Avengers: The Initiative #2

by

Or – “I’d Hate To Be An Attorney In The Marvel Universe…”

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Can you imagine trying to practice law in an environment where it’s ILLEGAL to be a superhero, but perfectly legal for the government to draft fourteen-year-old girls into combat? Can you define the boundaries of jurisprudence when the “top cop” in your country has nanobot spy-eyes anywhere that the wind can blow, but can’t keep track of his own villains? How about a world where it’s considered acceptable to take away She-Hulk’s powers, leaving her powerless with NO secret identity and a rogues gallery that crushes Buicks on their foreheads, but NOT acceptable for Black Bolt to request that you not INVADE HIS SOVEREIGN BORDERS because you’re afraid to let The Sentry think for himself? Colonel Taylor had it right: “It’s a mad house. A mad house!” Best start watching for statues as you walk down the beach folks, because the Marvel Universe is officially now a horrific future dystopia, and those always seem to end with O. Henry twists…

Previously, on Avengers The Initiative: In the wake of a tragedy caused by The New Warriors, the heroes of the Marvel Universe found themselves divided on the idea of a Superhuman Registration Act. Iron Man, believing that the act was inevitable, MA1.jpgdecided that he had to force everyone to see things his way, and created a series of events that would lead to the almost-but-not-quite worst case scenario. What he didn’t foresee was Captain America, and a sizable chunk of the heroes of the world opposing the act. Rather than have a reasoned discourse, Tony decided to act swiftly and treat the Sentinel of Liberty as a criminal to prove his point. This ultimately pointless exercise led to Captain America’s death, friends and families torn apart, and benefited no one except Anthony Stark, who now heads SHIELD. Tony, Reed Richards, and Hank Pym have created The Fifty-State Initiative, ostensibly to make superheroing safer and more consistent, but the overall effect has been to make superheroing something that only happens Tony Stark’s way with Tony Stark’s consent. Camp Hammond, built on the remains of the destroyed city of Stamford, site of the Warriors deaths, has been designated the training facility, and in a single issue we have seen a man in a leadership role cracking jokes about dead children, a former Nazi madman put in a key position of power, a teenage girl traumatized and possibly maimed, a teenage boy killed in a training exercise, and absolutely no evidence whatsoever to indicate that this was a good idea. Planet Hulk, quite frankly, cannot come soon enough.

Why am I so negative? I’m already tired of the ‘new’ Marvel Universe. Two months in, I’m already sick of this status quo, and find most of the changes to have come for the sake of shock value rather than organic storytelling. Iron Man is everywhere, rewriting history from the perspective of the victor, the New Avengers have had three consecutive issues that take place in the same couple of hours of time, and the first two issues of Mighty Avengers have been, to swipe MacBeth, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I haven’t been this irritated with a comic since Sally Floyd’s “You don’ know nothin’ ’bout ‘Murrica ifn’ ya don’t loves NASCAR” diatribe in Civil War: Frontline #11. What set me off?

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Vance’s irritation is justified, but even he misses the point. The Warriors didn’t kill anyone, NITRO killed people. Is Steven Rogers responsible for any injuries caused when he awoke the Red Skull’s Sleepers? Is Bruce Banner responsible for the rampages of the Abomination? How about Tony Stark, and the FIVE times that he’s let Ultimo loose to rampage across the land? Where is his responsibility? And unless Slott is trying to make Gauntlet (schmucko!) as unlikable as possible, I don’t see the sense in his remarks. Cracking wise about dead children as a motivational exercise is SICKENING, it’s disgusting, and given that I’ve seen this character do precisely DICK in his 28-page career, I’m not likely to buy his “Been there, done that” ‘roid rage fratboy tough guy BULL$#!+. You can do hardboiled ‘This Man’s Army’ drill sarge dialogue without resorting to these kind of shock tactics, and I’m just not feeling the “world outside your window” echoes of these scenes.

