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.

Secret Invasion 12B: The Rest!

New Avengers #45 (**)

House of M was the first Marvel book I ever read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s safe to say that I was looking forward to this one, especially the way that the last three or four issues of New Avengers had the little “Next! House of M!” icon at the bottom of the last page. Well, we finally got it. However, I was kinda let down by this one. There was a moment earlier in the Avengers Secret Invasion tie-ins that mentioned three things the Skrulls needed to happen to ease the pressure on their invasion. They needed Nick Fury gone, they needed the mutants in check, and they needed the heroes not to trust each other. Of course, these three necessary components take the form of Secret War, House of M, and Civil War. So you have the presupposition that the Skrulls had something to do with these events. But really, they just got lucky. These events all happened in rapid succession and as far as we can tell, the advance scouts and sleeper agents just happened to be there when they happened. I know this does sorta feed into the notion that this does reinforce to the Skrulls that the invasion was in fact prophesized, and I know that retcons are a bit of a taboo for fans these days, especially when they’re done to events that happened so recently, but Bendis wrote Secret War and House of M. He’s been planning Secret Invasion since Avengers: Disassembled. So why not take the plunge and make the Skrulls more than bystanders? It’s his story! He can make it work. This book just seemed like a great missed opportunity. I find that saddening especially since Jim Cheung was on the art for this book and his gorgeous work was wasted on a middling book. This one was a misfire.

Mighty Avengers #18 (****)

I don’t have a lot to say about this one (you’ll notice a bit of a theme for that, but I’ll discuss that at the end of this article). I do love the way Bendis writes Nick Fury. Mighty Avengers 12 and 13 were really fun, and I’m glad they went back to this portion of the back story. Sure, it’s designed to further flesh out the characters before the launch of Secret Warriors, but it’s a good little one off story that also builds up Maria Hill a little further, which I always appreciate. All the Secret Warriors are fun characters. Bick Fury is the badass he should be. It’s just a great book, and it makes me excited for Secret Warriors, so it was a success from that perspective.

Avengers: The Initiative #17 (***1/2)

I like Eric O’Grady. I should probably read the Kirkman issues. I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this one either. The overt actions of the Skrulls were a little sill, but I like the way they’re smart enough to realize that they need to mkake sure Spider-Woman is protected. It’s also possible that the use of Jessica Drew dupes came as a response to Maria Hill’s little LMD ambush on the Helicarrier, which is a nice touch (if one that may be completely fabricated in my own mind). Plus you’ve got that little Mutant X semi reveal that was a bit weird. Sure seems to me that they’re trying to intimate that Mutant X is Jean Grey. Which means it’s probably Madelyn Pryor. Or someone else that has long, flowing red hair. That was a bit strange. This was a good, if middling, read.

Secret Invasion: Thor #2 (***)

I don’t get the same sense of energy in this book compared to the Fraction one shots. Obviously, it’s not going to read like the JMS book, and the Thor that we see in the JMS book is different from the Thor that we saw in those first two one shots, but that’s not the problem. Even still, this book just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s Beta Ray Bill, but I don’t have a problem with the character or particularly how he’s written. I guess it might be the way Fraction cuts between the battle at Asgard and the child birth scenes in nearby Broxton, Oklahoma, but I don’t necessarily hate the device. Perhaps it’s the execution. I also wonder if I would like this more had the two Fraction/Zircher one shots not come out yet. They created a quality expectation for any Fraction penned Thor book, and these first two issues haven’t lived up to that. The third issue shows some potential promise with some possible Thor/Beta Ray Bill team-up action. Hoping this will pick up and turn into something worthwhile.

Deadpool #2 (****1/2)

Complete madness. Deadpool training Super Skrulls is a recipe for disaster. HILARIOUS disaster! We’ve got a lot of nice moments in the course of this book, including the realization that Deadpool’s DNA replication not only grants his impressive healing factor on these new Super Skrulls, but also his complete mental imbalance (and presumably his penchant for breaking the fourth wall). Deadpool wreaks havoc on the Skrulls and basically ruins an entire batch of Super Skrulls (who had already killed a completely separate batch of Super Skrulls as a “training exercise”) singlehandedly. Of course, we find out at the end that this was planned by Nick Fury from the beginning, and all is right with the world. The humor is still there and solidly done. Personally, I still prefer Nicieza’s humor over Way’s thus far, but he still brings the funny well enough. And it’s perfect acceptable for a Deadpool book. It’s a positive start to the series and I’m looking forward to the continuation of the book.

