Editor's Note: Avengers Initiative #10 arrives in stores tomorrow, March 12.
Of late, Marvel is mining gold with their stable of Avengers themed comics. With Brian Michael Bendis writing both Mighty Avengers and New Avengers, and with the reprints of classic Avengers tales featuring the original lineups shipping on a regular basis, not to mention the impending Secret Invasion saga, it's a good time to be a fan of superhero comics in general and Earth's mightiest heroes in particular. However, it is Dan Slott's Avengers Initiative which for me has been the best of the lot and the biggest surprise to come out of the post-Civil War mainstream Marvel universe.
This title has been as hot as weapons grade plutonium and the latest issue picks up with a tremendous battle drawing closer: A clone of MVP enhanced with a powerful alien weapon versus the Initiative's former drill sergeant, Gauntlet, equally prepared to go into the brawl toting alien tech of his own. Boy, does it not disappoint! The two combatants lay waste to the Initiative compound while Taskmaster, Cloud 9 and the other cadets are caught in the crossfire. Gyrich sends in the "Shadow Initiative" to try and contain the situation which consists of Constrictor, Bengal, Mutant Zero and the Scarlet Spiders. The action sequences are mostly rendered in colorful wide horizontal panels with no gigantic full page spreads to make the reader feel as though he is being cheated of story content.
With the exception of the Symbioties in New York story-arc, one noticeable problem with Bendis' handling of the Avengers titles has been his consistent use of lower tiered villains to provide opposition to our heroes, particularly in the pages of New Avengers. This would be fine with any other superhero team, but the Avengers have traditionally been formed to take on cosmic threats and to handle invasions on a massive scale, threats against the world or the entire universe. His dialogue also often comes across as clunky and unnatural.
Neither of these problems can be applied to this title because both Dan Slott and his co-writer Christos Cage always manage to hammer out some solid characterization and enjoyable dialogue. One example is Slapstick's humorous interactions with his former New Warriors teammates in this issue. Another is K.I.A's interaction with the Scarlet Spiders. One gets the sense that these clones will be the ones to finally reach K.I.A. and put a stop to his murderous rampage. The tension and conflict permeating the book never lets up and neither does the ensuing carnage, and it's a fascinating read. Nor is there a need to worry about the heroes in training having to battle Earth shattering threats each issue (though they have had their share of those, having already tangled with the Hulk during a World War Hulk tie-in) because the inherent drama of being an Avenger in training, and a registered member of the Initiative, brings its own unique brand of conflict to the proceedings.
The artwork in this comic by Stefano Caselli is solid and blends well with Rudoni's color art, avoiding the murky hues which mire a lot of Marvel books into darker renderings of scenery devoid of light or vitality.
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