The long story short, with the Initiative (skip the paragraph, if you already know): The tipping point was when the New Warriors made a mess of their superheroics and inadvertently caused part of Stamford, Connecticut to blow up, the explosion resulting in over 600 fatalities. Bring on the Civil War (Marvel Comics) event, the fallout of which is the ratification of a law requiring costumed and super-powered beings to register themselves with the federal government. Which led to the 50 State Initiative, a program vowing to provide a superhero team for each state. Erected on the very ground on which the New Warriors fell, Camp Hammond is a specialized training facility, a boot camp for super-powered recruits...
But just peel away the Initiative's public epidermis and, already, you might see something rotten underneath. Criminy, does history teach us blah blah blah? It never, ever pays to have scurvy, duplicitous nogoodniks on your payroll. To wit, key staffers Henry Gyrich and Baron von Blitzschlag have begun to bend the rules and to twist the ideals of the Initiative.
Writers Dan Slott and Christos N. Gage do a bang-up job with bringing the Initiative to life. For a grip of issues now, they've managed to juggle complex storylines and a huge and ever growing cast, and every now and then they throw in some comic relief. The main characters are found in the recruits, with Trauma and Cloud 9 as particular stand-outs. And, being a Spidey fan, I was intrigued (and a bit outraged) with the Scarlet Spiders. Issue #7 showcases the Spiders, as they become public, which ticks off the original wallcrawler. And if you've been wondering how Dan Slott was gonna reconciliate his Spider-Man: Brand New Day stuff with Marvel continuity, well, this issue gives a clue. If you're curious about these other newbies, the Annual lays out some origin stories, although I guess it's too early for the big reveal on the mysterious Mutant Zero (oh, more of her, please!). By the way, established heroes like War Machine and Yellowjacket do get turns in the spotlight, as well as ex-members of the New Warriors.
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE Vol. 2: KILLED IN ACTION collects issues #7-13 of the monthly and its first Annual. In these pages, Slott and Gage put the Initiative thru its paces like they got a grudge against them. Gyrich and von Blitzschalg's dubious shenanigans aside, first there was the World War Hulk crossover (see Avengers: The Initiative, Vol. 1: Basic Training), wherein various capes were beaten down like street urchins. Now the "Secret Invasion" crossover event begins to manifest in this series. Can you guess who the Skrull is? Hint: There's more than one here.
Naturally, that's not the only infiltration going on. Constant readers are already aware of the double agent status of one of the recruits, although, in these issues, the mole is pretty much on stand by mode.
With the Gauntlet out of commission (again, see Vol. 1: BASIC TRAINING), the cadets get a new drill instructor in the form of the Taskmaster, and he's not any nicer. Issue #8 kicks off the wicked four-part "Killed In Action" story arc and features a deranged and unstoppable enemy bent on eliminating certain members of the Initiative. This guy is a serious Omega-level threat, even though his codename is utter dung. Anyway, pretty much everyone at Camp Hammond, even the Shadow Initiative, gets a crack at this guy and ends up getting their you-know-whats handed to them. At the end of this one, folks get seriously maimed and seriously killed.
Camp Hammond, let's not forget, is a training facility. As such, expect new waves of recruits to come in. Fresh off the bus is the Irredeemable Ant Man, who opens up all sorts of possibilities for sleazy shenanigans. Right away, he lives up to the "irredeemable" part of his name. By the way, you know he's irredeemable when someone as questionable as the Taskmaster tells him he's good people.
Issue #12 is titled "Changing of the Guard" and covers certain principals in the Initiative undergoing a hearing for the "Killed In Action" snafu. It also has the original recruits graduating. I thought that the very effective last page of this issue, featuring a commanding Cloud 9, aptly sums up what the Initiative is supposed to be about. What a good send off for this bunch of recruits. Issue #13 repeats the cylce as yet another string of rookies is brought in. And going by the actions of the Taskmaster and the Constrictor here, they just may be good guys after all.
I don't know how illustrator Stefano Caselli does it, covering such a sweeping canvas of characters. My theory is, they done him what they did to MVP. Anyway, I dig his visual storytelling. He's really good.
So far, I've liked everything about this comic book. Exciting storylines, dirty intrigue, compelling characters, great action, and even flickers of romance. Guys, if you haven't yet checked out this title, you are seriously missing out on something seriously good. Seriously. I mean, it's got the Irredeemable Ant Man, for cripe's sake.