SUPERMASSIVE: AN INTERVIEW WITH KYLE HIGGINS, MATT GROOM, RYAN PARROTT & MICHAEL BUSUTTIL
Comic Book Yeti contributor Luke W. Henderson interviews Kyle Higgins, Matt Groom, Ryan Parrott & Michael Busuttil about their new crossover event/comics universe Supermassive.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Was this something that you guys have always wanted to do since Radiant Black came out? Or was there something about now that made this seem like a good time to do this project?
KYLE HIGGINS: So, very early on, we probably have a date stamp on it because Michael’s on the call, we all jumped on Zoom together. It was over a year ago, probably about a year ago, maybe, talking about the shape of how to build an event, and Ryan and I have a lot of experience writing events, actually, together. We did Shattered Grid together on Power Rangers. Matt and I basically did an event series in Ultraman. Right now, especially with what our plans are, it was very natural for all of us. And then Michael tries to stay sane, wrangling all said events. So, it makes sense.
It was only natural that we started talking very early on about ways that these characters could potentially meet and how you build to something like that or spin out of that, rather than it just being a thing that happens for the sake of happening, just because. And that actually gets that into the timeline of it all. Michael realized pretty quickly that not only would February of 2022 be the one-year point of Radiant Black, but it would also be the 30th anniversary of Image Comics. So, to launch a big crossover event, or to build to launching a big crossover event in that month, both as a celebration of the very reason why, you know, I know Ryan and myself, a part of why we're in comics is because of love of original Image superheroes, especially Ryan. And it felt like this is a nice tip of the hat to what's come before as we also kind of stake out our claim on where we think superheroes can go as we move forward.
MATT GROOM: I think the only other thing I'd add to that is that when we were building this out, I think the fact that our stories were quite different lends itself well to creating something that felt more like an event. The fact that the three books cover, in some ways, some sort of, like, different tonal ground, they all have different styles. As we were sort of putting them together, I think we realized that that's actually what gave it that feeling of scale, and that event feeling. And I think the three themes coming together, that clash of turns and ideas, but then also how, interestingly, while they play off each other, once we sort of got into breaking the story in that way, I think that's when like, oh yeah, this definitely feels like an event.
"...that was a big driver for us that we can do an event that doesn't have to be corporate-run, there's not going to be any sort of corporate interests, there's not going to be any other interests outside of let's make a cracking story."
KH: And each of these books is so built out entirely before the event, like the universe, the world that I've built in Radiant Black, the world that Ryan has already built in Rogue Sun, and the world that Matt has already built in Inferno Girl Red are all unique and specific to each title. So, when we felt very strongly that we wanted to make sure the foundations of each character were rock solid and not reliant on anyone else or any other character so that when we do bring them together, and it just so happens we're doing Supermassive and then Rogue Sun comes out and Inferno Girl Red will come out this summer, it didn't change our approach. We wanted to make sure everything worked onto itself so that when they do meet, they feel fully formed even though you're meeting them for the first time in this crossover.
CBY: Did Inferno Girl Red get added to the mix because you saw it and you liked that it had kind of a similar aesthetic to Radiant Black? Or was this the plan from the beginning? How did that happen?
MG: I think it was the plan from, more or less, the beginning. I think as much as Radiant Black has obviously been publishing for coming up on a year now, Inferno Girl Red weirdly has been in development for broadly the same amount of time. Because it’s a new GN, and for a few other factors, it's just taken a long time for things to come together, but the benefit of that is that nothing had to happen retroactively. We were always sort of talking about every aspect of this series, of both series, as we were going and making sure that these things were complementary, but also not sort of covering the same ground either. And I think that Kyle and I, and Ryan as well, because of our shared sort of background and experiences, us talking about these things, and breaking them together, I think happened quite naturally.
CBY: When Todd McFarlane was talking about his new Spawn’s Universe, one of the things he said in an interview was that “all the fishermen have left the ocean. So, I'm going to go out there and fish” to use that as a way to say the pandemic kind of made an opportunity for him to do something brand new. Did the pandemic have any effect on what you guys were planning for this?
KH: Well, only that it was either I worked myself to the bone or I go more insane. So, the only effect really was that. I think we all just dove in deeper into our work.
