Exclusive: Interview with Supermassive’s Kyle Higgins, Ryan Parrott, and Mat Groom
Image Comics Starts 2022 with SUPERMASSIVE – a RADIANT BLACK, INFERNO GIRL RED, and ROGUE SUN Crossover Event
Imagine working with some of your best friends on a licensed comic book property. You brainstorm story ideas together, pitch the ideas to the companies that own the overall property, and work together to keep your books separate yet connected thus rewarding to fans who read both. The result is one of the most popular and beloved comic book events in the last decade – SHATTERED GRID, a POWER RANGERS comic book event in 2018 by BOOM! Studios.
Now imagine those same creators are doing it again – but this time on their creator-owned properties at IMAGE. The rules are simple – they have the freedom to do whatever they want with their characters and stories. The result? The upcoming SUPERMASSIVE comic book crossover graphic novel starring RADIANT BLACK (Kyle Higgins), INFERNO GIRL RED (Mat Groom), and ROGUE SUN (Ryan Parrott).
We are excited to share our exclusive interview with all three creators of SUPERMASSIVE.
Ryan, Mat, Michael and I are putting everything we have into this one.-Kyle Higgins
Exactly how did this SUPERMASSIVE crossover of creator-owned characters/books come together?
MAT GROOM: Maybe Kyle will have a better or more specific recollection, but back when RADIANT BLACK was in development and INFERNO GIRL RED was in development and it became clear that both would end up at Image, it just became a natural sort of… “maybe we could do something, at some point?” conversation.
So a RADIANT BLACK/IGR crossover was percolating in the background as a possibility for a good long while… but I think it really solidified when we realised that the 30th anniversary of Image Comics was on the horizon. And of course an Image Comics book now can be any sort of genre, but it did all start with creator-owned superheroes. So it just felt like a perfect moment to celebrate the past by looking forward at what’s to come for the genre that started it all.
Then, once ROGUE SUN was confirmed as an Image book, that’s what really moved it to a capital-e Event. ROGUE SUN again is a very different book, a very different tone, is playing in a different space – and Ryan just has strengths that Kyle and I don’t. So ROGUE SUN and Ryan were the vital, previously-missing ingredients that fell into place.
RYAN PARROTT: I actually remember talking to Kyle about the crossover even before Rogue Sun was set up at Image. Weird, I know… but when Kyle started Radiant Black, he kept telling me how much fun he was having and that if I honestly wanted to do my own superhero series, I needed to do it there so we could do exactly what the original Image founders did. And for me, that was what really got the wheels turning and ultimately became what turned into Supermassive.
KYLE HIGGINS: Ryan’s right– we did talk about the possibility of something like this, before ROGUE SUN was officially set up. But a lot of that comes from the reason why Ryan and I had so much fun doing SHATTERED GRID together– this type of organic, collaborative world building is something we love to do. There was one night in particular, about this time last year, that Mat, Michael, Ryan and I all hopped on a Zoom for the first time to talk about what’s become SUPERMASSIVE. I remember being very excited, going through the shape of how to build to something like SUPERMASSIVE and we talked about the plan for the INFERNO GIRL RED Kickstarter and the timing of ROGUE SUN, what both books were looking to do and when something like this might make sense.
And then, a week or two later, Michael pointed out that the 30th anniversary of Image Comics was in February 2022, and so was the one year mark for RADIANT BLACK.
The rest, as they say, is some kind of history.
Kyle and Ryan — the two of you have worked together previously with the POWER RANGERS property BOOM! Studios (as well as having your own personal history together), and I know Mat was instrumental behind the scenes during the SHATTERED GRID event a few years back AS WELL AS co-writing ULTRAMAN with Kyle. All that being said – how fun has it been to write a crossover with all of your creations together? What has made you laugh and when did you all realize – “Yup, this is it, this is what we’re going with” in terms of the story?
MAT GROOM: I think me being “instrumental” on SHATTERED GRID might be something of an overstatement, but I did get a bit of a sense of what it means to architect an event there, by watching over Kyle and Ryan’s shoulders… and as you mentioned, I co-write ULTRAMAN so we’ve got our co-writing system down.
But I’ve never actually written with Ryan before! We know each other and I’m a big fan of Ryan’s work, but this is a first in that regard so I really value that experience. I think I have a lot to learn from Ryan, so it was great to get a few tiny pieces of that now.
