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Humanoids ‘H1 Ignition’ review: A brave new world, indeed

Will the publisher’s new monthly superhero universe save the day or fall to earth?

Let The Games Begin: Humanoids is best known for publishing inventive graphic novels, the sort of sophisticated fare closer to high art than your average Archie comic. A rich, expansive catalog that includes Madwoman of the Sacred Heart, The Miss, The Incal, and Negative Exposure.

This year, however, they’re expanding the lineup with the launch of H1, an all-new (mostly) superhero-centric imprint led by two pillars, John Cassady (company’s CCO) and Mark Waid (the new director of creative development). The H1 Universe will initially feature three monthly titles (the company’s first such run) in addition to three mini-series. In press materials, H1’s described as more of return – Humanoids published the seminal Metal hurlant series in the ’70s and ’80s – and a chance to “bring reality back to comics.”

To kick things off, Humanoids has used Free Comic Book Day to unveil H1 Ignition: part comic book, part press release outlining, and a tantalizing sample of what’s to come.

Look At That Roster, Yo: Cassady and Waid are only a part of the equation. The three series feature is a who’s who of exciting comics writers and artists, including Kwanza Osajyefo, Yanick Paquette, Devin Grayson, Carla Speed McNeil, Mags Visaggio, Dennis Calero, and Dom Reardon, among many others. (Paquette, Osajyefo, and McNeil are also listed as “H1 Architects”). There’s no denying the sheer diversity of that roster, which bodes well for telling the kind of impactful, socially relevant stories Humanoids seeks. Either way, this large pool of voices no doubt brings with them heaps of loyal fans, which bolsters H1’s chances.

Here’s The Deal, Ally McBeal: The three monthly titles (debuting in June, July, and August, respectively) are:

  • Ignited: In which six teenagers survive a school shooting after spontaneously developing superpowers (Mark Waid, Kwanza Osajyefo, and Phil Briones).
  • Strangelands: Two unlikely people are brought together after gaining interconnected powers, trotting the globe in search for answers and a cure (Mags Visaggio, Darcie Little Badger, Vanesa Del Rey, and Lee Loughridge).
  • OMNI: Dr. Cecelia Cobbina can process thoughts/information like a million supercomputers, which she uses to help others (and perhaps herself) (Devin Grayson, Ariela Kristantina, and Bryan Valenza).

Chutzpah Levels Over 9,000!: There’s no denying that “ongoing superhero universe” doesn’t fit with Humanoids’ usual M.O. And the idea of launching a new superhero imprint here and now – with Marvel as undeniable lord and commander of geekery – should put the fear of God in every stakeholder. Yet that dynamic may well be what the entire team is banking on. A breath of fresh air in this already saturated market may do the medium some good, especially if it’s more grounded tales. Humanoids is likely betting people want more relevant and timely heroes, and there’s certainly evidence that people are perceptive, even hungry, for heroes that resonate with the world of 2019 (i.e., scary and bizarre and dark). With the MCU winding down (temporarily), it may cause some fans to look elsewhere for their nerdy fix. At the same time, H1’s launch does contain risks: hungry fans may not be interested in heroes at all, and debuting an all-new universe from scratch may be more work than reward. Still, you’ve got to applaud the team for its brazenness and savvy.

An Ace In The Hole: Part of the reason I’m at least moderately excited for H1 is that the powers of the various heroes are interesting enough. The heroes of Strangelands – lovers Adam and El – gained abilities involving repulsion and attraction; if that’s not a seven-layer commentary on relationships, I don’t know what is. The kids in Ignited have powers aligning with their respective personalities (emotional mesmerizing, object deflection, building shields from organic material, etc.), and that’s always a recipe for something engaging if not wholly entertaining. The powers presented here have that gritty, real-world quality, but they also feel like both gifts and a curse (like Dr. Cobbina and El/Adam), and that’s another promising layer. The powers are very much on the front lines, and if H1 is about a clearer focus on reality, these abilities need to resonate in order for the three series to truly work.

Doth Holes Appear?: Don’t go into this free issue with hopes aimed too high. It’s just a chance to read up on the H1 Universe and hear from the creators. That said, there are a few preview pages of each title, and they do shed important light. They certainly feel in line with the general Humanoids vibe, which is to say those slightly European sensibilities that stand out from the “traditional” pacing of American comics. Ignited will prove to be the emotional juggernaut of the 3, but I worry if such a highly-charged series might not instantly breakdown into politicizing (as opposed to commentary) and/or turn people off. Strangelands is clearly the porridge that’s just right – a solid mix of gimmicks and potential for character development and interplay. Still, my money’s on OMNI, as the thought-based superpower (and all the ideas and storylines carried with) seems like the most interesting from a creative standpoint.

A Mini Interlude: Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the three mini-series. There’s Meyer, a “Breaking Bad-style imaginary biography of legendary Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky”; The Big Country, about a serial killer and the family of sheriffs hunting him down; and Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, which seems like it could be Harry Potter but with horror and black magic. The titles are even more in line with Humanoids’ remaining catalog than the hero stuff, and they seem interesting enough (if not a little one dimensional). Regardless, it’s likely they’ll be overshadowed by H1’s superpowered cast.

Final Thoughts: It’s an exciting time for Humanoids. This could be the start of an exciting new universe of impactful and relatable heroes – or it could totally be another Wildstorm (fraught with delays, bad politics, underwhelmed fans, etc.). While this preview lacks definitive proof, I nonetheless remain hopeful. Even if these new heroes can’t save the world, they just may save us from more of the same.

Ignited drops June 5. Strangelands hits shelves July 10. OMNI lands August 14.

H1 Ignition
Is it good?
Will the publisher's new monthly superhero universe save the day or fall to earth?
A great way to kick-off a new universe with lots of details and insights.
Comics that promise to increase inclusion, inject reality, and engage readers with timely observations.
Superpowered heroes that are cool without foregoing some level of humanity.
Not a lot to go on till the first issues land this summer,
Is launching a new superhero universe a grand idea in this climate?
6.5
Good
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