Or – “That Sign Over There? That’s My Breaking Point, And It’s Comin’ Up Fast…”

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Generally speaking, I don’t drop comic titles very often. What with the general upswing in my disposable income, and a couple of bad experiences desperately searching to fill runs of books that I previously decided were a lost cause, most of my titles end up being cancelled out from under me before I drop them. But my recent problems with the underlying premise(s) of the three Avengers titles are leading me towards a crossroads and, to be frank, this title is near the top of the expendable list. It earns this dubious honor with egregious Mary Sue-ing, mean-spiritedness and just generally being unpleasant. I tend to have a six-issue window wherein I make decisions about potentially removing a book from my hold list. Welcome then, to “Initiative Cancellation Watch ’07.” Let’s see if Dan Slott can push me in a positive direction…

In1.jpgPreviously, on Avengers-The Initiative: somehow, somebody got the idea that taking a bunch of guys with super-powers who mostly have no military background and slapping them together with a bunch of untrained teenagers would be productive. In the first issue alone, we saw one trainee killed, another possibly maimed, both entirely due to the actions of government operatives. Then, as if to intentionally undermine their own position, the Initiative sent their half-trained recruits into battle with Hydra, apparently under the assumption that a wall of cannon fodder will protect the real heroes long enough to get the job done. In all honestly, that theory is about as protective of the young heroes as anything else they’ve done in the book… Meanwhile, Gauntlet continues to make jokes about the death of hundreds of people, Yellowjacket continues to make bad decisions, War Machine continues to blindly support his old friend Tony, and Justice continues wondering what in the heck is going on. We start this issue with Hardball worrying that Justice suspects something about the cover-up regarding the death of MVP…

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Hardball’s paranoia may be justified, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s pretty much an idiot… He is the “pretty boy quarterback” character of this particular bizarre teen movie, and in the Initiative movie would probably be played by Chad Michael Murray from One Tree Hill. He’s been talking for about five minutes before he realizes that his seatmate is fast asleep. Ever swift on the uptake, he also belatedly realizes that Komodo’s human form is pretty hot.

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Komodo flips out and nearly attacks him before Yellowjacket and Gauntlet break up the fight. I don’t like Gauntlet any more with his handling of this situation, bulling in and out-shouting her before she finally calms and explains, “He saw my secret identity, okay?” Hardball replies that it’s okay, she’s just some girl, nobody that he knows, but this actually seems to make her even less happy. Hardball, ever the master of tact, doesn’t catch her distaste, and remarks “Nice to finally meet you.” Jerk. I suppose this is as good a place as any to talk about the “costumes” worn by the cadets. If you were taking untrained teenagers into superhero battles, wouldn’t you want to afford them more protection than a cloth mask, fatigues, and a t-shirt? If MVP had worn a helmet, he might still be alive. It sure is a shame that there isn’t a billionaire genius who invents bullet-proof suits involved with this project… Meanwhile, in the sub-basement of Camp Hammond, Trauma meets his new mentor in the ways of fear-mongering. (No, it’s not Sinestro.)

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Score for Salieri (though I suspect he reads a lot of sites like ours) on the identity of the tutor. Trauma shows Hank his greatest fear, the belief that he’ll never be human again, transforming into a giant version of The Beast’s original form. Dani tells him to stop, and he turns on her, becoming the Demon Bear of her nightmares, but nothing pisses Ms. Moonstar off more than people messing with her head. Leaping into action, she climbs up onto it’s back, locking in a chokehold, to force him to power down. “Nice try, Terrance, but I learned a long time ago to FACE my fears…”

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This scene worked for me (at least partly because I used to read New Mutants back in the day, and it’s nice to see Dani as a grown-up) but it also reminded me how unlikable many of the characters of this title are. Speaking of unlikable, Mary Sue Gauntlet’s big tough Sgt. Haldeman act continues, as we see the Initiative recruits getting training from various heroes. Hellcat teaches CPR, Black Widow sniper skills, Stingray aquatic rescue, and The Thing helps with a class called “Class 100 Tactics.” Short form? He gets to beat on them and they try and figure a way to defeat a Hulk-level foe. During the battle, Dr Pym confers with Dr. Curt Connors about Komodo. Connors reports that she’s smart, and talented, but he’s concerned about the military application of his science. “This field mission you want her for… Is it something I’d approve of?” Hank refuses to answer, which should tell Connors all he needs to know.

