Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Avengers: The Initiative Disassembled Part 4 (Marvel)
Avengers: The Initiative #24 When: July 2009
Why: Christos N. Gage How: Humberto Ramos

The Story So Far...
When tragedy claimed the lives of hundreds of children in Stamford, Connecticut, the reckless superheroics of the New Warriors were blamed for instigating the violence perpetrated by the villain, Nitro. Thus, the call to register and police the use of superpowers became the championed cause of Tony Stark, aka; Iron Man.

Whilst battling his heroic opponents in the streets, Stark pushed forward the Superhero Registration Act which helped usher in the Fifty States Initiative -- a program to train young heroes under experienced veterans and guarantee the presence of a superhero team in every American state.

Within the Initiative organization itself is a secretive special operatives branch dubbed the Shadow Initiative. Their activities remain top secret and denied by all levels of the Initiative, allowing them to operate in secret for specific missions. Such an objective leads the group, under the leadership of Taskmaster, to Madripoor, where they track the traitorous Initiative alumnist, Hardball. With the Initiative closing down under assumed control by Norman Osborn, the Shadow group are on their own against the mercenaries of a town without law.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Roughhouse 5 (Superhuman)
Intelligence: Taskmaster 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Bengal 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Bloodscream 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Bengal 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Taskmaster 7 (Living Weapon)
Energy: Typhoid Mary 4 (Arsenal)

- The Shadow Initiative are: Taskmaster, Constrictor, Bengal, & Typhoid Mary.

With the appointment of Tony Stark as Director of SHIELD on the back of plans to register and train all known super-powered heroes, the Fifty States Initiative is passed to ensure a superhero team for every American state. The Initiative pays special attention to the next generation of heroes, erecting a training facility in Stamford, where the tragedy that sparked concerns about hero registration first occurred. Camp Hammond was named after the late Human Torch and is decicated to training the next wave of American heroes.

Within the Initiative organization itself is a secret special operative unit dubbed the Shadow Initiative. The original line-up included Bengal, Trauma, Constrictor, Mutant Zero, and the Scarlet Spiders. Their activities are strictly denied by the Initiative, which, upon the dissolving of SHIELD after Tony Stark was ousted by Norman Osborn under allegations of corruption, leaves the group stranded in the field under the leadership of late recruit, Taskmaster.

- Born in sixteenth century London; Zachariah Ravenscraft served as a physician on board a ship captained by Sir Francis Drake. During a battle with the Spanish galleon, Ravenscraft was mortally wounded and forced to seek the medical aid of a shaman named Dagoo. Using the mystic arts of necromancy, Dagoo saved the surgeon's life with a potion that transformed him into an undying creature similar to that of a living vampire. As Bloodscream, Ravenscraft lives an immortal life, using his powers to nefarious ends, whilst ever searching for the blood of an immortal to complete the potion to restore his humanity at the price of mortality.

Roughhouse is descended from a race of Asgardian trolls, but the details of his origins remain unknown. He possesses the superhuman strength and endurance associated with his lineage, but is said to carry the scars of an abusive childhood beneath his shaggy exterior.

Bloodscream and Roughhouse formed a working partnership on the island of Madripoor, where they were employed as muscle for the crime boss, General Coy. Despite being defeated in Madripoor by Wolverine, the pair have renewed their partnership throughout the years, working as mercenaries and arch-rivals of the clawed mutant.

Math: Shadow Initiative (Ttl) Bloodscream (Avg) Ranking: Constrictor (#566)

What Went Down...
A deluge of rain floods the streets of Madripoor where the members of the secret Shadow Initiative come face-to-face with the mercenary characters that populate this lawless town. Bloodscream & Roughhouse - a pseudo-vampire and troll - old names in the ranks of Madripoor's rogues and hoods.

Barrelling down on the squad leader, Roughhouse sends Taskmaster hurtling into the surrounding urban facade, shrugging off the coiled grappling of former villain-for-hire, the Constrictor. His rampage continues in the direction of the source of the metallic tendrils -- leading Constrictor to wrap his coils around the troll's throat.

Meanwhile, Bengal and Typhoid Mary contend with the vampire-like menace of Bloodscream, whose immortal condition allows him to withstand multiple lethal blows from the sword-wielding femme fatale.