War Machine: Weapon of SHIELD #33 (***)

I’ve gotten a bunch of the Iron Man: Director of SHIELD issues, mostly for 25-50 cents apiece at various cons or Wild Pig sdales. Haven’t actually read any of them yet, but this one is a Secret Invasion book and War Machine has officially taken the title over, so it’s as good a time as any to start reading the book, especially considering the book is ending in a few scant months to be replaced b a Greg Pak War Machine book. So was it good? I guess. Christos Gage wrote this one, and it doesn’t exactly have the same flair that he puts into, oh…I don’t know…let’s say THUNDERBOLTS (Woo! Thunderbolts!). It’s a pretty good book; nothing about it is bad or painful, but it’s just okay. I didn’t get much out of this, and it’s one of the few tie-ins that didn’t add too much to the worldwide scope of Secret Invasion. Not necessary to be read, but it’s okay.

——-

So here’s the deal. I’m getting really burned out by the whole capsule review thing. Not really sure how to fix that, but I think I’m going to take some time to try and find a topic I can write about that isn’t a review or tied to any specific book. It’s been too long since the whole aborted look at the nature of various event structures to go back to that one (yeah, I know. Lame), so I’m really looking for something along the lines of the “In Defense of Civil War 7” article I wrote about six months back. Hopefully, the inspiration will strike me soon enough.

Bruce Castle Presents: The Amazing X-Men!

Amazing Spider-Man #572 (Cover B Variant Edition)

Amazing Spider-Man #572 (****1/2)

Only one more issue left in this arc. I wouldn’t have guessed it when this story began, but I’m actually sad that I can’t read the conclusion until next month. New Ways to Die is topnotch entertainment drawn beautifully by JRJR. It’s so great to see John Romita Jr. back on Spidey. He gets to invent some new characters too which is always cool. Dan Slott also deserves praise. Slott writes Spidey extremely well, but he handles every character with care. Who the heck if this Freak character? Was he always this creepy and crazy or is this more of Romita’s brilliance? We get a cool Bullseye fight, Anti-Venom is further developed, and crazy old stormin’ Norman has some fun too. There may even be some more pleasant surprises, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Go read the issue yourself. This arc gets better and better.

Uncanny X-Men #502 (**)

Uneven would be the word to describe this issue and maybe even the arc. Fraction and Brubaker have worked well together before but something is wrong. They seem to have conflicting opinions. Half of this issue is light hearted and the other half is disturbing. There’s more pointless S&M and even an unnecessary torture scene. Surely Scott knows Emma’s powers right? So, I guess this is just more sadism? Speaking of Emma Frost, apparently she has a tertiary mutation now. The power to turn into Lolo Ferrari (You kiddies at home can turn to page ten in your comic and then Google Lolo Ferrari)! While we’re on the subject of large knockers, Dazzler seems to have quite a pair in this issue as well. This leads to my critique of Land’s art. I’ve always enjoyed his work, but this is the first time I’ve felt dirty while viewing it. A big part of that is the subject matter (Who knows? Cup size may be in the script!), but he should share the blame with Fracker (The best combination of Fraction and Brubaker yet!). I really want to like this comic, but Fracker (I had to say it again) make it hard.

Foilball’s Review Roundup #53 – I Probably Read Too Much Marvel

The Amazing Spider-Man #570-571 (****): Menace is a good guy. Osborn is still a douche. Anti-Venom can take away powers. Mr. Negative has no idea he’s actually Mr. Negative. JRJR still knows how to draw the best Spidey comics anywhere. About the only glaring hole in this entire shebang occurs when Norman finds Parker’s webbed up digital camera. Like, the first thing that popped into my head when Norman made this discovery was “Hey, this is how Osborn figures out Spidey’s secret identity! It’s so obvious!” But, no. What is obvious to almost every single Amazing reader is not as obvious to the malignantly brilliant Osborn. C’mon Norman, grab a clue! Why would Spidey need to cut a deal with some random to sell his photos to the papers? Why couldn’t he just sell them straight up in his civilian identity and cut out the middle man? Norman Osborn, and by extension Dan Slott, equals FAIL.

Eternals #4 (**): Still expertly written, but the low star rating is my personal protest against COVERS THAT LIE! Iron Man does NOT fight Ikaris. Doesn’t happen, people. He just shows up and acts like a jerk. Wow. Big surprise. I expected more from the Knaufs… they did just finish one of the best runs on Iron Man ever, right? BLAH.

Foolkiller: White Angels #2 (***1/2): I liked it, but gosh I wish I’d waited for the trade.

Ghost Rider #26 (****): How does Jason Aaron do it? He brings back four of the lamest villains in comics (straight from the 90’s!) and manages to make me laugh from cover to cover. “I didn’t get to be called Death Ninja by being cautious.” RIGHT!?! It’s stuff like this that keeps me coming back. I want to break up with you so bad Ghost Rider, but Aaron is making it kind of impossible. Damn.

Ghost Rider Annual #2 (***): A nice, forgettable one-shot. I don’t think I’ll be getting these annuals anymore.

House of M: Civil War #1 (**): This blew. I was gonna wait for the trade, now I’m just gonna toss this and forget I read it.

