Review: Avengers The Initiative Special

I’ve been a bit hot and cold on Avengers: The Initiative over its run. Arcs like the World War Hulk mini tie in and Killed in Action were pretty much full on excellent, but a couple of the one off moments and the Secret Invasion tie-in haven’t been tickling me the way some of the other issues did. Not sure why I ordered the Special, as I’m always a bit wary about these one off $4 specials, but I’m pretty sure I read the solicit and it sounded legit (i.e. not a couple pages or half story and a bunch of reprints or rushed supplemental material. You hear me random Hulk specials and Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?). It came in my DCBS box yesterday (and a depressingly sad box that only had about eight books in it. Sad times), and I read it a few minutes ago. Had to start writing about it immediately while it’s still fresh in my mind, because I was very impressed by the quality of this book. Like the main series, this was co-written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage, with art by Steve Uy, who seems like I’ve seen his work before, though he doesn’t seem to have done work on the monthly as of yet. This is a story that is designed to not stand on its own, but instead to give a chance to step away from all the Skrully madness and focus on a couple of the characters from the first year of the book that have been lost in the shuffle. The main story brings us back to the relationship between Komodo and Hardball, and the backup is about Trauma. This is a 40 page book. And I’m not saying 40 page from the perspective that it’s 32 story pages. There are a full 40 pages of story here, which actually makes this thing a good value at $4 (considering the extra dollar gets you another 18 story pages). I may not have previously been aware of Steve Uy, but his art is relatively reminiscent of Caselli’s work. So the packaging is good. What about the story?

Remember that little one of splash of the Nevada and Arizona teams fighting Zzzax on a dam that showed up in one of the recent issues of the main book? That’s where this issue starts, as these new super teams (led by Gravity and Two Gun Kid) attempt to work together to try and take down that silly electromagnetic monster. Long story short, both teams get pretty well wrecked before Hardball and Komodo step in (Hardball operates out of Nevada, and Komodo is in Arizona), and proceed to use their combined powers to stop the threat. What follows is mostly a continuation of the Hardball/HYDRA storyline that we saw around the time of Killed in Action and the attack on Gauntlet, where we learn a bit of back story about Hardball and why he can’t seem to escape of the devious clutches of the particular HYDRA operative that has been using his services. Hardball finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place (HA! I kill me!), and is forced to make a decision between his family and the love of his life. Sure, it’s a bit of a cliched story point, but that doesn’t stop Gage and Slott from breathing new life into it via unlocking some of the back story of Komodo and Hardball. These are damaged people who aren’t exactly in the position to make good and well reasoned decisions when it comes to matters of the heart. Hardball loves his family. He obviously loves Komodo. And his life is on the line thanks to some good old fashioned HYDRA blackmailing. We get some espionage and back stabbing all around, which sets the stage for the final big battle of the story. But the crux of the story isn’t lost in all of the punching and explosions, and Hardball makes a hard choice (again! Boom!) that certainly heavily changes the status quo of his character. I’m trying to keep things vague (could you tell?), because I love the way that this story unfolds itself. It’s perfectly paced, keeping a nice ratio of action and quiet character moments, and the motives of Hardball make you completely buy what he does at the end of the story, despite the fact that it’s not exactly what you would expect. This story really reminds me of what I liked about The Initiative in that first year. We grew attached to these characters, and I’m glad to know that Slott and Gage have not forgotten and abandoned them (or at least given them more time than a quick cameo from Cloud 9 or something). This story feels like home. I hope that the creative team gets back to stories like this post Secret Invasion, and maybe leaves Camp Hammond behind for a bit to explore what happens to these characters in the real world.

The Trauma backup is shorter but no less good. I do like Trauma as a character, and I think the decision to turn him into a superhero therapist that helps them overcome their fears was a great choice for him. This backup is similar to the main story in that its thrust was to delve into Trauma’s back story. This is a quick eight pages about how much it sucks to have a power like that without the ability to control it. He alienates both friends and enemies in high school. He accidentally gets his mother committed. He has to hide from his family and is eventually forced to leave his home, at which point he has nowhere else to go but Camp Hammond. This backup mirrors the main story in another way, in that we’ve got a glimpse at the future of where this character can go in the future. There is one specifically excellent and haunting series of two panels that really pulls off what was needed to make you emphathize with Trauma (excellent work, Mr. Uy). Excellent work here again.

This book is more than worth the four bucks for fans of the series and the characters. It’s right up there with Swierczynski’s Orson Randall special as a wonderful one shot that features great work from everyone involved. Vigorous thumbs up over here.

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