Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Avengers: The Initiative #1

Posted: Sunday, April 8, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

“Happy Accidents”

Writer: Dan Slott
Artists: Stefano Caselli (p & i), Daniele Rudoni (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Average Rating:

Tobey Cook:
Luke Handley:
Dave Wallace:
Thom Young:

Tobey Cook

Following the surrender of Captain America’s team in Civil War #7, Tony Stark has set up Camp Hammond on the former site of the Stanford massacre in order to train new heroes in the use of their powers. In the course of the first few pages of this book we are introduced to the first batch of recruits, which includes Rage (a former New Warrior and Avenger) as well as Slapstick. We also get to meet Camp Hammond’s drill instructor, The Gauntlet, a soldier brought in to train these new recruits.

My main issue with this book is twofold. First, Dan Slott’s writing here is spotty at best. He’s forced to shoehorn in so many moments to introduce us to these new characters that we really don’t get a sense of individuality from any one of them save Cloud 9, who just seems like a fish out of water. Second, the whole idea of a “boot camp for superheroes” is not something I can see catching on with the average comic fan. It just illustrates more of a forced perspective that Civil War has basically turned the Marvel Universe into one big police state. That’s not something I think is going to be easy to digest.

On the other hand, Stefano Casselli is a perfectly serviceable artist for this book. He illustrates each character so their individuality shines through, but really doesn’t give much more visual impact to make them stand out. I really did have one problem with his art though, and that’s the new War Machine armor. It just looks ridiculous and out of place in this book. And what’s with War Machine pointing his weapons at a kid? That’s just not something I think should be shown in this book.

There’s just so much more I dislike about this book every time I read through it, but that’s something I could go on for hours about. I believe overall that Civil War has made a mess of the Marvel Universe, and if you want proof, just read this book as an example. The only reason it doesn’t get a lower score from me is because the art delivers in most places where the story couldn’t. Nothing about these new “recruits” stands out enough for me to want to invest the time in the second issue of this book.

Luke Handley:

The fresh new superpowered faces of the Marvel Universe are introduced and stuck in boot camp. Their military style training gets underway until one of them completely loses it with disastrous results.

Damn, I hate issues like this. Slott goes and builds up an interesting new character, makes him a likeable hero and then promptly blows his brains out at the end of the issue! Damn you, Slott! Damn you!

I really enjoyed this. This title, originally solicited as a mini-series and then bumped up to ongoing before it even launched, definitely deserves a shot at the big time. The reason it was bumped was apparently due to large retailer orders on the first couple of issues. This could simply be due to the fact that it has the word “Avengers” in the title, but this book is not a third Avengers title; it’s a title about the training of the next generation of heroes. Slott has called it “the future of the Marvel Universe.” Already many familiar faces can be seen throughout from Constrictor to the new Scorpion to Stingray to Triathlon (who I think is unfortunate to be stuck here after his distinguished tenure as an Avenger).

This first issue is mostly about the young superpowered kids who are drafted as a result of the Registration Act. Cloud 9, Komodo, MVP, Hardball, Trauma and Armory are all introduced, some more so than others. Though still in their very early days, they all show some potential as characters that could help carry this title, especially MVP. Oh well, mustn’t dwell. But this book isn’t just about the newbies. The Camp Hammond staff includes Yellowjacket, War Machine and Justice. It’s about time someone found something worthwhile for these guys to do as they haven’t really headlined anywhere for a while and are amongst my favourite Avengers. As mentioned above, there’s a whole host of other characters hanging around. Thor Girl, Bengal, Rage and Slapstick make up the rest of the newbies’ training squad, and hopefully they’ll get to occupy the spotlight a little more (except Slapstick that is).