Wow… I don’t usually go off like that. And that’s just the first page! As Gauntlet (jerk!) lords his power over the recruits, they attempt to run the obstacle course, but Cloud 9 can’t take her mind off the events of yesterday, the terror she felt when she thought she was going to die, and the horror of MVP’s death. Wait… did somebody say, ‘horror?’ Her fear and revulsion affect fellow young hero Trauma, and his response to fear is even worse than that of the Man-Thing (“Giant-Size Man-Thing.” Heh. That’s funny… because I am, apparently, ten.) and his powers kick in in the worst possible way.

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Gyaaah! That’s messed up! The other kids freak out, not knowing that Trauma can’t control it, as he loudly tells everyone within earshot about the “secret” death of MVP. Yellowjacket and Justice quickly leap in to break things up, and Justice is angry when Hank tells him that he’s not allowed to ask questions about the illusion (though it seems pretty much cut and dried to me, Trauma came out and SAID what happened.) Vance pushes it, and Yellowjacket snaps back “It’s off-limits, and that’s an ORDER!” An order? When did Hank become a military man? Yellowjacket shows his sensitivity, taking an obviously out-of-control emotional wreck of a teenager with powers running amok and yelling in his face. Of course, Trauma’s powers are still ACTIVE, and they then key in on YELLOWJACKET’S greatest fear… *Cue peppy 70′s music* “Hey de hi, kids, do you know what time it is? It’s time to play the gameshow that will not die, even after 30 years of this nonsense: CRAP! ON! YELLOWJACKET! *Crowd cheers.*

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If the issue hadn’t set me off on such a sour note, this dark bit might be intriguing. I like penciller Stefano Caselli’s art here, and this is at least a more positive look at Yellowjacket’s darkest moment. He obviously truly regrets his actions, and we can see why he’s working so desperately for redemption. But the scene comes across as a little too gleeful in it’s resurrection of old ghosts, and I just don’t like the overall effect. Justice is LIVID about this situation, and tired of being in the dark, and it’s a credit to the art that you can see every bit of his dissatisfaction and anger on his face as he indicates that he WILL find out what’s really going on here. Of course, Gauntlet (butthead!) opens his big stupid mouth and postures, starting to bluster that maybe he WILL tell Justice what happened, but then he turns to Hank for his opinion (undermining his “I’m a loose cannon, GRR!” facade) Yellowjacket is gone. He’s back in his quarters, quietly staring at his anti-anxiety medication. He starts to say something, but only gets to “I need–” before stopping. We suddenly see Janet Van Dyne, looking at her phone and wondering why the caller hung up, and we cut back to Hank. Suddenly, he’s paged to the lab…

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Do you know the difference between Henry Peter Gyrich and the Hindenberg? One is an overblown Nazi gasbag full of hot air… and the other’s just a blimp. I am, once again, appalled, and this is the scene where I realized I’m SUPPOSED to be. They’ve KILLED an innocent teenage boy, and now they’re covering up his death, and refusing to return his remains to the family so that they can perform illegal genetic experiments on his corpse! AND THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS, FOR &@(#*’S SAKE! Von Blitzschlag (who looks undead, and may be a zombie) laughs off Pym’s reticence, saying that Yellowjacket is his own favorite superhero. After all, he created Ultron! He programmed a giant robot to attack his own friends so he could save the day! And best of all…

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And right here, it clicks. The obvious answer… War Machine, Yellowjacket and Justice (probably with that idiot punk-@$$ Gauntlet [jackass!]) are going to have to clean up Camp Hammond. It’s the only answer, and if Marvel doesn’t do it, I’ll finally believe the conspiracy theory that states that they want ALL their heroes to be amoral lunatics with no moral compass. There is a clear path to redemption, and all the darkness in this issue has made me miss it until now. To be fair to the zombie Nazi, he DOES have a point, he apparently hasn’t done anything as spectacular as Hank has, but to be fair to Hank, he’s also done equally heroic things to try and redeem himself. The Priority One emergency seen in that last panel is an attack on the President by Hydra. They’ve overrun the ‘Western White House’ and it’s time for the Initiative to go into action and stop ‘em. War Machine leads the flying recruits into action, slapping a pulse rifle in Cloud 9′s hands (she’s less than thrilled) while Gauntlet (@$$clown!) straps ramjets to the back of the other recruits, because a day without child endangerment to him is like a day without sunshine. They all take to the air, and teleport through the Negative Zone gates…

