Or – “The Avengers Title That Actually Features An Avenger.”
I guess one of the biggest surprises about Secret Invasion is how well Marvel has held to their crossover guns, making sure that the story in the main title is (essentially) self-contained, and the crossover issues are designed to heighten that story, and add depth and background.Â This is all well and good, but it has had the effect of turning New and Mighty Avengers into “Skrullapalooza Flashback Theatre.”Â Since the first few issues of the mini (released overÂ a period of severalÂ months) have taken placeÂ in theÂ space of half a day, we’re stalling for time across the M.U. as the characters catch up toÂ themselves and where they were at the beginning of Secret Invasion #1 at last summer…Â But, lo and behold, here comes Avengers: The Initiative with not only aÂ story set in the more or less current time, but a storyÂ with forward momentum and some nice character bits, and one that actually shows us what’s going on at homeÂ while Spider-Man and company cavort about the Savage Land…
Previously, on Avengers – The Initiative: Reed Richards.Â Tony Stark.Â Prince Namor of Atlantis.Â Charles Xavier.Â Doctor Stephen Strange.Â Blackagar Boltagon, King of the Inhumans.Â Movers and shakers all, the centers of power in the Marvel Universe, the minds behind the Avengers, the Defenders, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, these men share one more important thing in common:Â THEY ALL HAVE ENORMOUS EGOS.Â This has led to disaster for the entire Marvel Universe (oddly enough, their actions also directly set into motionÂ the LAST catastrophic clusterschmozz to affect their world, AND the one before that) as the Skrull Empire has finally chosen to use their shapeshifting powers to infilitrate and undermine the foundations upon which these brilliant heroes have rested.Â With friends mistrusting one another, teams shattered, families torn apart, the fate of the Marvel Universe is not in the hands of these self-appointed guardians of everything.Â Oh, no my friends…Â With Tony Stark’s 50 State Initiative infiltrated with alien invaders, the fate of the free world rests in the hands of one size-changing cowardly pervert, one former Avenger with a huge legacy to live up to, two dying lunatics, and a handful of kids who have been (barely) trained to be the last line of defense against supervillain attacks.Â No wonder all of Marvel’s ads are implying that the Skrulls win this one, eh?
When last we saw our heroes, the Skrulls had officially occupied Camp Hammond, the center of training activities for the Initiative, while their Super-Skrull footsoldiers attacked cities and heroes around the globe.Â The only witness to the fact that the aliens walk among us is one Eric O’Grady, a singularly unlikable cuss who bears the name and legacy of Ant-Man.Â His response?Â Skulking away quietly chanting “Nice aliens… Don’t look down.Â Don’t look down.Â Don’t look down.”Â Heh.Â There’s a noticeable change to the art here, as well, with regular penciller Stefano Caselli off drawing Young Avengers/Runaways…Â I’m not sure how I feel about the anatomy, either.Â At the Camp Hammond Day Care Center, the operative code-named The Bengal leads his children and wife into a hidden armored safe room before masking up and plainly vowing, “I will die before I let them hurt you.”Â His fellow Shadow Initiative members likewise suit up, including the mysterious Mutant Zero, who is shown to be a red-haired female mutant (!!) in some sort of meditation chamber.Â Is it a room designed to blunt her tremendous telepathic powers?Â Is it a “Grey” area, he said significantly?Â Perhaps to keep her from watching her beloved canoodling with a white-haired bimbo with a fake British accent?Â The obvious implication here is that we know her, and how many red-haired former mutants do YOU know?Â (That many, huh?)Â The Shadow Initiative manages to hook up with (read that as “save from certain death”) Ant-Man, and The Bengal and the Constrictor feel their course is clear: assassinate the Skrull Queen.
