers episode aired in October 2021, and would have been written and shot before Eva was revealed to have a girlfriend in Radiant Black #12 – it’s heartening that queer representation has become so accepted.

While the series still has only just begun, Camarena and Flores are building Eva into a brilliantly relatable character, while Kubert’s and Nalty’s pages pop with power – in a fun touch, Eva’s helmet in her powered up form has expressive eyes, allowing for some real personality and emotion to show on an otherwise static silhouette. How Eva and Kelly make it home, and whether they’ll be mortal enemies by the time they do remains to be seen, but even with three more issues to go, Radiant Pink is already a shining example of superheroics with a queer twist.

Radiant Pink is published by Image Comics

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