ďKilled in Action, Part 1 of 4: SnafuĒ
Writers: Dan Slott. Christos N. Gage
Artists: Stefano Caselli, Daniele Rudoni (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Editorís Note: Avengers: The Initiative #8 arrives in stores this Friday, December 28.
Paul Brian McCoy:
So there have been a couple of changes since this issue was solicited (the original solicitations are still available on the Marvel website): First, the title of this issue has changed from ďFresh MeatĒ to ďSNAFU,Ē and secondly, Christos N. Gage is onboard as co-writer, as he was with the Annual. His name isnít on any of the solicitations for the next three chapters of this story, so weíll have to wait and see whatís up with that. It seems as though the copy writer for the promotional text didnít know that this issue was beginning a four part story, which makes me wonder if it had been planned this way all along.
A large chunk of the issue concentrates on introducing new recruits, barely, and their new drill sergeant, The Taskmaster. And if anyoneís missing the Irredeemable Ant-Man, heís now in the program. But itís the bookend of opening and closing pages where the story really explodes, earning its name change in a major way. Things are seriously SNAFU, and may well be FUBAR. Hank Pym certainly thinks so, anyway.
Thereís a lot to like about this issue as it continues the Initiative tradition of covering a lot of storylines at once with a huge cast of characters. Among other things, this issue provides:
- some character work with Stature (whose dad, Scott LangóThe Ant-Man, died during Avengers Disassembled),
- a joke at the expense of a new recruit whose existence Iíd long ago forgotten about,
- the appearance of an Ultimate characterís 616 version,
- and the revelation of Komodoís secret as well as her secret relationship with Hardball.
Itís not perfect, however, and the same problems are cropping up again and again as the series goes on. Thereís an uneasy balance of sarcastic humor and extreme violence that doesnít really work all the time. Some of the characters are written in too broad a stroke, and the soap opera qualities of some of the storylines arenít very satisfying, as they move too quickly to allow the reader to really get to know the characters and watch things develop. Sometimes it feels like Iíve missed an issue because of that. None of these things are deal breakers, but theyíre consistent over the course of the series, so it seems to be a conscious stylistic choice in order to keep things moving. This could be a problem as this new storyline unfolds, as lots of death and mayhem are promised. Are the readers going to care who dies and who lives? Iím not sure if I do, and I like this series.
Anyway, the real focus this issue is Hank Pym and the origins of the Initiative through his eyes. After all, it was his idea to begin with. His interactions with Reed Richards and Tony Stark are very interesting, and I assume weíre supposed to be seeing them through Hankís eyes. They donít seem to take Hank totally seriously and are just creepy to look at, especially Reed. I think that since weíre in his flashback, weíre seeing things through his slightly warped inferiority complex. If thatís actually the case, then itís a nice and subtle storytelling technique. If itís not the case, then maybe Reed and Tony are really just supposed to be vaguely evil. Iím going to go with the former until proven otherwise. Regardless, Hank isnít very happy with how the Initiative is shaking out and, as is revealed at the end of this issue, makes another in a long career of very bad choices.
The art is just as impressive this time around as it has been on every other issue Caselli has illustrated (he skipped issue #6 and the Annual). Iíve read complaints about the art being too ďcartoony,Ē but I really just donít get the criticism. His layouts are dynamic, his storytelling is very clear, and if we just focused on his mechanics (perspective, proportion, anatomy, etc.) we should be blown away by his talent and consistency. On top of all that, the ďcartoonyĒ nature of his stylistic exaggerations allows him to give each character a really distinctive look and body language that doesnít vary from panel-to-panel, from page-to-page. You donít need the costumes or a program to tell the characters apart, because they are all unique and consistent.
The work is accentuated by the color art of Daniele Rudoni, Caselliís partner in crime. Not only are the colors muted or enhanced based on the lighting scheme, his visual effects (the rain, fire, and the movement of flying characters) all add subtle depth to each scene, creating an almost 3D effect. The two artists work together wonderfully, and if issue #6 or the Annual were any indication, they are essential to the success of this book. When almost anyone else handles the art, the stories suffer.
So this issue gets 3.5 Bullets from me. Iíve been with the series from the start and think itís one of the best bits of fallout from Civil War, and one of the better series Marvelís got going on (that isnít written by Fraction, Ellis, or Brubaker, anyway). This issue launches a new four part storyline that, if youíve been along for the ride, should pay huge dramatic dividends. On the other hand, if youíve never picked up the book or gave it a try and passed early on, I donít know if it will hold any appeal. Fans of Hank Pym might want to take notice but prepare to be offended if you donít like to wallow in his psychoses and bad career decisions.
One thing I love about this series is the fact that I can pick it up at any issue and easily fall into its story line. On the other hand, while the writing and artwork are usually steady and strong, I just have never felt connected to the characters in this title. Maybe my continued dislike for Civil War is what keeps me from buying this book. Regardless, after a while Iím not sure thatís a good reason to dislike a book. I have no idea why this book isnít on my pull list; maybe sentimental ties to fictional characters shouldnít shape my buying habits anymore.
Having Christos Gage on board will only help matters, and this issue shows. Of course, itís impossible to determine which writer is responsible for what aspect of the script, but what kind of reviewer would I be if I didnít try? Every time I open a book with Gageís name on it still feels like watching an episode of television. Slott has laid a tremendous foundation for great stories with this title, and watching the striking writerís guild member play in Slottís sandbox is fun. I enjoyed the pacing that was created by using flashbacks during the majority of the story. Not just one, mind you, but the initial flashback contained another flashback to the days of CW.