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Part of me is irritated that James Rhodes is so callous here, but I remember that he IS former military after all. He’s used to following orders, and I think he really does believe that he’s doing the right thing. Granted, this doesn’t work with his early 90’s characterization, but I’m more likely to call THAT an anomaly, and this return to discipline the regular (but unpleasant) characterization. I’m still disappointed in him, though.. As for the question of who, they’ve been tasked to take out Tony Stark’s PR nightmare, Spider-Man, currently in battle with Shocker, Boomerang and Hydro-Man in downtown New York. Komodo worries that she’ll remove her own powers if she is nicked, but War Machine tells her that it’s coded to the target’s DNA, making the weapon essentially useless without preparation. Left alone at the base, Hardball heads into Stamford to get a drink, but finds the reception cold due to the still fresh scars from Nitro’s explosion last year. He nearly causes a riot by being a tool, before he’s saved by a mysterious stranger…

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Uh oh. That can’t be good. Komodo, meanwhile, is firing at random (and it’s getting expensive at 500,000 dollars per dart) trying to take out Spider-Man. The villains escape thanks to the Initiative’s interaction, and Spider-Man angrily asks why they’re letting the real bad guys get away. War Machine makes me dislike him completely and utterly when he channels the Iron Dictator and snottily explains their plan.

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Can you imagine how nice it must be to have that kind of confidence in yourself and your own moral rectitude? How empowering it feels to have all the answers fed to you by your omnipotent cyborg overlord so you don’t have to waste precious energy on thinking? I want to punch Rhodey right now, and he’s historically been among my favorite characters. That’s not a good sign for this title. As for the escaping Spider-villains, they’re not going to get far. When War Machine said that the world wouldn’t be without a Spider-Man, he apparently messed up his singular/plural phrasing, as the villains are taken into custody by the Initiative’s “Red Team.”

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The Legion of Iron Spiders! Aaaah! Quick, Henry! The Flit! Back at the battle, Spider-Man gains the upper hand by reflecting a nano-dart into War Machine’s systems, causing him to have to shut down. “That was a one in a million shot! How did he–?” Well, Rhodey, since you asked, it might have SOMETHING to do with him being the gold standard to which superheroes aspire in the Marvel Universe, and you being a Big Lots knockoff version of the most hated man alive. Your biggest achievement is probably defeating Ultimo with seven OTHER guys in armor, but this kid was knocking super-villains out of the park while you were still in basic, you jackass! Not that I’m bitter, or anything… Komodo engages Spider-Man in hand to hand combat, and tries to psyche him out with talk. Take a moment to fathom that, folks. A teenage girl whose shining moment came in stealing a mutagenic from her teacher is going to match wits with Peter “I built my web-shooters out of a racecar set and five ballpoint pens” Parker. This should be entertaining…

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Peter quickly throws her aside, and swings away, and Komodo breaks down into tears. War Machine confirms that at least the super-villains were apprehended, but when he tries to talk to Komodo she can barely talk. “P-please, sir… I’ll do better… I’ll… just don’t… Don’t…” Rhodey stops being a tool for a moment to try and calm her down, asking what it is she’s afraid of, and she replies, “That other girl. She’s my secret… my secret identity. She’s… she’s nobody.” Aww. I really feel bad for her, especially given that the Initiative will probably now chop off her head and stick it on a pike as a warning to other recruits about failure.

Once I got over my initial anger at the changes to Jim Rhodes’ character, this issue is an improvement over the last. I still don’t like the underlying concept here, the superhero boot camp, but at least the characters are growing on me. The lack of Gyrich and his pet Nazi probably helped in this regard, but I also liked the character development for Hardball and Komodo. Dan Slott does wonderful dialogue, as always, and the introduction of the Iron Arachnids is an interesting plot point. Stefano Caselli’s art reminds me pleasantly of J. Scott Campbell, and though I don’t care for his Spider-Man, his Komodo, Justice, Yellowjacket and even War Machine are excellent. We’re still not out of the woods yet, as this problematic title is about to enter the World War Hulk crossover, and I have a history of disliking those. Still, there’s signs of life here, and the characters are generally still likeable, so this issue rates a cautiously optimistic 2.5 out of 5 stars. We’re right at the 50/50 point, and the next 3 issues will almost certainly make the decision of dropping or keeping the title for me…

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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. June 11, 2007 at 12:33 pm — Reply

    Regretting to mention it…but it was Josh who suspected Dani. actually, I didn’t even comment on that Article.

  2. June 11, 2007 at 12:39 pm — Reply

    In other news…

    1) Disappointed in Komodo for so callously accepting her mission.

    2) Hardball! shame ony ou for letting Nixon buy you a drink! Don’t you know he’s a crook?

    3) How do we even know it’s really Rhodes under there? Could Tony have just knocked him out and made a computer programme pretending to be him operate the armour? Wouldn’t put it past Stark…

    4) …Also wouldn’t put it past Stark to try and improve the Iron Spider Armour ONLY by giving it four limbs rather than three. Honestly, that’s the only difference I see here.

