Or – “I Saw Full Metal Jacket, Too, Fellas…”

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There’s an old saying in the comic book industry, attributed to the late, great Wally Wood: “Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up.” Recent developments at Marvel indicate that this advice is no longer followed with regard to the ART, but it seems impossible to keep echoes of older stories out of an art form like comics. The ‘homage’ is a time-honored tradition, ranging from an intentional echo of times past to a full-on aping of an writer’s style & dialogue, to flat out copying a previous story with a new character in the lead. A recent example came when I was unable to get into the much-acclaimed “Spider-Man: Reign” because the first issue kept hitting me over the head with it’s resemblance to “The Dark Knight Returns.” The first issue of the Initiative has much to offer in the way of fun, but I kept getting the nagging realization that I’ve seen this all before…

ma1.jpgLet me start by saying that I’m not implying this issue isn’t enjoyable… Dan Slott does very good work, and there’s much of interest to be found in the book. Essentially, the gist is this: Post-Stamford, the ‘grown-up’ heroes of the Marvel universe had a great big slapfight, whined, Tony Stark took his ball and went home, Steve Rogers ran away on like Huck Finn, Steve and Tony had not one, not two, but THREE separate meetings that led only to more slapfighting and then they decided that somebody needed to teach young heroes how to be grown-up. Good work, fellas. First, who’s gonna teach YOU? Apparently, it’s going to be several former Avengers, each with a spectre over their head. Vance Astrovik, codename: Justice, working to erase the stigma that the New Warriors were nothing but screwup amateurs. Henry Pym, codename: Yellowjacket, working to redeem himself after the conflict claimed the life of Bill Foster, a dear friend and colleague. James Rhodes, codename: War Machine, trying to prove that not EVERYONE who wears armor is a billionaire/autocrat/crypto-fascist with a porn star moustache.

The fourth member of their little coterie is a new character, though related to one Slott already introduced, and we start this issue with him in action, in Baghdad. A diplomatic convoy is travelling through occupied space, when suddenly a vehicle races toward the motorcade. The distinctive cry of “Hail, Hydra!” comes from the pickup, and the soldiers start to repel the attack. Suddenly, a man wearing the uniform of a Sergeant and a HUGE metal glove leaps forward, deflecting and crushing the car bomb with a hand made of pure energy, and saving the motorcade. He taps on the window to verify the status of the passenger, and the window opens revealing… Henry Peter Gyrich, depowerer of mutants, and the longest serving unpromoted Civil Servant in United States history.

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“…or more capes in the air?” Okay, that’s an interesting take, and I have to appreciate what Henry Peter is saying here. Gyrich has long had a problem with mutants (I don’t know why) and was, in fact, the man who fired the Neutralizer gun that ended up removing Storm’s powers for a couple years back in the 80’s. Sadly, in this, the paranoia age of comics, his fear of crazy mutants changing the world is completely justified, and the point might even be made that he just didn’t trust Wanda and Pietro (both of whom have been revealed in recent years to be crazier than a bear in a necktie). After this, we have a brief (and readily available in preview form) sequence where “Whiskey Mike” engages a young superhuman called “Cloud 9.” Whiskey Mike turns out to be military terminology for War Machine, who tells Cloud 9 she’s goint to have to learn some responsibility with her powers, and takes her into custody. Well, that was very “Big Brother,” wasn’t it? But in contrast, we see Justice carefully recruiting another member, as though they were a college basketball program scouting promising candidates…

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This scene feels all-so-very-familiar, too, but it may just be that I watched “Varsity Blues” the other night. Whaddayamean, ‘WHY?’ “Ah don’t wunt yeerr laaahf!” How can you not love Texas Dawson, Hero Quarterback? Apparently, the hero recruits come from all walks of life, and find their way to the Initiative through various means. Case in point: when Iron Man and his Mighty Avengers team face down Ultimo, who IS a giant robot, but puzzlingly, isn’t crushing Tokyo. And, sadly, Carol Danvers and her Amazing Friends aren’t a group of multi-hued teenagers with helmets. Carol gives Ultimo’s C.V. on the fly: giant, powerful, nearly indestructible…

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Well, she did say NEARLY… That’s a two hit fight, Armory hits Ultimo, Ultimo hits pavement. I’d say that this girl has the juice to get the job done, wouldn’t you? Now, you’ve seen four new heroes in about a dozen pages, but what’s it all leading to? Camp Hammond, the first training facility for superhumans, located on the site of the New Warriors legendary blunder. The first sign of real trouble comes when Hank Pym steps on the bus full of new recruits. The driver, decked out in BDU’s, hollers “Founding Avenger on deck! ATTENSHUN!” I don’t know about you, but given that the way that Henry Pym (and Tony Stark and Don Blake and Matthew Murdock and Peter Parker, etc, etc, etc) became heroes bears no resemblance to military discipline, this feels wrong to me. Especially after THIS exchange with a young recruit…