RYAN PARROTT: I think the pandemic...for writers, we kind of got lucky in a sense that, you know, most of our lives are just sort of sitting in a room by ourselves writing anyways, so luckily, not a lot changed. But I do think you lose your headspace a little bit. That ability to go out in the real world is like a nice set of “ah,” like a refresher, and then you come back into your little worlds. And so that was the hard part about it, and writers are very lucky because we're safer than most just by the parts of our industry. This sort of goes back to what you were asking earlier, Kyle has been yelling at me to do a creator-owned book at Image for a long time. Since when I first started writing Power Rangers, he was just like, "you should really do this" and he had such a good time at Image. The pandemic was kind of the moment where I was like, “well, maybe this is the moment I can start thinking about that.” Well, actually not…
KH: No, Ryan's had the idea for Rogue Sun for a long time. The exact same amount of time that I've had the idea for Radiant Black because he's completely underselling himself here. We went to a USC football game back in 2018 or 2019 and talked about the possibility of building out original superheroes, because, I'd been talking to Eric Stevenson about what it would look like to build original superheroes in the year 2019. So Ryan had this take, and the second I heard it, I was like, you have to do that. And I've just never let him go.
RP: Since he also has a better memory than me, apparently.
KH: We talked over the first bunch of issues of Radiant Black, we've talked through the first bunch of issues of Rogue Sun. That's what makes it so much fun for me about working with these guys is, I think to make comics, this is something Matt said at one point, you have to have this "by any means necessary I'm going to make a book" [mindset]. If I decide I want to make a book, then I'm going to make the book. I don't know how I'm going to make the book, but I'm going to make the book. That thing is going to exist. We all have that. You know, when we decide we want to do something, we are going to figure out how to do it and do it to the best of our ability and commit to the bit as fully as we can. And so, to get to the point now where we're doing press about this is very rewarding and fulfilling for me, because it means that we've stuck to our guns creatively.
CBY: Unlike what Todd McFarlane did where he took an old character or something he already had, and he's kind of expanding it, it sounds like you three all had your own three individual ideas and you kind of thought, “Oh, these would be cool together, let's make something happen.” Is that kind of right?
KH: Yeah, I mean, I think we all approached these characters that we built for very personal reasons. So, the fact that there is aesthetic overlap is part coincidence, but part not coincidence. Ryan's is probably the least toku[satsu]-influenced of the series. I did Power Rangers for three years. Ryan has done Power Rangers now for three years. Matt is coming on to Power Rangers. Matt, Michael, and I met through Power Rangers. We are all of the generation that grew up with (well Michael didn’t,) the phenomenon that was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and, for a whole generation of us, that is superheroes. It was very formative. It was very influential for me as a kid.
And so the fact that we're all coming and trying to tell a new superhero series for a new generation, we are the generation that grew up on a Western adaptation of tokusatsu. So, if we're telling Millennial hero stories now, I do find it rather fitting that what was an introduction of superheroes for a whole lot of people aesthetically, is what we are riffing on or influenced by here, as we're trying to tell stories about our current times, dealing with current problems that we're all facing and kind of for me, anyway, this Millennial angst that just permeates everything.
MICHAEL BUSUTTIL: I think something that's been very important to me, and I think to everyone else, as we've been going is all of these books standalone from each other. I would like to think that if someone has been enjoying Radiant Black, they will also enjoy Inferno Girl Red, they'll also enjoy Rogue Sun. I think we all come from similar places. I think we like telling similar sorts of stories.
But I think as we're sort of building this universe, it's really important to me that if you only want to read one of these books, if only one of them really hits you, it stands alone. Rogue Sun isn't a spin-off of Radiant Black. It's its own book that exists in the same space. Inferno Girl Red isn't spinning out, she's her own thing. You can follow her adventures. Also, it's fun when they come together and when there's little nods to each other and stuff like that. So I think that has very much been like, as we've been building this idea that they all exist together in a universe, it is also important that they have their own corners and their own defined story engines that then can sometimes meet each other and have fun together.
"...all you want to do as a comic book creator is add a brick to the wall of comic books that stays."
MG: I think that part of it comes from the Image comics of it all. I think that was a big driver for us that we can do an event that doesn't have to be corporate-run, there's not going to be any sort of corporate interests, there's not going to be any other interests outside of let's make a cracking story. So, we're not having to serve next year's crossover or whatever, we're not having to launch a series that we don't know anything about. I think to varying levels, we've had insight into or a direct sort of connection to corporate crossovers and I think we've seen how those can go wrong as well as right. And this is an experiment into what does this sort of crossover event mean? When it is created when there aren't corporate interests what can we do that's different? How can we make it more compelling?
RP: I think what Matt said about the Image of it all, that's what I liked about the original Image universe. When I was growing up there were two superhero universes: DC and Marvel. Then when Image came in and basically said, “These are our characters, but they exist in this world and they're going to engage each other” and Allison is the one who killed Spawn. I'm sorry, Chapel is the one that killed Spawn and someone's going to show up in a random issue of Savage Dragon. Like, I love that.
KH: And they age in real-time.