This series is about training the new or inexperienced heroes and what better way to do that than to use army boot camp techniques? (Actually, I can think of better ways, but this is the U.S. army after all.) This is exemplified more than anything in the form of new hero and camp drill sergeant, Gauntlet. He gets his name from the big f***ing gauntlet he wears on his right arm. Where did it come from? Who knows, but does anyone else think it’s worth noting that Slott recently introduced the anti-hero Southpaw in the pages of She-Hulk who possesses exactly the same style of gauntlet that confers similar powers except hers is left-handed? Gauntlet is U.S. military through and through and really drives home the message that these kids have been drafted for their country and there’s not much they can do about it. Overseeing the whole operation is Henry Peter Gyrich. He really is a character I love to hate. He offers an interesting explanation to Gauntlet about the usefulness of such a training facility; as a result of M-Day, the U.S. finds itself by far in the lead of the “powers” race with the greatest occurrence rate of “happy accidents.” As such, if these superpowered beings can be properly trained, they’ll have a superhero army that can’t be rivaled.

Stefano Caselli is providing pencils for the series. I wasn’t over impressed by his work on Civil War: Young Avengers / Runaways, but this was definitely in part due to the fact that his Runaways’ designs varied in some places quite dramatically from Alphona’s. He produces some rather nice work here. His main cast are easily identifiable and already have very unique portrayals. He does his facial expressions well and does a good job on the Gauntlet as well as most of the more established heroes; I like his War Machine armour, though his Triathlon looks a bit off. Dr. (Prof.?) Von Blitzschlag is maybe excessively creepy. This is a superhero training camp after all, not Oolong Island.

This book takes a look at what it means to have superpowers in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe. The new kids introduced in this issue could prove to be worthwhile additions to the Marvel pantheon, and it will be interesting to see how some of the more established heroes, such as Rage, deal with the compulsory training. Definitely one to watch.

Dave Wallace:

I didn’t have a huge amount of hope for this third monthly Avengers book, which springs directly out of Marvel’s Civil War and deals with a group of powered youngsters as they make their way through one of the USA’s first superhero registration programmes. Yet despite the middling reception that Civil War received upon completion, The Initiative actually manages to neatly sidestep being tainted by the less successful elements of that series. A good example is the mishandling of the Registration Act, a central pillar of Marvel’s Civil War event. The lack of clarity regarding its implications for super-powered individuals who do decide to register was frustrating for fans who wanted more detailed information on exactly what registration entailed; however, that’s something of a blessing here, as it gives Slott plenty of latitude in terms of how to put together a convincing framework for young or inexperienced heroes to be trained and officially cleared for hero activities.

Slott has a couple of well-established characters to deal with here, and he unsurprisingly writes most of them in fairly close accordance with their characterisation in recent Civil War-related events (and you’ll probably know by now whether that will be to your liking or not). However, he does a far more solid job of introducing some new ones, and cannily makes them the focus of the issue, giving us an efficient introduction to each recruit which gives us information about their powers and personalities without resorting to a straightforward and dry text profile, à la Mighty Avengers. My personal favourite is “Cloud 9” – a believable young girl with some amusing comments to make about the preponderance of unrealistic body types among female superheroes – but each one of the characters has the potential to be an interesting member of the book’s cast. That said, there are a couple who could do with some more attention, such as the broadly-sketched and derivative drill Sergeant, “Gauntlet” (whose power appears to be, er, a big magical hand…), but this depth may come with future issues.

Stefano Caselli’s artwork is far more effective than I gave it credit for when I first saw previews of the issue. His storytelling is clear, his character designs are suitably hyperbolic and visually interesting, and his linework is elegant , complemented by the soft colouring of Daniele Rudoni. It’s always good to see an artist display a rounded set of abilities, and Caselli pulls off the quieter character-based scenes with just as much success as the bigger action sequences, making for a consistently strong overall package.

