This Is How It Begins: Ignited is the premiere title for H1, the all-new, superhero-centric monthly imprint from storied indie publisher Humanoids. (For more on that entire universe, be sure to check out the Ignition FCBD preview.) The series, written by Kwanza Osajyefo and Mark Waid, follows six teenagers who survive a school shooting in part to gaining unexplained superpowers. If that premise seems especially timely, it should — H1, per its “architects,” is meant as a much-needed dose of reality to modern comics.
So, Then, It Works, Yeah?: Issue #1 feels like a proper encapsulation of our world and its complex political and cultural dynamic. We follow the students of Phoenix Academy as they return to a new school year following the shooting — the mood’s especially terse, and Waid and Osajyefo do a great job of addressing the inherent reality at hands (including little details like mandatory plastic backpacks). Still, trying to stand out from the Big Two via enhanced realism seems like a risky maneuver: Marvel and DC are true enough to reality (for books about wacky superheroes), and people use comics to turn briefly away from reality. That said, this search for “authenticity” is hopefully code for things like nuance, moderation, and subtlety, which should help to tell a more grounded, people-centric story. In that sense, the slow, nigh methodical pacing of issue #1 is a promising start.
Action And Then Reaction: In my recent interview with Osajyefo, he mentioned that Ignited is very much a book about consequences, where events will have actual stakes, impacting characters and relationships and, of course, the larger story. Again, Big Two titles have some consequences, but nothing that can’t be reworked by bashing the walls of reality. By creating a more realistic world to operate in, Osajyefo and Waid have taken steps to limit their storytelling in the best way possible. The pair are locked into creating a tale where loss and the severe, unrelenting emotional fallout dominate characters’ lives. Not only is that compelling as a reader, but it feels like a daring creative choice — to facilitate a sense of powerlessness despite all the super strength and laser eyes. (Those aren’t really the powers displayed here, but I won’t spoil those beyond highlighting their resonance with the story and its overall mood). In 25-ish pages, we already get the sense that the world is shifting, and with that comes layers of tantalizing heartache and personal growth.
The Politics of Everyday Life: In the same interview with Osajyefo, I’d mentioned a fear of the book taking political sides versus delivering outright commentary. That’s only a concern because the sheer divisiveness of the gun control debate, and how left vs. right arguments might muck up the story. Luckily, the two creators do a solid job of shifting the focus to the kids themselves, putting faces to the debate and humanizing it in a truly impactful manner. It’s the kids, then, who become avatars, helping guide readers into this world of violence and confusion, holding our hands as the story unfolds. The shooting, too, is less of an event and more like a piece of history, this shadow looming over the world and coloring every interaction. To some degree, that’s about contextualizing it in a way to safeguard people, but it works for the larger narrative by focusing less on specific events or politics and more on the endless consequences. If issue #1 is just the beginning, expect this book to address a hugely sensitive issue with grace and deft without foregoing an ounce of vitriol.
The Kids Are Totally Cool: As a rule, comic books are hit and miss with teen protagonists: for every Runaways you have the Wonder Twins. That said, the teens in Ignited are already proving to be more engaging on several levels. For one, they’re similarly realistic (thus far), and it’s easy to follow their path as they move through this huge, heavy issue. The de facto protagonist, Anouk, is especially promising – with any luck, she’ll continue to be the emotional spotlight as we move deeper into the universe and tackle the ever-warping landscape of Phoenix Academy. (Again, without spoiling too much, Anouk’s power is supposed to make her an ideal leader, and that’s a great way to position her within the narrative.)
Some of the other kids, thus far, feel a little one-dimensional, but it’s easy enough to excuse. That said, I get the sense that some of them may be annoying while others are more likable, and that’s important. If this is the “real world” then not everyone needs to pull at my heartstrings all the time. Disliking someone will only complicate my relationship with their trauma and growth, and that’s totally appealing.
Knowing It When I See It: As much love as I have for the premise and early storyline, I’m not as crazy for the artwork. Phil Briones generally does great work (Captain America, Flash, etc.), and while the art in Ignited isn’t necessarily bad, it just doesn’t align with the book’s larger goals. In parts, it feels overly flashy given the subject matter and sheer gravitas, while in other parts there’s a frenetic energy and momentum that that just doesn’t fit. There’s no clear art choice for “superhero coming-of-age story set after a mass shooting,” but Briones’ efforts weren’t the most effective choice. This may change down the line, or perhaps his style is a way to re-contextualize the headier narrative. For now, the art takes away from the story, and that’s a shame when everything else is so deeply engaging.
A Whole New World: It’s clear that the H1 team have a long road ahead. With the Big Two dominating the superhero market, it may prove difficult to break in. However, Ignited demonstrates that, at least on paper, Humanoids has the kind of heart and creative drive to foster something new and engaging. If they can sustain that alluring emotional core, they just may end up saving superhero comics from the nefarious Dr. Monotony.