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Now, am I wrong, or is it implied that failure is not an option, as in “you will be taken into the fields out back and shot?” Granted, it’s only one interpretation, but it clearly indicates that Hank is not onboard with all phases of the Initiative plan. Once the recruits (including the ever-so-awesome Slapstick, the beloved-only-to-me Rage and Bengal, the ridiculous Thor-Girl, and most of the new blood introduced in the issue) exit the bus, we’re treated to Gauntlet doing his best Gunnery Sergeant Hartman impersonation while She-Hulk is shown rolling her eyes…

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I’m with Jennifer here. I can’t decide whether this is being played for comedy or not, and the general effect is eye-rolling. It might have been mitigated if the role of drill sergeant was played by a character I already knew (though none of the Pro-Registration forces, tellingly, have that military hardcase exterior), and it just kinda irritates me. Your mileage may vary. It may also have to do with his use of the New Warriors as a metaphor for washing out of this silly boot camp scenario. Justice shares my distaste for this, and tries to point it out to War Machine…

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It makes sense that Jim Rhodes, the only one of them with ACTUAL military experience, would be the commanding officer, but I don’t know if I like the way he brushes of the ‘New Warriors’ bit. Seems like it’s too soon to turn Stamford into a joke, especially as “Camp Hammond” is built on the site of the tragedy. Maybe it’s just me. Again. The discussion of the new young heroes continues, and they go over MVP, Justice’s find, referred to as “Captain America, Junior.” He beats the camp record for the obstacle course only minutes after stepping off the bus, and seems to be a pretty nice kid. So much so that when Cloud 9 accidentally walks in on him in the shower, he tries to make her feel better before showing her the right door to get out. He seems like a pretty good kid. Not so much so is young Trauma, assigned to show his powers in a “Danger Room” scenario with Armory. Her “Tactigon” allows her to fight multiple giant robots at once, but he can’t use his powers on them, instead targeting her. Before I show you what he finds in her mind, I have to talk personally to a couple of my friends…

TOM GRICE AND BRUCE OTTER! LOOK AWAY NOW! THIS IS YOUR EIGHT-LEGGED FREAK WARNING! The same holds true for you, Good Spoilermaniac, if you dislike arachnids that aren’t personable young college students with supermodel wives…

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Trauma, you see, channels his enemy’s greatest fear. It’s a pretty scary power, and I’d be mighty impressed if not for the scene in the Harry Potter movie where virtually the same thing happens to poor Ron Weasley. Still, it’s a well-written scene, and an interesting power, one that freaks Armory out so bad that she starts shooting at random, panicked beyond reason. She blows off Komodo’s arm, which is pretty funny, since she immediately grows another (Komodo stole Doctor Connors’ Lizard serum). MVP saves the day by grabbing Cloud 9 and getting her clear of a blast, and I feel certain that our first “team romance” has started…

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…I’m wrong. Gauntlet leaps into action (too late) and pins down Armory, as Gyrich steps in, informing everyone that this exercise is over. More disturbingly, he shouts, “NOTHING HAPPENED HERE TODAY! And NOTHING leaves this room… This did NOT happen. This boy did NOT die in Stamford, is that understood?” The cover-up has already begun, and they’ve been in operation, what? Two weeks? A month? Armory is washed out of the program, and her weapon “confiscated…” This means, by the way, CUT AWAY FROM HER ARM, and I can’t be certain they didn’t have to amputate to do it. Gyrich’s thickly-accented zombie-looking doctor informs them that something disturbing has turned up on MVP’s autopsy, “something vhich may change EVERYTHING…” The recruits watch Armory walking away (a scene in which we CANNOT see her left hand to verify that they didn’t chop this poor kid’s limb off), and Rage asks Trauma what happened. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” At this point, we leave Parris Island, and Private Joker heads out to Phnom Penh… Wait, nevermind.

My response to the first issue? As Rorschach might have it… “Hurm.” I enjoyed a lot of this issue, including the reveal of Trauma, a character that Slott has been really teasing in interviews. The overall concept seems to have potential, but about halfway through the issue I remembered why it felt so familiar: there are overtones here of the New Universe story “The Draft,” and the following issues of DP 7, Psi-Force, and “The War.” When that story was done in 1988, and was a desperate last-ditch attempt to save a dying comic book line. It started with a superhuman obliterating a major city and hundreds of innocents, and ended with paranormals (superhumans) being forced into military service and mandatory training. Sound familiar? Perhaps it’s an influence, perhaps it’s not, but I can’t read this issue without remembering it, and that bugs me. That little bit of cognitive dissonance, combined with my annoyance at the mocking of the New Warriors (It’s not like Tony Stark was willing to help these kids out BEFORE it became a political hot potato!) and my reservations at the stock feel of the ‘boot camp’ story dampen my enthusiasm, just a bit. It’s still worth 3 stars out of 5, as a well-done story, introducing a lot of likable characters, asking questions that NEEDED to be asked, as well as giving me some “Hey, it’s THAT guy!” fun with the backgrounds. The main character axis of Justice/Gauntlet/Yellowjacket/War Machine is also an intriguing one, and I’ll be watching their interaction to see how these four mesh. I’m onboard for the duration, let’s see where the bus is going…

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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15 Comments

  1. April 18, 2007 at 2:55 pm — Reply

    I like Bengal too. Very nice.

