Editor's Note: Avengers: The Initiative #20 arrives in stores Friday, January 2.
Plot: The Skrulls are gone, but they've left their mark on the superheroes of the Initiative. Camp Hammond is leaderless. 3-D Man is scorned. Tigra is torn. Yellow Jacket is forlorn. And Mutant Zero is exposed!
Commentary: Although this issue is a Dark Reign tie-in, its story is firmly focused on its massive ensemble cast. This pack of C and D-list superheroes and heroines must deal with the crater left in the Initiative program, recouping from enemy infiltration and subterfuge, and restructuring in the chain of command. The creative team of Slott, Gage, and Kurth build a thrilling melodrama with brilliant jokes and frightening imagery.
As Gauntlet discerns who to report to, it suddenly becomes clear that the management has left building. With the sacking of Iron Man, the resignation of War Machine, and the sabbatical of Yellow Jacket, the question is asked: "Who's next in the chain of command?" From the crowd of Camp Hammond personnel, a withered hand is raised and immediately shot down. "Not in a million years, Blitzschlag," Gauntlet rebuffs. "Ach, no respect for seniority," murmurs the crippled Nazi. Kurth plays out the moment with subtly, hiding Blitzschlag's tiny old frame behind the large profiles of Hellcat and Gargoyle. This strengthens the punch line by allowing the reader to skim the crowd for the answer and discover it's the least likely person in the room.
But it's not all laughs at Initiative HQ. There are some quite disturbing scenes in this issue. One involves Hank Pym talking to a dead Jan (a.k.a. The Wasp), and the other is Tigra's embryonic fear of the future. Kurth's art is already creepy with his figures' photo-referenced posture and detail; thus, he terrifically conveys the unsettling ambience of a man having dinner with his dead ex-wife. Jan's eyes are wide and full of life, but her neck is constantly cocked in curious positions as if discerning what it's like to be flesh and blood. Similarly, Tigra's concern is manifested in Trauma (who can actualize anyone's greatest fear) in disturbing, gut-busting imagery. Kurth draws Tigra looking at Trauma as herself with little beings busting out of her belly with a wry sense of implausibility unperturbed the gruesomeness of the scene. This adds a quirky weirdness to the issue that makes this series stand out.
Not only are Slott and Gage interested in spinning exciting trials for their formative heroes, but willing to do so with elements of horror, humor, and realism. Despite the unnerving atmosphere of the aforementioned scenes, what will stand out to the reader are Slott and Gage's dialogue and discussion. Jan asks Hank when he was captured, wondering if the husband that beat her was a Skrull imposter too. And despite dating the Skrull Hank Pym, Tigra reveals she would be more content carrying an alien child than the progeny of Yellow Jacket. These are some heavy emotional scenes that don't read phony or superficial.
Final Word: Buy It Now!
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