Or – “Last Minute Reprieves? How Cliche Is That?

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I admit it. I’ve been irritated with the three issues of the Initiative thus far. Though there have been several very nice moments, the overall tone has been a bit dark and broody, as well as reminding me very much of “The Draft,” a twenty-year-old story from the New Universe. Add in what I suspect is a writer-designed hatred of Gauntlet’s tired New-Warriors-dead-baby jokes, and I’ve been on the verge of dropping the title altogether. This issue changes my mind, in a vast and sweeping way, and I’m happy to have been proven wrong. Though my comic budget may suffer, my overall feelings about the direction of the Marvel Universe have been on the upswing again, though an enjoyable World War Hulk #1 and a revitalized New Avengers don’t hurt, either. What made me change my mind?

Previously, on Avengers: The Initiative: Tony Stark created Camp Hammond on the site of the explosion in Stamford that killed the New Warriors and a school full of innocents. AI1.jpgNamed for the original Human Torch, first of the Marvels, the intended purpose of the camp is to train new superhumans in the use of their powers, to avoid another situation like Stamford. The actual reality has left the most promising recruit dead, a teenaged girl named Cloud 9 traumatized, another teenage girl possibly missing a limb, taken the kids into combat against Hydra (actually one of the few decisions I sort of agree with), and made War Machine look like a heartless scuzzball yes-man for Tony Stark by playing hardcase with the most sympathetic character in the Marvel Universe, Peter Parker. Spider-Man outwitted the Initiative recruits, and escaped with his powers intact, but all the while, a recruit named Hardball was being blackmailed back in Stamford. The subject of this manipulation? S.P.I.N Tech, the nanobot depowering solution created by SHIELD’s Project Achilles, already used on She-Hulk and designed to take out The Hulk. Our story starts with Yellowjacket and Baron Von Blitzschlag leaving the laboratory, sparring as a red-blooded American superhero and a former Nazi super-brain would…

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The mysterious man dressed as a Camp Hammond Guard (and why would the guards look like Disco Bondage Iron Man, anyway?) slips into the lab, and is momentarily distracted by the obviously autopsied body of MVP. Breaking into the Project Achilles storage unit, he steals one of the samples, and gets away. Just as he almost gets away, the guard on duty questions why he’s there. “War Machine ask you to check up on me?” Hardball stammers, “Yeah, well, it’s been a slow night,” and runs away. He’s totally screwed, and he knows it as he delivers the payload to his mysterious blackmailer…

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Yeah, I’m sure that’s what they have in mind too, Hardball. Idiot. Worst of all, he’s just handed the depowering agent over to an unknown quantity (AIM? Hydra? Doctor Doom? ULTIMATUM?) at a time when anti-superhuman sentiment is running rampant. What if this guy wants to take out the Avengers, or the Fantastic Four? What if he wants to depower everyone at Camp Hammond and murder your friends? Hardball gets assurances that his family’s financial problems are over, and he sneaks back to bed mere moments before Gauntlet blows in with his obnoxious D.I. routine. I’ve never been in the Army, so I can’t say for sure, but I just hate this movie-inspired theatrical tough-sarge crap. He singles out Hardball for praise, noting that he’s in full uniform and and his bed is made (because he hasn’t slept in it) and hollers “I hope all a’ you New Warrior REJECTS are payin’ attention.” At that precise moment, Elvin Halliday, the former New Warrior known as Rage has a look on his face that makes me suspect his involvement in the cover of #6. While most of the recruits go through the physical training, Cloud 9 is notably missing, having gone with camp counselor Justice to deal with her guilt over MVP’s death.

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And suddenly we realize what The Baron and Yellowjacket have done with the body of Michael Van Patrick (his actual initials are MVP? OMG, WTF?) Justice suddenly recieves an indication that satellites have recieved images of a huge spaceship descending on New York City, and they have to leave. A very sinister looking MVP returns to his family, as the Hulk’s broadcast from space begins. SHIELD goes on full alert, as the hologram explains what has happened, and the Warbound once again introduce themselves. (Names hold great power for them, apparently…)

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I regain much respect for Rhodey in his disbelief at Stark’s actions, but he is a trained professional, and takes the nanobots to Iron Man. Tony tells him the truth, that the depowering agent was designed specifically for this instance, in case the Hulk returned angry. Tony is a complete jerk in this sequence, as he’s too busy to even pretend to listen to Rhodes. When Rhodey says something about the tremendous size of his armor, he just replies “Thanks. I’ve got a smaller one for taking out Ant-Man.” Sigh… When Tony tells him that he has had the most important role of all, building the army of cannon-fodder (pretty much his exact sentiments) to slow the Hulk down. Tony goes into full-on creepy futurist mode, enthusing that this could be the key to building everything back up again…

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Tony doesn’t get it, again, and Rhodey has to spell it out for him. “The Initiative will do it’s part in this conflict, but let me make this CRYSTAL clear to you, Director Stark. My recruits stay OUT of the combat theatre!” Some time later, the Initiative has mobilized under the field command of Triathlon (yeah!) and they’re all doing their part, Thor Girl and Ultra Girl lifting innocents out of danger, Cloud 9 saving people on rooftops, Rage & Hardball directing traffic, even Slapstick does his part, keeping up the morale of the children, but Hardball isn’t happy. When looters bust into an electronics store, Rage takes the point, and the heroes wade into them, busting heads and splitting up the crowd. Suddenly, the bank of televisions shows live footage of the battle over New York, as Iron Man engages the Hulk for the first time…