And in terms of the sort of moment you mentioned – the one that sticks out for me absolutely was a Ryan thing. I don’t want to get into specifics so you can enjoy it for yourself, but if you’re familiar with Ryan’s work you know how he excels at making tiny, personal moments feel emotionally huge and just so… specific. So I kind of knew going in that giving Ryan access to such an odd trio we’d get some gold, but one scene in particular is just so… utterly charming, and revealing, despite being seemingly mundane. It certainly was my “oh, this is going to work” moment.
RYAN PARROTT: Mat is far too humble and kind, but… I agree. We had to do most of our work together over Zoom because we live on different continents and I remember the first few sessions felt a lot like tv writers rooms I’d been in. Everyone is throwing out ideas and doesn’t feel like you’re actually getting to the story, but finally someone dropped one story point and then it all dominoed fairly quickly. And breaking up the individual scenes were pretty seamless. I’ve written in groups before and this was one of the more rewarding experiences.
KYLE HIGGINS: I echo all of that. I think the moment that really solidified things for me was when we assembled everything for the first time. It was clear there was going to be more work to do, but structurally, functionally and most importantly tonally, it all just worked. That’s a great feeling, to know that the baseline is rock solid and it can only get better.
For Ryan and Mat – we’ve all been rather intimately involved with Radiant Black over the last year between Nathan and Marshall. But this will be our first time getting to know INFERNO GIRL RED and ROGUE SUN. What can each of you tell us about your characters – and more importantly – what do we need to know going into SUPERMASSIVE?
MAT GROOM: Well, starting with the easy part – you don’t need to know anything about INFERNO GIRL RED heading into SUPERMASSIVE.
But a bit of background, for the curious – Inferno Girl Red is a 16-year-old student named Cássia Costa, who came with her mother to a place called Apex City for a fresh start and to seize an exciting opportunity… only to have all of that put at risk by an intense and unprecedented crisis. To keep the city from forever falling into darkness, she has reluctantly embraced an ancient power to become the next INFERNO GIRL RED – and now has to deal with the fate of an entire city (containing everyone she’s ever cared about) resting on her shoulders… along with, y’know, all the other things teenagers have to deal with.
RYAN PARROTT: Even though this is technically a new series, the conceit for ROGUE SUN is that he’s actually a legacy hero who has been around since the original Image superheroes. This ROGUE SUN is… Marcus Bell and he’s been protecting New Orleans from the forces of the supernatural for years and he’s drawn into the events of SUPERMASSIVE because of the scope of the threat. He acts as sort of the veteran presence of the story and its actually his relationship with these new heroes that leads into the events of ROGUE SUN #1.
MICHAEL BUSUTTIL (EDITOR): Just to second what everyone else has said: if you’ve never heard of Inferno Girl Red or Rogue Sun, or if you’ve even never read an issue of Radiant Black before? You’ll be able to jump into SUPERMASSIVE just fine. We were all very aware that this will be a lot of people’s first introduction to most of these characters; we won’t give away all of their secrets here, but you’ll get enough of a picture of who they are to have a good time.
Kyle – Can you share where exactly in the timeline of issues of RADIANT BLACK that SUPERMASSIVE takes place? And can poor Marshall get a break? It kind of feels like he’s been through the wringer and back again in just a few issues!
KYLE HIGGINS: So, part of the fun of planning all this from pretty much the get go of RADIANT BLACK is that I was able to write my sections of SUPERMASSIVE months before I had written issues 9-12 of RADIANT BLACK, because I knew the place we were going to bring Marshall to. Literally and figuratively.
Timeline wise, SUPERMASSIVE takes place a few weeks after the events of RADIANT BLACK 11. So, without spoiling issue 11– which is out this week– the status quo is where we leave things there.
But, as any good event storyteller knows, a good kickoff event needs to tease some aspect of the future. And I definitely view SUPERMASSIVE as a “Season Two Premiere EVENT.”
I’m sure I’ve talked about this in POWER RANGERS interviews over the years, but I’ll never forget coming home from a summer vacation in Wisconsin and rewinding the VCR to play an episode of Power Rangers that had aired at like, 7pm on a Saturday night. And it was the Season Two premiere, with Zedd and the Thunderzords. It blew my mind.
That’s the effect I’m chasing with SUPERMASSIVE. It’s both a celebration of 30 years of superheroes, while also something of a statement on where we’re going. Things we’re planning– sometimes things that are still going to be years away.
