Writers: Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo
Artist: Phil Briones
Colors: Andrew Crossley
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artists: Mike McKone (regular)/John Cassaday (variant)
Publisher: Humanoids Publishing/H1 imprint
Price: $3.99 US
After the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last year, Emma Gonzales, David Hogg and many of their classmates took it upon themselves to do something about the issue of gun violence in America, especially in schools. They spoke out, advocated, pushed back in the absence of action by the adults tasked with their protection. Their grief and frustration empowered them, and they became an undeniable voice in an international discussion about gun violence. In Ignited, writers Mark Waid and Kwanza Osajyefo explore what might happen is such kids were literally empowered. The result is engrossing and important and viable as an addendum to the larger conversation about these real-world issues. This comic book might have flown under many readers’ radar, since it was released from a smaller publisher, but it’s well worth the effort to seek it out.
A new academic year has begun at Phoenix Academy, but the students and staff at the high school are on edge. The last time they walked these halls, they were stained with their friends’ blood after a gunman slaughtered and wounded dozens. As the survivors try to find a way to move on, they must contend with conspiracy theorists, out-of-touch politicians and school trustees and their own emotional scars. But mysterious figures have stepped up to speak for them, using impossible abilities to push back against a system that failed them in the worst way imaginable.
While this is a diverting and thought-provoking comic, it has a couple of problems – chief among them is the artwork. Overall, I like the style that artist Phil Briones brings to bear here; I’m reminded of the linework of such artists as Patrick (Untold Tales of Spider-Man, Booster Gold) Olliffe and Lee (Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., Legion of Super-Heroes) Moder. He also does an excellent job of capturing the hustle and bustle of high-school life, but at times, it’s a little difficult to discern what’s happening. I also found that Briones doesn’t go far enough to distinguish between the teenage characters and the adults. I don’t want the teens to look like toddlers and the teachers like geezers, but there just aren’t enough visual cues to differentiate between the two disparate groups at times.
Waid and Osajyefo instill an air of mystery into the plot by avoiding any explanation of how or why the unseen shooting unfolded, or how it led to the emergence of superhuman powers among a handful of members of the student body. I genuinely wanted to know more about those plot points, and it drew me further into the story. Conversely, while the mysterious elements worked well, there was also a vagueness at play here that obstructed my reading experience. The characters aren’t identified all that clearly, and we never get a clear sense of who these young people are beyond the trauma they experienced. The sudden introduction of a youth from a family of wealth and privilege was a bit jarring, so the plotline with which he was associated didn’t play out as effectively as it could have. Essentially, what Waid and Osajyefo need to place more of an emphasis on characterization in future issues so the reader can connect with the players and find themselves invested in them.
The writers open the story with a flashforward scene that manages the hook the audience in an incredibly effective manner. They essentially offer up a rebuke and retaliation against the likes of far-right conspiracist Alex Jones by delivering a satisfying and appropriate comeuppance.
I must also point out another element of the script served as a distraction, and that was the writers’ efforts to achieve a genuine tone in the dialogue by including cursing without actually including the profane words in question. The mature tone of the plot certainly merits swear words, but I get the decision to try to make the comic accessible to a wider audience by omitting them. Ultimately, I think the storytelling experience would be better served by doing without them or doing without the censorship. Better to pick one option rather than a half-measure. But this is a minor gripe about an otherwise solid comic book.
Ignited is a risky venture, creatively, as it could be interpreted as exploitative of tragedy, as insensitive to the victims and effects of real violence, but I didn’t see it as such, nor should anyone else. The creators have wisely included a short note at the beginning of the book explaining their awareness of the sensitivity of the subject matter, of their intent to back up and join one side of an important debate (which really shouldn’t be a debate at all). This bit of fantastic fiction is meant to reflect reality, to comment on it, and comics have been doing that since their outset in the Golden Age. 7/10