Comic books' newest shared universe, the H1 imprint from Humanoids, launches this week with a title whose premise hits very close to real-world issues…only with superpowers involved.
Ignited deals with the reopening of Phoenix Academy in the aftermath of a fatal school shooting…and some of the survivors now have abilities they’re using to fight back. Combining classic superpowered teen angst with modern issues, the series is also reaching out to survivors of real-world shootings to give them a forum for their stories.
The series is co-written by veteran comics writer and H1 Director of Creative Development Mark Waid, alongside H1 “Architect” Kwanza Osajyefo (Black AF) with art by Phil Briones (Suicide Squad). Newsarama spoke to Waid about the new book, the possible controversy of its premise, and much more.
Newsarama: Mark, tell us a bit about the premise of Ignited, and how it ties into the H1 universe.
Mark Waid: Ignited is about six kids who were the victims of a school shooting. Now they've been given powers, and they're out to push back - hard - against the kinds of people and circumstances that allow tragedies like this to keep happening. Like our other two books - Strangelands and Omni - it stars characters who’ve been empowered by the mysterious “Ignition Event.”
Nrama: And tell us a bit about these kids at its center.
Waid: Anouk is the center of the group, a young woman with a spin on empathic powers we’ve not yet seen in comics. She’s joined by Callum, an angry young man who can spread any disease or heal any wound; Marisol, an ex-gang member whose powers are as forceful as her personality; Luther Ray, who can “mashup” physical objects; Himari, who has become, essentially, living origami; and the weirdest of the group (that already has a girl who can become living origami), Shai, whose body has been turned into a sentient radio wave, allowing him to control electronic devices.
Nrama: The series’ premise touches on one of the most hot-button issues in today’s world – I think the last time a school shooting was so key to a book’s premise was Steve Gerber and Brian Hurtt’s Hard Time. Given the divisive nature of the issue, what do you feel are some of the challenges in putting out a book with such a specific perspective on it? Comic books have long dealt with real-world problems, dating back to Kirby having Captain America punch Hitler on his debut cover and probably before that, but that was also well before anything could spark a multimedia outrage the way politically charged material can today.
Waid: We know we’re in the right - domestic terror attacks on schools and other public places happen with such numbing regularity that I’ve seen two in the news since I sat down to answer these questions. 600 million minds in this country, and no one can figure out how to put an end to this insanity? Our Ignited kids don’t necessarily have the right answers, and sometimes the solutions they put in place are the wrong ones, but sometimes they’re dead solid right in their actions
Ignited isn’t just about their points-of-view, either. With each issue, we’re turning the editorial pages over to actual kids who’ve been involved in school shootings and giving them a platform to say whatever they feel needs saying. Their voices deserve to be heard.
Nrama: The series also takes a very specific teenage perspective, and I’m curious about some of the challenges that came with depicting the youth of today. Obviously, some things remain timeless about the insecurities and frustration of high school life, but what are some of the ways you tried to depict Phoenix Academy that went beyond the “jocks and nerds” archetypes so often thrown out?
Waid: Research is invaluable. Talking extensively to kids of that age, reading about them and doing a deep dive into their own published pieces talking about high school in 2019 is invaluable. And most of all, drilling down into emotions rather than trying to sound cool by making Instagram and Telegram references is invaluable.
Nrama: That brings me to your collaboration with Kwanza – tell us a bit about how that works, and your creative process.
Waid: Kwanza, as one of the three original Ignition Architects – along with Carla Speed McNeil and Yanick Paquette – is obviously deeply invested in these kids and their world. With each issue, he and I discuss plot points and developments, after which we throw a finished script back and forth until we have something we feel is strong.
Nrama: What is it like working with Phil Briones on the art - what does he bring to the book specifically? I’m also curious about his collaboration with Yanick on the character designs and incorporating them into the ongoing series.
Waid: Phil’s terrific. There’s such energy to his work that you forget you’re not looking at capes and cowls and traditional comic book tropes. And his characters have such life and are so expressive that they practically tell the story on their own.
Nrama: And tell us a bit about how you’re working with others as the architects of H1.
Waid: We’re working off their original bible, and they’ve always made themselves available to discuss what we’re doing and where we’re going. Again, as with Kwanza, they have a clear vision for this universe.
Nrama: You’ve worked with a number of up-and-coming companies in the past, and also been honest about your experiences with them. What particularly attracted you to Humanoids, and so far, what’s been unique about the experience?
Waid: Initially, it was the Ignited pitch that drew me in immediately - our national inaction on school shootings is a real hot-button issue for me, something that enrages me like nothing else. But once I was inside Humanoids, I was taken with their approach to a wide variety of non-superhero genres and wanted to contribute more - hence, the Director of Creative Development title. I’m throwing my weight behind this company because the quality of their projects is stunning to me.
Nrama: Why do you feel the time is right for H1 right now?
Waid: Because it’s time we stopped avoiding the tough issues in society and published more comics willing to take a stand.
Nrama: Before we go, anything else you'd like to say about Ignited and the H1 Universe?
Waid: The stories are great because the creators are great, and the creators are great because they all have unique voices. Humanoids has made a successful effort to be inclusive and hire a wide range of diverse writers and artists.