Ryan, Mat, Michael and I are putting everything we have into this one.
If you’ve never heard of Inferno Girl Red or Rogue Sun, or if you’ve even never read an issue of Radiant Black before? You’ll be able to jump in to SUPERMASSIVE just fine.-Michael Busuttil, Editor
Mat – the character INFERNO GIRL RED started as an incredibly successful Kickstarter and as a backer myself, I am giddy with getting to meet Cássia Costa earlier than expected. Will the events that occur in SUPERMASSIVE tie into the graphic novel in any way? I imagine you won’t need to read one to enjoy the other but for those that do, is there anything readers can point to and go “ah-HA!”?
MAT GROOM: You’re right, Chris, you won’t have to read SUPERMASSIVE to enjoy INFERNO GIRL RED, or vice versa… but the events of SUPERMASSIVE are absolutely IGR “canon.” In fact, Cássia is in a lot of ways the one who (accidentally) incites the crossover event – she’s out searching for something, because of the events of the graphic novel, and that gets her (and everyone) into some trouble.
So SUPERMASSIVE is set after the graphic novel, despite being released first – we orchestrated it this way because the graphic novel is very much the origin of the character, so we’re instead using SUPERMASSIVE as a bit of a hint at what’s to come both in the graphic novel, but even what might come after. So it’s less about there being little cute tie-ins… and more that readers of SUPERMASSIVE will get big, important clues about IGR’s future (and the future of this “Massive-Verse” in general).
Ryan – You’ve been writing two (TWO!) on-going monthly POWER RANGERS comic books from BOOM! Studios. But with ROGUE SUN you get to write a book that differs in the sense that it is not a licensed property but your own property. For those who are not familiar with how writing for a licensed book vs writing your own creation differ from each other, could you share the insight and what kind of freedoms you gain on a creator-owned property?
RYAN PARROTT: Of course. The obvious advantages of working in licensed comics is that there’s an established fan base as well as a storytelling structure and pre-existing affection for the characters. When you’re creating something new, you have to start from scratch. But there’s a freedom to it that’s exciting because it can go anywhere and you can do things that you just wouldn’t be allowed to do in a licensed book. And I think it forces you to take risks and be subversive in order to give fans a reason to follow you from the characters they already love and into a new world. In a way, licensed comics teach you the rules and, someone much smarter than me once said, “As a writer, the moment you learn the rules, it’s your obligation to start breaking them.”
Ryan – Kyle and Mat have both shared that their creations have been influenced by tokusatsu super heroes to an extent (and other things too, obviously). What has been the influence behind ROGUE SUN?
RYAN PARROTT: For me, ROGUE SUN was monumentally influenced by the original founders of Image. I grew up on the animated superhero shows of the 80’s and 90’s and was a teenager when Image started. So I followed all of those artists over from the big two and literally bought every book that came out. They’re the reason I went to art school, how I ultimately ended up writing comics and why I dreamt of one day adding my own hero to the Image mantle. Image has evolved into the place where creators come to tell genre-bending stories that are unique and personal and I’m very lucky to be a part of it.
Kyle – What kind of planning and communication goes into a crossover like this with two other creators? And how do you balance the familiar (RADIANT BLACK) with the unfamiliar (INFERNO GIRL RED, ROGUE SUN) with the audience?
KYLE HIGGINS: A lot of communication. For whatever reason, a lot of comics creators tend to use Google Chat– probably a relic of mine and my friends’ DC days, to be honest– but what that allows for us is a flexibility of communication in real time, across continents. We pretty much do everything in Google Docs, Google Chat, Groups, Dropbox and Zoom calls. Since we’re all friends and working across so many different things together, we’re all pretty much in constant communication anyway. SUPERMASSIVE has been a natural extension of that. Also, Michael is the key. He’s the secret weapon. No joke. Michael keeps us organized, always has fantastic ideas and notes and is also able to manage so many spreadsheets.
There was a brief moment several years ago, after SHATTERED GRID, where Mat, Michael, Ryan and I were working on something together. It was such an incredibly smooth process and so organized that I remember thinking, “wow, if we could find The Right Thing to do together… we could really have something here.” I come from a filmmaking and directing background where it’s all about assembling the right team with the right diverse skill sets and personalities. Now, all these years later, it makes me incredibly happy to know that not only have we found The Right Thing, but we own it. Everything we as the creators create, we own. I can’t tell you how satisfying and empowering that feels. And I say that with absolutely no disrespect to the work-for-hire stuff I’ve done over the years– I’m proud of it. But I’m at a different point in my life now, where being able to build out something of my own now, along with my friends and some of my favorite collaborators… Well, that’s the dream. It’s been very special.