  3. Kienan
    June 11, 2007 at 1:26 pm — Reply

    I certainly enjoyed the confident banter of Peter. Did they really believe that a lizard girl had a chance against a man who has been throwing down with the worst of the worst since he was fifteen?

  4. Josh
    June 11, 2007 at 1:43 pm — Reply

    I thought it was amusing that on the page that YJ is explaining the SPINtech to Komodo, there’s in inset of a Wendigo character from the Six Pack (early X-Force, issues 9-14, I believe) and what YJ is saying is an inhibitor collar is just part of Wendigo’s lame 90s costume.

    It amused me that I recognized that inset.

    And thanks for the credit, Salieri.

  5. davek
    June 11, 2007 at 2:38 pm — Reply

    “Ah. You blinked.”

    That right there makes me love Spider-man all over again, despite it arising from this series.

    So chaps, let’s go to the big board:

    Thor – Stark built a cyborg clone of him.
    Captain America – Stark tried replacing him with Clint Barton.
    Spider-Man – Stark built a team using the old armor that Spider-Man briefly used.

    Quesada: “Tony/Iron Man is now one of the most fascinating characters in the Marvel U and a hell of a lot of fun to write, draw and edit.”

    Um, yeah. That’s one way to look at it.

  6. June 11, 2007 at 2:43 pm — Reply

    Hmmm…imagine ‘The Marvel Universe versus the Marvel Universe according to Tony Stark’. You could call it Stark Wars!

    With that inner appearance, Komodo is becoming my fave character here. This issue also gave me faith in slott’s writing…faith that had been lost with FCBD’s “Swing Shift”.

  7. Maximus Rift
    June 11, 2007 at 5:20 pm — Reply

    Salieri: You’ve been mentioned in 2 articles now; you’re practically a celebrity now! :p

    1) She would basically do anything to keep her powers. I feel bad for her since it will be a miracle for her to get the help she needs

    2) Must be hard to see past that humongous ego he’s got.

    3) You know, I haven’t seen him outside that armor recently. But if Tony’s behind it, I say “mind-controlling armor”. That way, there’s DNA evidence in case he has to blow him up.

    4) I just noticed the fourth arm. And it could be an improvement o upgrade. Question is, is it the only one? You only get to see them for a panel.

    And thank you Mr. Peterson for saying about Spider-Man what we all fell. Now if only someone would tell Peter Parker… Seriously, I don’t think he knows.

  8. June 11, 2007 at 5:48 pm — Reply

    More than 2. Search for ‘Salieri’ in the box, and you’ll be surprised…

  9. Brother129
    June 11, 2007 at 7:47 pm — Reply

    Amen. I think that was the best issue of Spider-Man I’ve read in months…anybody know who’s taking over Amazing when JMS leaves? Please tell me its Slott…

  10. Brent F.
    June 11, 2007 at 8:26 pm — Reply

    I really hope the Iron Spider squad isn’t a bunch of Peter Parker clones.

  11. June 12, 2007 at 2:33 am — Reply

    I’m actually finding Komodo to be really cute, in both human & lizardy forms.

  12. June 12, 2007 at 3:17 am — Reply

    You know what I’d kinda like to see?
    Let loose with the concept — Tony Stark model Doombots everywhere! Yeah!

  13. Maximus Rift
    June 12, 2007 at 9:29 am — Reply

    Did someone say clones? Secret Civil Armor Spider Clone Wars, anyone?:p

    As for me, I would like to see leadership qualities emerge from Spider Man. Never gonna happen though.

  14. davek
    June 12, 2007 at 11:59 am — Reply

    What a great concept – IronBots in a massive brawl with Doombots while Doctor Doom and Stark are fighting hand-to-hand, Stark in full denial…

    “Foolishness! Doom shall conquer your petty attempts of dominion! And soon Doom shall conquer the world!”
    “That’s the difference between you and I, Doom…I do this to save the world!”

    And Doom stops, looks at him for a moment, and says, “You gotta be KIDDING me.”

  15. Michael
    June 21, 2007 at 6:36 pm — Reply

    I’m still a little confused by the little import of secret identity.

    Gauntlet says that the mask is the MOST IMPORTANT DEFENSIVE TOOL THEY WILL HAVE. Yet nobody wears one except for Rage. I guess the shape-shifters, like Komodo, count too.

    Komodo freaks out because Hardball saw her SECRET IDENTITY! But she’s seen Hardball’s, Trauma’s, Cloud 9’s, and MVP’s (RIP) since Day One.

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