The Invincible Iron Man #5 (****): Out of continuity Iron Man FTW!

Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. #32 (***1/2): And so, this series of Iron Man comes to a close. Sure we got another War Machine centric SI arc to slog through before the series officially ends, but the star of the show is gone so we might as well call it like we see it. Stuart Moore did an exceptional job filling in for the Knaufs in this final Iron Man tale about doomsday weapons and revenge. It was probably one issue too long, but I really enjoyed it.

Moon Knight #21 (***): Another book I wish I could break up with. I don’t even like this version of Moon Knight anymore, I’m just sticking around for the Thunderbolts. See, if the Thunderbolts’ book had more hero-hunting stories, then I wouldn’t need to read crappy books like Moon Knight to get my fix. UGH.

Ms. Marvel Annual #1 (****1/2): This was very, very, very surprising. Brian Reed can not only write Spider-Man, but write him well. So well in fact, that this felt more like a Spidey annual than a Ms. Marvel one. Ms. Marvel is barely in it and when she does speak it’s only in response to something funny that Spider-Man just said! He totally steals the show. True Believers! I hold this comic up as further evidence that Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel is boring! BUT! Brian Reed is still a good writer! SO! We must make our voices heard! PLEASE! Marvel, cancel Ms. Marvel and put Reed on Amazing! MAKE IT SO!

The Punisher #61 (**): Oh, God. Reading this is like that feeling you get when you’re at a party and it’s way past midnight and the host/hostess totally wants you to leave, but you’re too much of an idiot or too wasted to pick up the signals and then it gets awkward until finally he/she asks you to leave and then you can no longer be friends because you know that they think you’re an asshole, and…

Punisher War Journal #23 (*): There so many things wrong with this issue that if I actually started to list them out, one-by-one, I’d go insane with rage and tear the damn thing up instead of tossing it in the donation pile. Soooooo… don’t ask.

Runaways #1 (***1/2): NEW READER FRIENDLY JUMPING ON POINT ALERT!!! This book is T-H-I-C-K. It takes a while to read because there’s just so much ####ing dialogue, which I think is fine. All the characters get stuff to talk about and say and no one gets left out. My only complaint is that although I still enjoy Ramos’ art, his latest style choices make the comic hard to read at times. He’s putting extra effort into the backgrounds and I think that’s at least part of the problem. It’s too confusing; too much stuff to focus on. The mall scenes are especially busy. Be that as it may, Terry Moore’s first issue was still miles better than Whedon’s. I’ll be sticking around for at least the first arc, then, I may switch to trade.

Skaar: Son of Hulk #3 (****): Why is this book so late? At least it’s really good, otherwise…

Ultimate Origins #4 (**): Too little, too late. Also, ULTIMATUM = CELESTIALS!

Ultimate X-Men #97 (***): I’ve been enjoying this arc, but this issue had too much emo.

Ultimate X-Men/Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #1 (****): This was really fun! But, I can see why some people would hate it. The ideas are a bit tired…

Uncanny X-Men #501 (*): Seriously, Marvel? Rated “T+”? I gotta call bullshit here. Like, what’s with all the X-Men sex scenes? Yeah, yeah, w/e Frac-Baker… your story justifications don’t hold water when you got Greg Land, Super Perv, as one of your regular pencillers. Did Emma Frost really need to stroll around nude for three pages? How is that necessary to the plot? Or are we still trying too hard to be “cutting edge”? GARBAGE.

Wolverine #68 (****): Alright, I’ve bitched enough about this story. This issue? I liked it. I’m ready to be entertained now.

X-Factor: Layla Miller #1 (****1/2): Reading this was bittersweet. It reminded me of the old days, when X-Factor was fun. When XF was good. *sigh* If we could just skip past all the current XF sub-plots and get to the part where Layla Miller returns, that would be swell. Thanks, Peter!

X-Men: Legacy #215 (**): How many times are the X-Men writers going to subject us to this infinitely repeating scene? X-Man “X” is mad at Xavier. HO HO!! Stop the presses! Can’t wait to read that story! No. I can wait. I can wait forever.

X-Men: Manifest Destiny #1 (**1/2): BLAH. Nothing impressive here. The Boom-Boom story was amusing (that word is sooo condescending… LOVE IT!), but the Iceman/Mystique story seems to serve no purpose other than to once again illustrate how stupid Bobby Drake is and how much of an evil #### Mystique is. No thanks.

Bruce Castle Presents: Spider-Man & Invincible Together Again!

Large Cover of Amazing Spider-Man #571

Amazing Spider-Man #571 (****)

If you like John Romita Jr.’s art and you’re looking for a good time (without alcohol or working girls), then you should probably pick this up. New Ways To Die isn’t changing anything or blowing any minds, but it’s still enjoyable. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that. We who read funny books over the age of 13 always want adult material and hard-hitting stories. We must remember that these are still comics. Real law enforcement has little to do with spandex-clad individuals and pumpkin bombs, but this is the norm when it comes to the realm of comics. So please, immerse yourself in a world full of wonderfully drawn Thunderbolts, symbiotes, and goblins.