Granted, I donít mind these flashbacks; Iím just not sure what purpose they serve in the grand scheme of things. Maybe it gives credence to the fact that Ant-Man is on the team, regardless of how good of an idea it is. Reading this book along side The Order provides contrast and texture to the post-CW world these characters live in. In California, you get kicked off the team for partying too hard and choosing to have fun over doing whatís right. In Connecticut, questionable additions to the team at Camp Hammond are the norm.
As much as it pains me to read a book with Taskmaster and other villains being a part of the training of fifty super-hero teams, none of it has been boring. Watching people like Hank Pym and Henry Peter Gyrich run things gives new meaning to the phrase ďmorally gray.Ē Will it blow up in their faces? Which answer makes for better story telling? I still donít know how I feel about OíGrady being a part of the Initiative, or his questionable comments about slapping around a teenager. As we have seen so far at Camp Hammond, itís just another day in training for the next line of Marvel Comics heroes.
I continue to be amazed at the work Stefano Caselli and Daniele Rudoni crank out on the art. I include the color artist because a lot of what appeals to me is the way Caselliís pencils are filled in. The use of light to provide contrast and texture is quite good; it is better than most of the colored books on the market right now. I think what makes the depiction of these new characters so nice is Stefanoís ability to draw youth. From my perspective, special care and consideration have been provided to the depictions of Cloud 9, Hardball, Komodo and the other fresh faces in the Initiative. A lack of emotional connection to these people is made up partially because they have been designed very well.
Itís good to know that good story concepts still exist in this day of re-hashed comic ideas. Instead of reliving the past, this titleís creative team is trying to produce something new for me to read. The fate of these characters are for smarter people than me to determine, but in time issues like this one may help create new connections to a group of fictional people trying to learn how to become heroes.
If thatís not clichť enough for you, I give up.
Aside from the first couple of issues of Avengers: The Initiative, I havenít read much of the book. It failed to grab me immediately, I didnít warm to any of the characters, and I wasnít convinced that the core concept of the book would result in interesting stories. However, the ďWorld War HulkĒ tie-in issue demonstrated that Slott could incorporate outside elements into the book with ease, and use them to tell a compelling and refreshingly old-fashioned superhero story. Iíve also begun to appreciate that the book isnít meant to be a demonstration of how sound the concept of the Initiative is. In fact, if anything, itís a demonstration of how the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. In this way, itís a far more convincing exploration of the issues to come out of Civil War than Civil War itself, and thatís fortunate, as many of the events of this issue are firmly rooted in that mini-series.
The issue kicks off with a great opening sequence which instantly demands attention and casts a shadow over the rest of the story by arming readers with the foreknowledge of a terrible disaster to come. The action then flashes back to the Stamford disaster and recaps the subsequent unveiling of the ďInitiativeĒ by Tony Stark as a response to the lack of public confidence in superheroes, gradually bringing events back up to the present day and checking in on several different plot strands along the way. As such, itís a great jumping-on point for new readers: there are references to previous events, but theyíre all explained very clearly in the context of the story. Some people might have problems with the characterisations of Tony Stark or Hank Pym here, but theyíre logical extensions of the characterisation that we saw in Civil War, and the writers even manage to make some of their more questionable decisions during that crossover seem slightly more justifiable (Reed Richards talks about only employing villains in extreme cases, for example, and Stark seems driven by a determination to avoid another incident like Stamford). The central plot of this story is still fairly mysterious by the end of the issue, but it suggests that some of Stark and Pymís mistakes may come back to haunt them, and itís pleasing to see the writers show that some of their more morally questionable activities could have seriously dire consequences.
Crucially, Slott and Gage never forget that comics are supposed to be fun, and despite the fairly serious nature of some of the scenes, there are just as many moments of levity which make the book constantly enjoyable. The early scene in which Tony Stark and Reed Richards puncture Hank Pymís pride in his unveiling of ďG.I. Ant-ManĒ is a great bit of character comedy, the sly reference to ďGeldoffĒ is a fun dig at the reviled character from Brian Bendisí Ultimate Spider-Man, and the introduction of Ant-Man to Camp Hammond is a hilarious sequence which showcases all of the reasons why readers warmed to him in Robert Kirkman and Phil Hesterís now-defunct solo series. Ant-Man is a particularly welcome addition to the bookís cast; heís immediately given a chance to shine in his recounting of his previous misadventures, heís gifted with new powers (which result very organically out of his old ones), and his misleading ďtall talesĒ soon lead to one of the issueís many solid character moments with Cassie Lang, daughter of the previous Ant-Man.
Itís this latter sequence where the artwork really excels, with Stefano Caselli depicting a suitably grand three-way fight between Cassie, Ant-Man and Hank Pym. The clash of giants is only topped by the Taskmasterís entry into the fray, immediately demonstrating why heís been chosen as the new Drill Instructor by taking down the three combatants with surgical precision. Caselli depicts Taskmaster as the slick, badass character that Slott and Gage obviously want him to be, and Iím sure that fans of the character (I know there are a few) will love this scene. The art team also copes well with the more character-based moments, giving the crowd scenes towards the start of the issue a real sense of atmosphere and depicting an intimate scene that occurs between two characters later on in the book with tact and subtlety.
I also have to commend the editors of the book for the inclusion of a good old-fashioned footnote, which explains a reference that one of the characters makes to a previous story which took place in another book. Itís unobtrusive, and a perfect example of how the device should be used, explaining the reference succinctly so that readers know where to look if they want more details.
This issue feels like a soft re-launch of the book in many ways. It successfully revisits Civil War, reaffirms its own core concept (far more convincingly than in the earlier issues) with the addition of a couple of new cast members, and moves many of its existing characters into new places, capping things off with an intriguing cliffhanger which makes me interested to see where the story goes next. A pleasant surprise and one which might work to reel in those readers who had written the book off based on earlier issues.
What did you think of this book?
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