Far away, in Nevada, we see the aftermath of the new Skrull Kill Krew’s efforts, as the monstrous Riot tears apart the corpse of another formerly disguised Skrull.Â 3-D Man uses his Skrull-identifying glasses (which, ironically, have always been part of his powerset…Â Read Marvel Spotlight #36 from 1977 if you don’t belive me) to verify that only one of the heroes has been replaced, confirming his supposition that there’s one Skrull per state.Â Komodo is reunited with her boyfriend Hardball, who replies to 3-D Man’s confirmation of his humanity by hugging her man and saying, “I could’ve told you that…Â I know who to trust.”Â Awww.Â It’s a nice moment, with a hidden element, as Hardball’s face betrays the fact that he has, in past issues, done things that are very untrustworthy.Â It’s a very human moment, and plays with the Secret Invasion tagline well.Â The Kill Krew and Kompany set out again, contacting Hal and Chuck Chandler (the original 3-D Man) with their next location, just as a knock at the door signals the arrival of former Avenger Jocasta.Â The art in this sequence is very imaginative, but a little distracting, with a suddenly cut to a 45 degree angle as Jo enters the room.Â I don’t know that I like it, but I have to admire the innovation.
The Shadow Initiative wonders whether one of their own number might be a Skrull, and decide (foolishly) to identify which may or may not be.Â This exercise ends badly, asÂ Trauma uses his fear powers toÂ show Mutant Zero that her own greatest fear is…Â herself?Â “You’re afraid of your own dark side, the part called–“Â Before he can finish his thought, she decks him in the face.Â “If one of us is a Skrull, we’re dead already,” replies M.Z. practically.Â She’s right of course, but we again see her image from behind,Â and are shown that Ant-Man recognizesÂ who she is.Â We shift scene again to Nick Fury’s hidden safehouse, as the remaining Initiative recruits wait for their orders.Â The Crusader (secretly a Skrull himself, albeit one without any part in this Invasion) gets a pep talk from Nick, and vows, “This is my home.Â And I swear to you, Colonel Fury…Â I’m going to set it free.”Â I foresee bad mojo coming out of that vow.Â Back at Hammond, The Shadow Initiative shows some ingenuity, setting off a bomb to soften the Skrulls up before wading in full speed and… KILLING THE SKRULL QUEEN!Â Nice move on the part of Weapon Zero (who shows off telekinetic powers in so doing.)Â Of course, the queen has taken a move from Houdini, and engaged in a bit of misdirection, and they’ve done nothing but kill her decoy.Â She then reveals that they know all the Shadow team’s secrets.Â “Or did you really believe Yellowjacket was the only Skrull we placed here?”Â The team suddenly turns on Trauma, whose powers reflect their greatest fear back at them, turning him into a Skrull.Â Only Ant-Man slips away, getting pictures of the Skrull secret weapon as he exits.Â Back in the Southwest, the 3-D Man and his team have taken out another Skrull nest when Jocasta appears in the road before them.Â “I believe you are already familiar with the Devil-Slayer and his teleporting Shadow Cloak?”Â 3-D Man smiles.Â “Now we’re gonna do some damage.”
This was actually a veryÂ eventful issue, with a lot of plot and a lot of character moments for the regulars, but it suffers a bit from having sooo many different angles to cover.Â The Shadow Initiative.Â Ant-Man.Â 3-D Man.Â The greater war.Â The Skrulls final weapon.Â There’s a ton of stuff going on here, and not enough space devoted to most of it.Â Dan Slott and Christos Gage really know how to put a tale together, but it’s a case of a little bit too much going on, jumping back and forth in space and time.Â The art (by Harvey Tolibao, though I’m not sure if it’s a fill-in or a new assignment for him) is fair enough, with Mutant Zero’s dressing sequence being the best rendered bit, but there’s an element of grotesquerie to his art, with bulbous noses, huge sunken eyes, and (in the case of Queen Skrull Spider-Woman) a chest that looks like she’s been shot square in the back with a pair of cruise missiles.Â His faces have the strange scratchy lines that I associate with Leinil Yu’s art, and the overall effect of the art mutes the effectiveness of the story a bit.Â Still, it’s a strong issue, which finally gives us some forward motion on what the Skrulls are up to, and even seemingly sets up the key to their defeat in Ant-Man’s visor-camera.Â Avengers: The Initiative #17 earns a clean and well-done 3.5 out of 5 stars for keeping the character work even in the midst of the huge universal crossover…