Invincible #52 (*****)

The new costume bodes well for Invincible. Just like the last one, this issue is marvelous. There are changes, but it’s an easy transition. The most visually noticeable difference, besides the aforementioned new costume, is FCO Plascencia’s colors. Bill Crabtree was on the book for 50 issues, but as of issue #51 he was replaced by Plascencia. Though I still enjoyed Crabtree’s work, to be frank, he’s easily forgotten. The art looks remarkable! Ryan Ottely is the main attraction of course, but Plascencia has noticeably changed the book’s look for the better. This issue appears to be more violent as well. There are two moments in particular that got a holy this and Jesus that from me. And I handle violence extremely well. So, the book looks great and it’s going in an intriguing direction. As always, I hope the next issue comes out quicker.

Marvel Team-Up #14 inspired my title. Go read this, it’s funny.

Foilball’s Review Roundup #49

Air #1 (-)

I can’t really review this book… I have no idea what happened!!! Somebody, anybody… please to explain!!!

The Amazing Spider-Man #568-569 (*****)

“New Ways To Be Awesome” is more like it! Dan Slott, what took you so long to land this gig? Your Spidey rocks! These first two parts did not disappoint, the Mark Waid Venom story in the back did, but that doesn’t detract in the least from the overall story. You could just not read it, or if you’re like me, immediately foget you did. DCBS was thoughtful enough to send me the variant covers for these issues, and usually I could care less, but I like this story so much if they don’t follow through on the variants for parts 3-6 I’m gonna be mighty sore!

Jack of Fables #25 (*****)

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Yes, indeed, my good friend Prof Dresser… the funny is back! Although, I don’t think I buy Robin Page falling for Jack. It’s funny, but seems way out of left field, even with the labored 5-page explanation. However, I do like Priscilla Page finally growing her metaphorical balls. That was cool. The Book Burner? Kind of “meh” on that guy. But still, Jack’s final word balloon of the issue totally made up for it. Heh.

Superman/Batman #51 (****)

I just really loved the art. I loved the 5th dimensional impiness of the Lil’ Leaguers. This is another one of those books that works so well (now that Green and Johnson have taken over) BECAUSE it’s out of continuity… for the most part. It may not have the prestige of Action Comics, but it makes up for it with “Super Funtime Stories”. Isn’t that what comics should be?Yes, I think so.

Quick Hits:
• Action Comics #868 (*****): Another solid issue in the Gary Frank run. Brainic is frightening and cool. Finally.
• Daredevil #110 (*****): It’s hard to believe how mediocre this book used to be. Will the quality change survive Rucka’s departure? Never can tell.
• DC Universe: Last Will and Testament #1 (*): A complete and utter waste of time. I wouldn’t have minded it if the story was even remotely cool or interesting. It wasn’t, so I did mind its terribleness. I minded it very much.
• Doktor Sleepless #8 (****): The quality of this story has steadily been on the rise. My favorite scene in this issue was when DS basically told his ex-gf that he was, in point of fact, not sane. I kept waiting for some hint that the good Doktor was still just playing the part of “Cartoon Mad Scientist”, but no such hints were forthcoming. Great choice, Ellis. I’m finally on board for the duration.
• Final Crisis: Rogue’s Revenge #2 (*****): WOW. Best. Comic villains take note, this is how you villain it up, dudes. I love this mini, but I’m glad it’s only three issues. Thanks, Johns.
• Gravel #4 (****1/2): Gravel continues to be the best title Ellis is writing and at the same time not writing.
• Justice League of America #24 (*): As of a month from now, this title is dropped. DO. NOT. CARE.
• Justice Society of America #18 (****):
This, on the other hand, could not be better. KUDOS.
• Robin #177 (***): I like the writing, but color me confused? RIP is still running, isn’t it? Red Robin isn’t Tim or Jason? Methinks lame.
• Superman #679 (***): The less “super” of the two Superman books. James Robinson, why do you suck? Is it a style choice? I just can’t get into this book, it feels like it’s trying to hard. The Lois/Clark conversation/pseudo spat and the “…avenger me!” line were ludicrous. Although, I did really like the final page, and I’m not even a dog-lover!
• Ultimate Spider-Man #125 (***): Bendis continues with this tale I could give two tugs of a… right, I didn’t play the game, but still, that doesn’t mean the comic has to be boring. Am I right?!?
• X-Force #6 (****): Everything we expected to happen happened… and then something unexpected happened to boot. Um, Rhane EATING her dad? There’s no way anyone expected that. If you disagree with me, you are made of lies.