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Avengers: The Initiative #31

Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2009
By: Charles Webb

Christos Gage
Rafa Sandoval
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Avengers: The Initiative #31 arrives in stores tomorrow, December 23.

Plot: Taking place before Siege: The Cabal, this issue focuses on the current head of Camp Hammond, Taskmaster.

Comments: One of the characters that has benefitted most from The Initiative has been the Taskmaster – the skull-faced trainer to the villains with the "photographic reflexes." Initially gang-pressed into training the new Initiative recruits when Tony Stark was the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., he's since become the head of the camp and one of Osborne's right-hand men in the front lines.

While the character has been in and around the edges of the book for months, Christos Gage spends some time in this issue spotlighting him as he makes the leap from C-list lackey (and Deadpool nemesis) to a seat at the big table.

Where Gage excels in this issue is in presenting the reader with Taskmaster's ambivalence about heading into the big time. The character prides himself on setting his goals at a realistic level – he doesn't want to be King of Hoboken – he just wants to get rich and keep his head down. This is perhaps part of why Osborne respects the character and wants him in the majors – precisely because Taskmaster is a working-class kind of villain with no grand ambitions. Touching on this core of the character, Gage telegraphs Taskmaster's greatest fear (and the fear of any crook that gets in over their head): that other shoe, when it's going to drop, and how heavy the blow will be.

It's actually a clear-eyed look at the world of costumed villainy in the Marvel U with the three tiers: heavy hitters and megalomaniacs (Dr. Doom, Norman Osborne), mercenaries and workers (Taskmaster, Paladin, Bullseye), and henchman (any of the faceless goons from Hydra). The greater bulk of the villains end up in the second category – usually these guys get beat up by the Heroes for Hire while attempting to rob the Diamond Exchange. They aren't looking for more than a payday, sometimes forming grudges against this hero or that for foiling their plans one time too many.

Gage sophisticates this class of villain by making him (in this case, Taskmaster) almost sort of proud of their level within the criminal underworld. He (and we) know(s) that the worst thing possible for him would be to climb any farther up the ladder. Because it always goes bad and when it does, the top guys and the guys on the bottom tend to get taken out. We almost sympathize with characters like Taskmaster who don't tend to pull the crap that the Hood did to Tigra back in New Avengers and rarely (go out of their way) to dangle their enemies' girlfriends off bridges.

In the same issue we see the other shoe prepping for its mighty stomp. Tigra was mentioned before and we learn that she's spent the last few months delivering the hurt to the Hood's goons who were part of her humiliation. We know it's likely that somewhere down the line she's going to get payback on the Hood, whose every action has been to the ends of gaining dominance over the super-powered underworld. While some of it is likely linked to her impregnation by a Skrull and the subsequent ambivalence over the same, a big part of her motivation – and the driving force behind characters at this stage in the cycle – is to take down the big bad guy.

Rafa Sandoval does very good work here, evoking the Dodsons more than once with his rounded (but not soft) characters. A lot of his effort goes into giving the characters emotion during their scenes and goes a long way towards selling the plot and the plight of the characters. A standout is Taskmaster's fairly articulate and animated mask – it's reactive to the scenes and is drawn as an extension of his face, selling the moments of humor (and less lighthearted scenes later on).

Final Word: Gage and artist Sandoval throw a welcome spotlight on a compelling character in this well-crafted issue leading up to Siege.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at Monster In Your Veins







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