Getting Going: After a lot of the early buzz and hoopla has died down, H1 — Humanoids’ still-new superhero-centric imprint — is getting into the meat and potatoes of world-building. Ignited, the centerpiece of H1’s early existence, kicked off with a solid first issue, setting the stage for the newly super-powered survivors of a shooting at Phoenix Academy. Issue #1 was mostly a slow-moving tease of this dense, highly politicized world that showed passion and promise if not a lot of obvious panache. So, where do we head with issue #2?
Not So Fast, Folks: As it turns out, we’re still inching our way up the narrative roller coaster. In issue #2, we follow default protagonist Anouk as she meets two of her empowered classmates. There’s Callum, aka Viral, who heals and also makes people ill, and Shai, who’s become a living radio wave (ergo, Wave). Together, the pair are running a little guerrilla campaign to prevent Phoenix’s principal from arming teachers with guns. If nothing else, this issue does move the needle forward a little more than in #1, presenting higher stakes as the trio come into conflict with the student body (and its alt-right-y student president) and the local cops.
It’s not the most mesmerizing two issues ever published, but there’s still something great a bubblin’. The H1 “architects” promised true realism and that’s what we’re getting, a thoughtful pacing to make the world feel more sturdy and familiar. So the drama is likely to be in the personal confrontations and not the giant superhero battles. That’s somewhat promising, and could be a way to tease out the story more. Yet it still leaves some uncertainty in this essential early stage of an brand-new book/universe.
A Slow Go: On the one hand, a methodical pacing seems like a breath of fresh air for the entire comics industry. With a more deliberate and tactful approach to ground this bizarre events, Ignited may actually appeal to people outside the normal DC or Marvel faithful (aka, folks unaccustomed to those hyper-narratives). At the same time, the writers, Kwanza Osajyefo and Mark Waid, run the risk of stifling any sense of familiarity that comic fans may have in not reading a book crammed with action and pacing like Sonic the Hedgehog hitting the cosmic treadmill. Still, it’s an interesting wager to try and reprogram comic fans with a book that moves far slower than other titles, and that sense of frustration may actually work in the team’s favor. Stubborn fans may then hold on a few issues deep, waiting for the giant payoff or for the walls of Phoenix High to explode in an emotional powder keg. And if this issue is any indication, there’s clearly something big being assembled inch by realistic inch.
A Dash of Spice: It’s not that the entire book’s committed to a slow and methodical pacing. The first pages introduced a new teen as she’s interrogated by police, and based on her luchador mask, she likely has something to do with the other teens and their decidedly less cool masks (a cat, really, Anouk?) There’s also yet another teen hero introduced toward the end, this one also masked but using what is basically origami as both weapon and distraction.
These two new likely team members don’t fit the book’s early formula of deliberate introductions, and that makes them especially interesting. These two approaches are a way to break up the methodical dynamic and drop in some much needed excitement (as opposed to proper world-building, which is an excitement all its own). The book needs to find a way to balance proper characterizations with these flashes of interest, and these introductions are a clever way to skirt realism for strategic displays of flash.
The Ol’ Fliparoo: In my review of issue #1, I noted how much I loved the teens and hated the art of Phil Briones. Without making any official proclamations, I’d like to amend those conclusions. I’m still not 100% on Briones’ art, but it seems to work better in #2. Perhaps that has everything to do with more action shots, like how Viral received his powers, or Wave’s life as a human radio frequency. Either way there’s lots of awesome color usage (and strategic grey bits) and sweet framing and angles, all of which are in Briones’ sweet spot, demonstrating how much he can excel when given a chance to portray the absurd or otherworldly. That may change again, but it’s clear that as the story evolves, Briones may be better equipped to provide magic to all this grit.
And speaking of grit, there’s something going on with the teen heroes in issue #2. They all feel far too heavy and real, especially Wave and Viral, and why there’s plenty of reasons for that (the book’s general tone, their classmates having died, etc.), it’s just too much character development too soon. As if we’ve skipped their growth and maturity that would come with this series and landed at super savvy young adults. Sure, that’s the case for actual teens these days, but we need them to be more innocent and malleable early on despite their wealth of trauma. Without that, it’s hard to engage with their personal transformations during such a revolutionary time in culture and politics. Anouk is a bit more wide-eyed than her counterparts, but even she feels more savvy than she should by this early stage. Strip away some of that grit and let them be teenagers in more meaningful ways — it’ll make for more forceful trials and tribulations in subsequent issues.
Now What’s Next: There’s a reason Ignited is leading the H1 charge: even with more tantalizing premises in books like OMNI, this series feels like it’ll hit the hardest. If anything, as they build the world around it, Ignited may only open up further with new insights and understandings of Phoenix and the world it occupies. And whatever kind of place that is, it’ll be worth the deep dive.