Slott integrates his playful sense of humour with a reasonably “straight” story, meaning that it’s enjoyably entertaining both as a straight “Young Avengers” type of book, and as a more comedic superhero title. However, Slott does deal with some fairly serious story points, and the early death (?) of a new recruit gives the book’s first issue a downbeat finale, as well as casting doubt over just how safe and secure the new post-Civil War measures are in protecting the world from the mistakes of inexperienced superhumans. One of my only concerns is the book’s larger direction, as it still isn’t clear whether the permanent focus of the book is going to be the training camp itself or the group of characters that appear in this first issue – and if it’s the former (as the title suggests), and the book is going to have a rotating cast, then I would have appreciated a fuller introduction to the facility and its staff members in this first issue, as this story definitely feels more sympathetic towards the young recruits than their teachers.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this issue, especially considering my misgivings about the state of the Marvel Universe in the wake of Civil War. Slott has introduced a compelling new group of superheroes to the Marvel Universe, has given us more detail on exactly what the Registration Act entails for these youngsters, has shown how high the stakes can be as a powered superhuman in the post-Civil War landscape - even for these young trainees – and has shown us that the more realistic concerns that were at the forefront of Civil War haven’t prevented the possibility of telling a more old-fashioned type of superhero story in the contemporary Marvel Universe. He might not be able to gloss over all of the less pleasing elements to have come out of Mark Millar’s series, but this book looks to be on the right track to be an enjoyable story in its own right – even if I’m not yet convinced of its ability to last beyond its first arc as a third ongoing Avengers title.

Thom Young:

Okay, since Avengers: The Initiative #1 came out last Wednesday and this Slugfest is not an early review, I suppose it’s okay if I go into some detail about what’s in this first issue. For anyone who hasn’t read it though . . . well, I don’t really consider my reveals to be “spoilers,” so I think it’s safe to read what I have to say.

First of all, let me just say that “The Initiative” is essentially a camp based on Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. However, instead of a school setting with classes, The Initiative is a boot camp with military training. It does, though, have its own Danger Room called “The Combat Simulator.”

There is a very interesting concept here, but it’s poorly executed. Since the mid-1980s, superhero comic books have been making attempts at presenting worlds of greater verisimilitude.

In fact, it could be argued that this movement actually goes back to the early 1960s with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s attempts at greater verisimilitude with their Silver Age Marvel titles (and then with Ditko’s 1960s work at Charlton and DC, and Kirby’s Fourth World work at DC in the early 1970s).

However, since the mid-1980s and the publication of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, there have been many attempts at greater verisimilitude in superhero comics—with wide ranging success and failure. I believe Marvel’s current approach in their mainstream universe (sorry, I haven’t memorized the numbers for the various Marvel universes) is yet another attempt at greater verisimilitude.

The problem is that every time I sample part of this “Civil War” and/or its aftermath, I don’t buy the notion that this is greater verisimilitude. It just seems like either lazy attempts to create “the world outside my window” or attempts by writers who aren’t up to the task.

Okay, so here are the eight things that I didn’t like about Avengers: The Initiative #1 (roughly in chronological order):
  1. Hydra as a terrorist organization in Iraq whose members drive around in pick-up trucks with homemade bombs loaded in the cargo bed. Oh, how the mighty Hydra has fallen since Jim Steranko’s days at Marvel.

  2. A super-powered character called The Gauntlet who has a giant gauntlet on his right arm that can emit a giant energy gauntlet that can extend out and grab things. I guess he’s sort of like the Green Lantern John Stewart (especially the Justice League Unlimited cartoon version) but with a giant gauntlet on his arm instead of a ring on his finger.

  3. This third item is actually something that I’ve been noticing in several comics lately—such as in Bendis’s first issue of Mighty Avengers and in a scene written by Geoff Johns in an issue of 52—an internal reference to bad dialog. Here, Henry Peter Gyrich (U.S. Secretary of Superhuman Armed Forces, which must be a new cabinet position) overhears a one-liner spoken by The Gauntlet and asks, “You actually come up with that crap?”

    The Gauntlet replies, “No, sir. A petty officer from public affairs. He writes five a’ those a day” (sic).

    Okay, so instead of making an effort to write believable dialog (for a comic depicting a world of greater verisimilitude), the current trend in comics is for the writer to admit that he can’t write good dialog by having the characters in the story comment on the bad lines and then blame them on having to recite lines that were scripted by a bad public relations agent within the context of the story.

    This trend is an example of self-referential Postmodern storytelling at its worst. Perhaps these comic book writers should read some works by Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut to get a sense of how self-referential stories should be handled. They might also try going out in public places and eavesdropping on the way people actually talk. (Note: Comic book message boards are not a good place to pick up natural conversational dialog.)

    Also, why is The Gauntlet having his lines scripted by a naval officer when he seems to be attached to an army unit? It’s a mystery that will probably never be resolved.

