Written by Mark Waid and Kwanza Osajyefo
Art by Phil Briones and Andrew Crossley
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by Humanoids
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Even superheroes have their limits - but rarely do they hit them as quickly or unmistakably as in Ignited #1, Humanoids’ new launchpad for their H1 universe. Writers Mark Waid and Kwanza Osajyefo have their hearts in the right place, setting this story in a world that might be considered uncomfortably outside our windows, but their stabs at realism falter in the fine details - not to mention grind noisily against the tropes of capes-and-tights comic books. Artist Phil Briones and colorist Andrew Crossley fare better with the visuals, tapping into nightmarish flashbacks of a grisly school shooting, but even they can’t fix the inherent tonal conflict that douses Ignited right out of the gate.
Superhero stories are often rooted in tragedy - see Ben Parker, Thomas and Martha Wayne, the planet Krypton, and much more - but Ignited’s commitment to real-world bloodshed winds up turning this narrative into a hard pill to swallow, as we’re immediately thrown into the first day of school at Phoenix Academy… or at least, the first day of school following a horrifying school shooting. The thing is, at first, these moments wind up being the most thoughtful and poignant beats in Waid, Osajyefo, Briones, and Crossley’s story - it’s hard not to feel something for our heroine, Anouk, as she hesitates to step back onto the bus, as we see images of bullets whizzing straight at us.
The problem is, after a strong setup like this, Ignited never really finds anything left to say, nor does it lock into an authentic voice to tell this story with. There’s some quick lip-service paid to the underfunding of schools and the absurdity of arming teachers in a world contaminated by racism, but it’s hard to take the gravity of this seriously when the messengers are named “@Viral” and “@Wave,” with flimsy designs like a gas mask and a leather tank top, or a guy with just a TV signal for a head. As much as I think Briones and Crossley are a solid team, they don’t do a great job at selling Waid and Osajyefo’s script here, which comes from good intentions but winds up cheapening these very real problems in the execution. Combine that with some truly unconvincing dialogue - the occasional balloon saying “that was lit,” “rise up” or “this is not normal” feels like the most half-hearted of stabs at today’s teenage culture - and it’s hard not to get taken out of the story, even before there’s a sudden swerve into armed militias and superhero territory.
Although to be fair, while Waid and Osajyefo’s script feels oversimplified in the face of actual shootings and real-life, gun-toting vigilantes, the art team deserves their share of critique in terms of bringing this world to unconvincing life. The thing is, when Briones and Crossley actually portray Anouk’s memories of the shooting, these are amongst the most powerful moments in the entire book — they are legitimately terrifying, as we watch our main character crouch into a ball, sobbing as the panel is increasingly flooded by the sound effects of a gun being fired. But they can’t stick the landing in terms of making the superheroic beats not stick out like a sore thumb - design choices like Callum wearing an almost identical outfit to @Viral, @Wave’s goofy TV head, or a militia straight out of Central Casting feels like a very old-school approach, but it’s not one that helps sell the idea that this book is taking their themes seriously. An even more bewildering choice is Dave Lanphear’s jagged, almost animalistic lettering, particularly the way that curse words are barely scratched away (and in some cases, forgotten to be removed altogether). These choices all feel very comic booky, and not in a good way.
Which is ultimately a shame - I think this is a creative team that has all done quality work in the past, and is clearly capable of doing more of the same down the road. But Ignited isn’t it. In certain ways, it feels like a book that’s trying to blend together the adolescent authenticity of Ultimate Spider-Man with the real-world weight and stakes of The Ultimates, but winds up feeling immediately dated compared to two books that are already old enough to vote. There’s clearly a thirst for timely, relatable, even political content in today’s comic book universe - hell, Osajyefo himself is a pioneer of that very style of storytelling, given his superlative work on Black - but Ignited shows that even superheroes sometimes have a difficult time giving the issues of the day their rightful due.