Morris Sackett won the MVP award every year he’s been on his five-time championship NBA team. He’s a braggart who dates a sexpot pop star and talks trash about his teammates. And as Mosaic, he’s becoming the perfect Marvel superhero for 2016.
Marvel Comics has been hyping the debut of Mosaic for a few months now. He was announced with a splashy exclusive interview with a big mainstream media outlet and received a free origin comic distributed via Barnes & Noble. Mosaic was also featured in Uncanny Inhumans, the flagship book for the property to which Marvel is tethering its newest characters. This new hero is a black man being worked on by black men, a phenomenon still rare enough in comics to be notable: writer Geoff Thorne is a veteran who has worked in animation, motion pictures, and scifi literature, and Khary Randolph, who’s drawn high-profile titles for DC, Image, and Marvel.
The first issue of the new ongoing series—with colorwork by Emilio Lopez and lettering by Joe Sabino—opens with narration from inside Morris’ head as he leads his team to another championship. Randolph’s art shines especially bright here, deftly showing the main character’s bravado and on-court skill with a steal, between-the-legs bounce pass evasion and an in-your-face dunk that makes you feel bad for a player who isn’t real.
The interior monologue and post-game interview that follows makes it clear that Morris thinks he’s hot shit and, quite frankly, he is.
But his brashness quickly turns into panic when he gets exposed to the Terrigen Mist that transforms regular people into superpowered Inhumans. After his metamorphosis into a disembodied energy entity, Morris slowly learns that he can jump into other people’s bodies, access their memories and knowledge, and retain bits of that information after exiting. Yet, amazing as that all is, this new state of affairs means he can’t touch the glamorous life he once led.
Mosaic doesn’t just bolster Marvel’s efforts to diversify its character stable and talent pool. It also answers the most common criticism lobbed at instances of shared heroic mantles. When the title of Hulk, Thor or Captain America has been shared with or passed on to characters who are different in race or gender from the original, there’s been a sometimes unkind response that wonders why Marvel or DC doesn’t just make a new character. Mosaic is exactly that—a new hero that attempts to speak to the moment in which he was created.
Lots of classic Marvel superhero ideation informs Mosaic. He’s self-centered in the same way that Peter Parker was before the death of Uncle Ben and—like Spider-Man, many X-Men and other established characters—the first, fumbling uses of his powers come with tragic consequences. Along with a literary conceit descended straight from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the newness in Mosaic comes in how Thorne uses specificity to ground the superheroics in a cosmopolitan, contemporary feel. Major and minor personas feel sketched out with textures pulled from real-world observations. When readers get a peek inside a young man’s head after Morris’ first jump, that glimpse comes across as an accurate portrayal of a teenager’s jumbled, hormonal thoughts. Next, he flies into a middle-aged Korean banker checking to see if Morris’ first host is okay. The last body Morris possesses belongs to a stick-up kid who’s part of a heist crew with his friends; learning that he’s in vocational school studying to be an electrician humanizes him a bit.
Thorne’s writing sometimes does feel like trying too hard to pull of-the-moment argot straight from Twitter onto the comic’s pages. But despite that, it does successfully channel the energy of today, riffing off the celebrity-obsessed, status-thirsty fascinations of the present day. Before his son breathes in the Terrigen Mist, Morris’ dad was pushing him to get an endorsement deal with Tony Stark. It’s exactly the kind of careerist calculus that gets laid bare in the social media feuds that bold-faced names get caught up in.
Standard operating procedure for superhero tropes tells us that Morris isn’t a hero yet. The allure of Mosaic is in seeing the world through which Morris will move. Since the 1960s, Marvel’s editorial slogan has been that its superheroes reflect the world we live in. Mosaic seems geared up to be a comic that shows how much that world has changed since the company’s flagship characters were 99.9% white.