    But Trauma…aren’t I getting a few shades of Johnathon crane, except without the Gas?

  2. Josh
    April 18, 2007 at 3:45 pm — Reply

    Any comic that has Slapstick in it is ok in my book.

  3. April 18, 2007 at 3:57 pm — Reply

    Trauma actually PHYSICALLY TRANSFORMS into the person’s greatest fear, apparently. I might turn him into a Giant Wasp, while Vince McMahon might have him transform into a two hour block of actual wrestling with no stupid skits… Eye of the beholder time.

  4. Brent F.
    April 18, 2007 at 4:22 pm — Reply

    This series has convinced me that Marvel wants to do every thing they can to make me dislike Iron Man and his cohorts. That look that Yellowjacket gives Cloud 9 after she asks that very important question wasn’t the look you get from a kind hearted dogooder, it’s the one you get from a fascist prick who will give you a lobotomy if you fail his training camp.

  5. Sono
    April 18, 2007 at 11:28 pm — Reply

    Yellowjacket’s look seemed to me like “Why would you ask such a stuipd question? Do you want to fail before you start?” At least that’s how I read it.

  6. Salieri
    April 19, 2007 at 6:14 am — Reply

    Justice, to MVP: ‘Trust me, this is gonna be HUGE! So huge that Gyrich will manipulate one of your cohorts into blowing your brains out so that he can have her arm cut off and boot her out of the team!’

  7. April 19, 2007 at 6:55 am — Reply

    Yellowjacket’s look seemed to me like “Why would you ask such a stuipd question? Do you want to fail before you start?” At least that’s how I read it.

    That’s a valid interpretation. My point was predicated by the way my mind quantified Dr. Pym: A good guy, with some big flaws, a founding Avenger with a huge inferiority complex to Thor, Iron Man, & Captain America. He’s not military, he’s SCIENTIFIC, and while I definitely saw the “stupid question” aspect of the scene, I also drew a bit of “I have no control over that aspect of things, and while that bothers me, I’m not going to deal with it here and now.”

    In fact, having seen what they do to Armory (in a situation THEIR OWN TRAINERS CREATED), I have to think that Pym’s silence was also partly a warning…

  8. Salieri
    April 19, 2007 at 9:08 am — Reply

    1) I don’t think Pym has any understanding and/or control of Gyrich’s programme to remove the people he doesn’t like.

    2) Hah…the guy who can grow 600 feet tall has an inferiority complex…

  9. April 19, 2007 at 10:52 am — Reply

    He always has had one, dating back to his return as Goliath in ’68. It’s actually one of the underlying plot point of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes II (which I’ve been recapping, he said significantly) and it’s one of the reasons that his psychotic break to the Yellowjacket persona was so shocking.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He’s not the weak sister of the group, and I’m a little tired of writers (and I’m looking at you, Mark %$#^ing Millar) taking him down a peg because of his past…

  10. April 19, 2007 at 11:10 am — Reply

    Well, fear no more. Check out this preview: http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=108571 and try not to be disappointed.

  11. Brother129
    April 23, 2007 at 5:06 pm — Reply

    Has anyone else lost it because the New Warriors have been thrown under the bus (literally)? I really hope this NW mini that’s coming out is worth it. Where the heck is Firestar? Isn’t she still with Justice? Oh, looks like the Marvel Continuity (or lack thereof) Gods forgot that too…

  12. April 23, 2007 at 5:48 pm — Reply

    Firestar broke up with Justice in one of the “Marvel Love” specials last Valentine’s Day, in a story written by Fabian Nicieza (the man who originated their romance). It was bittersweet and annoying. Angelica later gave up her superhuman identity at the beginning of Civil War (mostly so we could say that “An Avenger” quit.

    But, yeah, I hate the the New Warriors are being punked out like this. It’s an example of the current Marvel editorial mindset which confuses notoriety with popularity. On the plus side, a few interesting ex-Warriors are still out there (indeed MOST of the ex-Warriors are still out there, with only founders Night Thrasher and Namorita and newbie Microbe buying it) in Loners, The Inititative, Nova, and lord help us, Thunderbolts.

  13. April 27, 2007 at 3:27 am — Reply

    …Except Solits say that Night Thrasher is back from the grave.

  14. April 27, 2007 at 6:20 am — Reply

    I’m sure A Night Thrasher IS back. I still suspect that Dwayne Taylor is gone. Of all the Warriors present, he has the least excuse for superhumanity (unless we go through that whole “Wellspring of Souls” bit, where his father sold his sons soul in return for immortality…

    …heeeeeeeey…. Waitaminnit!!!

  15. quelonio
    April 30, 2007 at 4:45 pm — Reply

    Baron Blitzschlag is very similar to Dr. von Freyseng, from Cla$$war.

    Both are made with the same pattern: “evil nazi scientist expert in posthumans hired by the USA”

    Well, the second one doesn’t look like a corpse with completely dark eyes.

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