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Wears down the WHAT, now, Jim? You’re telling me that your little toy actually damages the walls of reality to the point where you worry that it might… what? Explode? Destroy us all? Or just open the floodgates to the Negative Zone so nutbars like Annihilus and Blastaar can just waltz in and buy themselves some Starbucks? Niiice. Good reasoning, there. “We know that toxic waste will kill people, but we’re only going to have you sit in the barrels for seven minutes a day. You should be fine, since we’re only using it state-to-state.” Schmucks! While The Rangers, The Avengers, and the Initiative recruits fight off AIM, Gyrich takes a moment to personally browbeat another teenager, because we have to keep up our bootcamp metaphor.

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“Hold the line! Love isn’t alwaaaays on tiiiime… Whooa whooo whooooooooaaa.” Great, now I’ve got Toto stuck in my head. Crud… It’s just like when I had to teach Carl Johnson how to fly and it took forever, and I had to listen to K-DST for like two weeks solid. Good times… Oh, right, the recap! Overpowered, the heroes watch as Hydra’s battlestation makes it’s strafing run. “No choice!” says War Machine, “gotta fire the Stinger!” The Stinger is Henry Pym, Yellowjacket, who shoots across to the ship, then starts gaining mass and size. He physically pushes the ship off course, then begins steering it to the ground, and we see the “Dr. Strangelove” parody from the previews of this issue… After a huge explosion, we see the beginning of what could be a eulogy… “We are here today to honor Dr. Henry Pym. Scientist. Humanitarian. Avenger…”

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Of course it’s an awards ceremony… Killing Yellowjacket now wouldn’t surprise ANYBODY, would it? And I’m once again uncomfortable with the overlap of the real world and the comics, and the disaster prefaced by Bush saying “You’re doing a heck of a job.” Remember what I said earlier about making light of the FAKE tragedy? It goes double here for the REAL one. Meanwhile, back at HQ, a former Avenger reappears with help for Trauma, Henry McCoy, The Beast! His Gyrich interactions are priceless, the first really enjoyable moment of a long and difficult read (“Where’s my hug?”), and he introduces Trauma to his new mentor… Cliffhanger! No, not an actual person named Cliff Hanger, I mean they’re not going to tell us tell next month. Could be anybody, really, though I suspect someone from the X-Men mythos who is a mentalist. Let’s see, Grey is dead, Xavier depowered… Um. Maybe Lady Mastermind?

Looking over the issue again, I’m still irritated, still angry, but I realize what this issue was meant to be now. It’s a political commentary couched as a black humor parody. The use of real-world analogues (W, Katrina, last month’s references to Afghanistan) mixed with the overt references to Doctor Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket and The Draft seem to be aiming for a skewering of both our current real-world administration and the silliness that is the new Marvel Universe. But the results are a disjointed mess, filled with moments where I yell at my comic book (never a good sign, for a LOT of reasons), as well as having the characters haplessly dragged along by events, and where the one person who really seems true to his principles is a Hitler-following &*@#head. Dan Slott does good character bits, but there’s just too much going on here. To use a stupid metaphor, he’s put spaghetti bolognese on my waffles, and while I like spaghetti and waffles, I don’t want them mixed together. Last issue build up some good will, but this issue burnt a lot of it off. There’s enough left to stick around, but not enough to give the story more than 1.5 out of 5 stars. I’m still waiting for Justice and Gauntlet (putz!) to have the discussion that seems to be brewing, but any development that keeps me from snarling in disgust will be a good one.

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