    Oh, and Secretary Gyrich’s new assignment for The Gauntlet? He’s going to be the drill instructor at the New Young Avenger Warriors Boot Camp in Stamford, Connecticut that has been built on the “hallowed ground” where the New Warriors made a mistake that cost them their lives—as well as the lives of “over 600 men, women, and children.”

  4. Actually, I kind of liked this fourth item—except for where it was taken by Dan Slott/Henry Peter Gyrich (do we have to use his middle name?):

    A reference to House of M and the loss of power by most of the world’s mutants (but no apparent resolution to the end of that series and the idea that “all the energy of these thousands of mutants didn’t just disappear”), with Gyrich explaining that The Gauntlet is needed back in the States because:

    People now get their “super powers the old-fashioned way . . . cosmic rays, magic canes, radioactive spider bites. The way God intended. And guess who leads the world in lab accidents, time warps, and alien crash sites?

    “So ask yourself, Sergeant, how would you rather fight this war? With more boots on the ground . . . or more capes in the air?”

    To Gyrich’s statement and question I can only react with a . . . “huh?”

  5. A super-powered girl in Illinois who has the “superhuman identity” of Cloud 9 and whose powers are the “manipulation of an unidentified, possibly extraterrestrial, gas.”

    Uhm . . . huh?

  6. The grandson of the man who invented Captain America’s supersoldier serum has not shown any superhuman abilities but is being drafted into “The Initiative” because he’s a gifted athlete who has won a lot of sports trophies. His codename will be MVP—apparently because he was often the most valuable player of the sporting games he played in high school.

    Actually, I like this “Captain America Jr.” I only wish he wasn’t called MVP. Oh well, maybe he’ll change it. You know . . . if he lives long enough to eventually choose his own name.

  7. A super-powered girl in San Francisco who calls herself Armory and auditions for The Mighty Avengers by taking down a giant metallic guy named Ultimo with one shot just as The Mighty Avengers were about to attack Ultimo en masse.

    Her weapon, the “tactigon,” only gives her the weapons and power she needs “to get the job done.” How convenient. According to one of Dr. Henry Pym’s colleagues, von Blitzschlag (which means “of stroke of lightning” by the way), the tactigon “iz a multidimensional var chest able to reshape itzelf into an infinite number of weapons.”

    Of course, I’m sure Herr of Stroke of Lightning (who looks like Dr. Frankenstein’s creature—well, the Universal Pictures version anyway) meant to say “iz ein multidimensional var chest able to reshape itzelf into ein infinite number of veapons.”

    And I swear, these Young New Warrior Avengers sound like something out of DC’s old “Dial H for Hero” premise—with characters submitted by ten-year-old readers. In fact, Robby Reed’s old H-Dial might also be “ein multidimensional var chest.” Ja?

  8. Anti-Initiative protestors outside Initiative Headquarters in Stamford Connecticut have problems getting the proper rhythm to their protest chant:
    One, two, three, four.
    Not another Civil War.
    Five, six, seven, eight.
    Take your base out of our state.
    Despite some guy who looks like Carrot Top and who is called Slapstick proclaiming, “It’s got a beat and you can dance to it,” the rhythm of this protest chant is a mess.

    Granted, the first and third lines are two sets of spondees, and the second and fourth lines each have seven syllables. However, the second line has down beats on the odd-numbered syllables and up beats on the even-numbered syllables while the fourth line is a confusion of heavy and light syllables with no discernable rhythm. In fact, there is a variety of ways that the fourth line can be scanned.

    Perhaps these protestors should blame their poor verse on a writer of protest chants who has to write “five verses a’ day.”
Finally, I will point out two things I liked about this issue. First, I liked Stefano Caselli’s illustrations. I wouldn’t mind seeing his work again.

Second, the ending of this first issue has me curious about the mystery that “Herr Lightning Stroke” discovered after he completed an autopsy on one of the Young New Avenger Warriors. In fact, I’m curious enough that I just might pick up the next issue at the book store to see if the mystery is revealed.

You know, before putting it back on the shelf and proceeding on to the checkout counter with the books I’m actually going to buy.

What did you think of this book?
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