As far as balancing the familiar (RADIANT BLACK) with the unfamiliar (INFERNO GIRL RED, ROGUE SUN), I actually feel like SHATTERED GRID and some of the big BATMAN events I was a part of were fantastic training grounds for me. I really pride myself on finding ways to teach you everything you need to know about a character, in story, without you needing to Google things. Now in this case, with IGR and RS, it’s slightly different– there’s nothing to Google. Yet. Everything is new. So, it’s about teaching enough of the concept so readers understand who everyone is and what they can do… and our way into that is Marshall. This is, after all, his first time meeting these two as well.
MICHAEL BUSUTTIL (EDITOR): I’m not that secret a weapon. My name is in the credits.
The truth is that we were all talking already – I’m editing Radiant Black and Rogue Sun and helping out on Inferno Girl Red, Kyle’s editing Inferno Girl Red and giving us some advice on Rogue Sun, Ryan and Kyle talk all the time, and so do Mat and I. Francesco worked on Ultraman with Mat and Kyle, Igor’s colouring Inferno Girl Red and did an issue of Radiant Black with us, Becca is lettering all three books. It’s always a lot of fun to get to work with new people, but when everyone already knows each other it really couldn’t be easier.
What do you all hope fans take away from this crossover?
MAT GROOM: I hope fans will come away excited about the future. Not that SUPERMASSIVE isn’t a complete story, because it absolutely is… but I also think it’s a real statement for us about what we think superhero comics can be, and should be… about what we’re trying to create here.
There’s no corporate interests here, and there are no limitations on what we’re able to achieve outside of our own limitations… and that’s really liberating. So I hope readers will come away feeling like we’re using that freedom well, to create something that reinvigorates superheroes and makes the future of the genre feel like a new frontier again.
RYAN PARROTT: Yeah, to reinforce what Mat said, as a fan, I remember when the “Deathmate” Image/Valiant crossover happened and just the excitement and anticipation that came with the simple four issue event. There are so many titles out there with so much history, it can be overwhelming and impossible to know where to start. But the nice thing with SUPERMASSIVE is, a fan can step in right here, knowing nothing and hopefully be excited for the story that’s only just beginning.
KYLE HIGGINS: Yep, I agree with all of that. I’d also add, I hope people come away from this one-shot talking about Francesco Manna and Igor Monti. Seriously, the art in this book is absolutely top tier. I would argue that while there are a whole lot of beautiful superhero comics on the stands, SUPERMASSIVE is in a whole other class. No disrespect to any other superhero books in February, but I don’t think there’s going to be anything like SUPERMASSIVE on the stands. Francesco and Igor are leveling up on every page and it’s been so incredible to see.
What are each of you currently writing and where and when can fans read more of your creations from this crossover?
MAT GROOM: I’ll be writing ULTRAMAN with Kyle again when that returns in 2022 with THE MYSTERY OF ULTRASEVEN. INFERNO GIRL RED will be available to everyone sometime in the back half of 2022. And there are a few other things that I can’t talk about just yet, but am very excited to share with everyone.
RYAN PARROTT: I’m currently writing MIGHTY MORPHIN and POWER RANGERS for Boom! Studios. If people want to read any of my other work, I’ve created three creator-owned books for Aftershock Comics, including… “DEAD DAY.” And “ROGUE SUN #1” will be out in February immediately following SUPERMASSIVE.
KYLE HIGGINS: RADIANT BLACK, ORDINARY GODS, and a whole bunch of stuff I can’t talk about yet (laughs)!
Check out these exclusive interior pages for SUPERMASSIVE below!
A huge special thanks to KYLE HIGGINS, RYAN PARROTT, MAT GROOM, and MICHAEL BUSUTTIL for taking the time to speak about the upcoming SUPERMASSIVE crossover graphic novel with us. SUPERMASSIVE is written by KYLE HIGGINS, RYAN PARROTT, and MAT GROOM with artwork by FRANCESCO MANNA and colors by IGOR MONTI. SUPERMASSIVE releases February 2nd in stores and digitally. For updates you can follow the creators on their social media below:
…and as always at Radiant.Black.