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And now Hardball is directly responsible for whatever comes next, including the seeming death of the head of SHIELD. Friends don’t let friends get blackmailed, kids. I like the detail that Komodo (having been part of the Spider-Man power-stealing squad last issue) is the one who recognizes what the weapon is. The recruits watch in horror as the Hulk takes the upper hand, and punches Stark into the ionosphere. Together the combatants smash through Avengers Tower, and the entire building collapses. Once again, Rage takes over (in more ways than one) as Elvin’s emotions boil over. “To hell with this! To HELL with the rules!”

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Heh. Triathlon is still in need of some leadership training, isn’t he? Rage leads the Initiative out into battle and Triathlon contacts headquarters to report that they’ve gone rogue. Henry Peter Gyrich stomps down the halls of Camp Hammond, cursing and basically having a stick up his backside, calling out for his secret weapon. “Attention! Shadow Initiative, Fall in! This is NOT a drill!” Muttering about stupid heroes rushing in, blah blah blah, Gyrich vows to kill all the recruits himself.

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I hadn’t realized that the Bengal was that big. Either way, Gyrich’s super-agents are going to be needed, as Rage leads his troops down the wrecked streets. Hardball isn’t sure about all of this, and Rage wants to know what happened to the kid who wanted to “mix it up” with the Hulk. “Newsflash: that kids saw a ten-foot-tall IRON MAN get his head handed to him.” Valid point. They round the corner and find the Avengers flattened, mere moments after the battle in the first half of WWH #2, though I’m annoyed at yet another between-the-panels confrontation. The issue ends with Rage’s recruits realizing just how far out of their league they are, looking at Wonder Man, Ares, She-Hulk, and the rest flattened by the Warbound.

I am so much happier with this issue than the last couple. Some old favorites of mine (Triathlon, Ultra Girl, Rage & Slapstick) get some screen time without diminishing Cloud 9, Hardball, and the new kids that are the ostensible focus of the book. I like the “behind the music” look at why Iron Man was so easily plowed into scrap, but there had better be repercussions for Hardball. Marvel is doing very well at showing us the shades of grey in the superhero equation, if you like that sort of thing, but Hardball’s dilemma rings very true for me. He’s only trying to do the best for his family, but he’s been a headstrong young idiot, and made some bad choices that need equally bad consequences. The art is interesting, reminding me of the best of J. Scott Campbell (especially the sequence where Tony Stark rants about bringing the world together, seen above) and the external threat shows what the Initiative is SUPPOSED to be for, even if they do something entirely different once in the field. War Machine’s realization that he doesn’t agree with what his friend is doing helped a lot to overcome my character distaste from last issue, and earned the book a well-above average 3.5out of 5 stars. It could easily have been four, if not for more timeline-twisting with the World War Hulk crossover…

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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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7 Comments

  1. Josh
    July 20, 2007 at 11:54 am — Reply

    I really do hate the camo pants.

    I might change my mind if we can see War Machine or Yellowjacket in camo pants though.

  2. Brent F.
    July 20, 2007 at 1:54 pm — Reply

    The camo pants wouldn’t be so ridiculous if they weren’t wearing their normal costumes underneath.

  3. Brent F.
    July 20, 2007 at 2:09 pm — Reply

    Also, is it just me or did Cloud 9 suddenly have a growth spurt in the chest region?

  4. July 20, 2007 at 2:50 pm — Reply

    Also, is it just me or did Cloud 9 suddenly have a growth spurt in the chest region?

    I think she’s just twisted so that her shirt looks tight from the side… And yes, the camo pants are stupid beyond words, but the initial chest-symbol shirts for the new recruits are just as ridiculous.

  5. July 20, 2007 at 4:50 pm — Reply

    1) That figure in the armor ont he left of that Scarlet Spider has been solicited as ‘Mutant Zero’, which is a pretty cool name…

    2) Pym’s costume seems to look coller without a mask and with a Lab Coat over it.

    3) Yet again, Rhodey is not seen without his armour. Maybe Stark got so in need for a friend, he just programemd a suit of armour to act like his old friend and thus be his conscience? Nah, not even Tony would do that…

    4) I think I’ve figured out why Komodo hates being Human. It’s obvious when you think about it – she probably doesn’t have any legs. Hence the name. Hence the powers. Hence the emotional hang-up. Nice work, Slott…

  6. Brent F.
    July 20, 2007 at 8:13 pm — Reply

    Salieri, none of the trainers have been seen without their costumes/uniforms on. Also, we’ve seen Komodo in human form before, I’m pretty sure she still had legs.

  7. July 21, 2007 at 1:58 am — Reply

    1) But Rhodey is important because he;s in a full-body costume. It’s like playing Dumbledore in Harry Potter: there could be ANYONE under that thing.

    2) We’ve only seen Komodo’s human form once, in last issue; and then, neither we nor Hardball had time to look at her legs before she changed back.

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