RP: Yeah, but I like the idea that anybody could show up in any one of these creator-owned books at any time and it all felt like, what Michael said, they were all their own stories, but they all existed together. I love what Image has become since then because it's a great place for a lot of interesting stories. But that whole superhero universe seems to be gone. I think what we got excited about was that we can be the next generation because it's the thirtieth anniversary, so we were the kids that were growing up. So let's be the next generation, like the real next generation. We were raised on that book and now we're the creators who get to add to that legacy. I've always said this, since working on Power Rangers: all you want to do as a comic book creator is add a brick to the wall of comic books that stays. The idea that we can add a character to that world, and then it can maybe be a part of that world permanently is super cool. That's the fun.
CBY: What can readers expect from this universe that they won't get from Marvel or DC or even Todd McFarlane’s Spawn Universe, or Jeff's upcoming Bone Orchard universe?
KH: Well, a couple things. I mean, certainly, you can see what our aesthetic influences are and what our brand aesthetic is thanks, in large part, to Michael, who is a consistent designer across all of our projects here. But more importantly than that, this is going to sound obvious, I think increasingly, superhero comics don't really spend enough time in the arena that I'm about to describe, which is something that Michael pointed out. Radiant Black is as much about the problems you can punch as it is the problems that you can't. And those problems are very much the ones outside your window right now in a way that even the Marvel universe doesn't do. It can't anymore. That’s not a slight or a knock on Marvel, but our characters can change and we're looking to… God, I'm trying not to spoil things, it's really tough. We're looking to take very, very big, bold, often, or sometimes, genre-defying swings, because we can do things that, I'm sorry, but no other superhero universe can do.
MG: I think that was part of the mission statement for us. When we were putting these books together, and when we invested together, it was very consciously, what should superhero comics of the future look like? What does it mean to try and create superheroes that ideally feel like they're right now? But you know, even better, that maybe this is what superhero comics should be in like 10 years' time. And I think that in terms of the first year of Radiant Black — I won't get too specific in case people are still catching up — that what happened there was so shocking and so radical, that I think it helps sort of set the standard for this is what we can do when we don't have corporate limitations, when we don't have to entertain anyone but ourselves creatively, and then trying to extend that out to what does that mean for, in my book, a coming of age teen story. If it was genuinely a teenager today, facing the world that is coming towards us, how do you respond to that? And I, to be honest, I don't know that that's necessarily being covered a lot at the moment. So yeah, it's just about "let's show the world what superheroes can be" if it feels fresh again.
KH: And I think too, before Ryan jumps in here, I don't know that I would want to engage in “Why read our universe over another universe?” conversation. Honestly, we are telling stories and we're making the types of books that we also enjoy. So, if you like that type of storytelling, and you like being surprised, and you like things that are ancillary, and have immersive narrative qualities to them in the real world, if you like ARG-type storytelling, that's the stuff that we enjoy as well. So, it's not a coincidence that that's the stuff that we do in Radiant Black. It's probably not going to be a coincidence that you may see some of that stuff in Rogue Sun and Inferno Girl Red as well.
RP: I just say "synergy" because I like that buzzword. But also we're all friends. When you do big crossover universe stuff, there's a lot of moving parts, a lot of people, like he said, a corporation, stuff like that. But even in Image over there, each one of those guys had their own world and their own things. Kyle and I went to a Clippers game the other night and the game was so bad that we ended up breaking story together. So, that's the lucky thing that we have about having worked together and being smaller. We all have our own little books that can all kind of mesh together in fun and interesting ways that I think you don't have the luxury of if you bring in too many big pieces and too many big moving parts.
MB: Yeah, I think just to close that out, I don't know enough about Todd’s universe or Jeff's universe. I don't want to play that game, but I think our universe, this universe that we're building, doesn't have someone in charge of it. Kyle's book was first, but Kyle runs Kyle’s book, Ryan runs Ryan's book, Matt runs Matt's book. There's a world where, five, six years down the line, who knows, all three of these books are finished, they've run their natural course, and there's three or four other creators still telling stories in that shared universe. But these guys are on different books or out of it entirely, or doing something else instead. I like the idea that it’s a world where they can all exist, but there's not one person calling the shots.
CBY: What's the future for this superhero universe? Do you see it as a new sandbox for future creators to get involved in? How is it going to be organized? What's the future like?
KH: I think you're going to have to read Supermassive before we can really talk about that. But, I would say that it's something we talk about. It's also something that, to Michael's point, we have plans for what we want to continue contributing to what we're building and certain things that we want to perhaps bring in and add in, but that's about as specific as I can be.
MG: I think that Supermassive is one single, contained story. I think that's very important to us. We’re very proud of that. But I also think that Supermassive is a statement of intent. I think it's our announcement to the world that this is what it is. I think in some ways, because of that, we don't want to preempt it too much, but I think if you're curious about what's going on with these people, what are they trying to do, Supermassive is “here take this, you'll see.” Then people will tell us whether they're into that or not, but I have a good feeling.
CBY: Thank you so much, guys.