I have no idea what “Ignition Zero” means, or what the title of this comic has to do with its subject matter. But I also enjoyed “Cowboy Bebop” and “Trigun”, so that’s okay.
In case you couldn’t guess, Ignition Zero is about
sci-fi space wars no wait a pyrokinetic superhero wait the gritty world of underground street racing wait that’s wrong. It’s about a college freshman meeting his internet crush and being inducted into a world of faeries and spirits. Feeling let down? Don’t be.
When Robbie moves to Maryland from Florida to attend the same college as his internet pal Orson, he’s not totally sure what he’s expecting. Probably he wasn’t expecting to have Orson and his friends Neve and Martin bring him through the veil to the faerie realm, meet the mysterious spirit of the town, Ivory, or be attacked by a stalking nightmare spirit – all in the same night.
The four main characters seem generally carefree and excited about the hidden world of magic and monsters in their metaphorical backyard, but a sinister undercurrent pulls them forward into events beyond their ken. The faerie kingdom is locked in a quiet but deadly civil war, and the quartet repeatedly crosses paths with Vaidya, Ivory’s malevolent and vindictive ex(??). Will they defeat the nightmare that hunts them? Will they discover Ivory’s true nature and the history she keeps hidden from them? Will Robbie and Orson ever just friggin’ hold hands already???
Is this a lighthearted queer coming of age story? Is it a dark and ominous tale of malign magicks and ancient powers? For the most part Heimpel does a pretty good job of synthesizing these two modes, but there’s definitely some wild yo-yoing of tone in places.
Still, there’s a lot for a homo to appreciate here. Robbie and Orson are gay and asexual, Neve is nonbinary, and the dialogue of all characters affirms people’s identities, disabilities, sexualities, etc. In fact, one of my favorite things about this comic are the little asides about consent, or respecting people’s needs, or asking for pronouns. It’s not perfect, and sometimes it’s a bit awkward or pat, but I never see conversations in fiction where, for instance, someone revealing they have PTSD is met with “Are there triggers you need me to avoid?” It’s normalizing of conversations that I have in everyday life, and that really makes me comfortable as a reader.
Ignition Zero isn’t the only story here, though; Heimpel teases the reader routinely with hints at other stories, where the side characters of IgZ are the protagonists. Robbie’s roommate, Haruki, mentions a traumatic relationship he once had with a ghost, and there are numerous references to a fae civil war we never see but barista slash magic cop Hayden seems to be at the center of. The author has expressed intent to write these stories (or has already written them), but they make Ignition Zero somewhat frustrating as a standalone, filled with references to other tales we can’t read, hints at details that will never appear in this plotline.
It’s also kind of a dude fest, sadly. Neve and Ivory have a good bit of screentime, but all the other non-male characters get stuck with bit parts and zero development, which seems a waste when you have such cool character concepts as Thalia, the usurper of the unseelie throne, who teaches Martin swordplay and is married to a human, or Lena, the reclusive, snake-tailed Horologist, who lives in the town clocktower and tinkers with weird machines. Don’t get me wrong, I like Robbie, Martin, and Orson, and I think they’re interesting characters – especially after Martin’s recent character growth spurt, which I found seriously compelling. But it would be cool to see some of the side girls like, actually do something.
So the story distracts itself sometimes, and oscillates between goofy and dead serious, and as a result can feel a bit meandering. But it’s got some powerful characterization, a rich mythology, and honestly it’s cute as heck.
Final verdict: If genuine characters and honest dialogue are more important to you than crackling tension and witty one-liners, Ignition Zero is for you.