Bloodscream, duelling blade-to-blade with Mary, succeeds in disarming her of the deadly katana, but with a killing blow in sight, his ignorance of Mary's unique abilities prove his folly. Utilizing her pyro-telekinesis, she summons her sword, cutting off Bloodscream's head along with his finishing stike.

With their adversaries seemingly subdued; the Shadow Initiative are forced to come to terms with their predicament as an abandoned cell amidst SHIELD's disassembly. With an entire island of mercenaries, and Hydra on their tail, the group face overwhelming odds, but as Bloodscream soon informs them, they are yet to completely overcome their present opposition.

The pseudo-vampire reattaches his head and attacks an unsuspecting Typhoid Mary. By snatching her arm, he invites a psychological break from the unstable assassin. She ignites the villain and herself with her pyrokinetic flames.

The assault levels yet another potentially lethal attack on Bloodscream, whilst forcing Taskmaster to turn his attentions on a teammate. Effectively victorious, the master fighter calms Mary and orders Constrictor to relinquish his dominance over Roughhouse, redirecting concerns to a conclusion. No longer bound to SHIELD, the group suggest a truce, defecting to HYDRA -- or so it seems...

The Hammer...
Admittedly, the aftermath of the fight presents something of a stalemate scenario, but based on the battle, we declare the Shadow Initiative victorious! Special note: Taskmaster and Bengal didn't get real involved in the scrap, so we'll put them down as assists.

It's nice to finally get competition for June underway after a string of delays pushed this writing back to the start of August. Content is content, in my opinion, but it would be nice if we could gradually work toward being contemporary in our references. I like to think slightly obscure issues such as this will be a valued resource to future readers, but right now, you're probably more interested in more current developments. Assuming, of course, you're actually reading Avengers: The Initiative.

A couple of years into publication, it seems obvious that The Initiative is one of those sleeper titles people will talk about in the future. Born out of the squabble event of Civil War, the series has managed to touch upon each significant Marvel event since, making it one of the most relevant titles to the pulse of the Marvel Universe. Secret Invasion set-up Norman Osborn's rise to power in Dark Reign, a political scenario that connects very specifically to this series, and appears to be right at the top of the agenda of Year Three of the series.

If there was a strength to this title from day-one, it was it's inherent connection to high-concept reflections of Marvel's editorially driven events. Over the past few years, it's been DC that have taken control of their universe-wide "continuity," connecting sequential consequence in ways once considered the domain of Marvel, but no longer. The Initiative is the custodian of this notion, creating many of it's own unique curiosities, (such as the Iron Spiders), whilst remaining a constant reflection of the shifting sands of the shared universe around it.

I have to admit, this has been one of those series that's krept into my frame of interest with regularity, but constantly fell relegated to more "significant" titles through financial elimination. Finally, a quiet week persuaded me to lay down the comparatively reasonable $2.99US, in the interest of getting an overdue taste.

Like the old ham I am, I was attracted to the combination of the six characters involved in today's feature battle. Taskmaster in particular is one of those characters that's long called for a regular role, but for whatever reason, has regularly been overlooked by the powers-that-be. It might've taken a complete overhaul of the political landscape of the Marvel U -- one that's inevitably to be short-lived, probably not far into 2010 -- but at least it finally happened. Makes good sense, too, given Taskmaster's history as a trainer (of folks like USAgent).

I don't know how well it syncs up with their previous developments, but it's also a lot of fun to drift back into the grimey world of Madripoor and bump into forgotten B-listers like Bloodscream and Roughhouse. Particularly in a year that featured Wolverine under the film-inspired spotlight, it's kinda cool to know these slightly cheesy nineties icons are still running around to be used in the future. It's the kind of attention you like to see from the corporates, actually taking full advantage of their lengthy history and universe of characters. Bloodscream might not be a trademark cashcow any time soon, but we seem to have gotten past our phase of eighties-inspired urban stoicism to indulge again in the magic of comics.

Much like Dark Avengers; Avengers: The Initiative will now effectively extend the Thunderbolts concept as Norman Osborn holds his Dark Reign over the Marvel Universe. Whether or not the wolf-in-sheeps-clothing era will be the end of this series remains in the hands of Marvel's dedication to utilizing the unique nature of the series, and promoting it sufficiently. Christos Gage and Humberto Ramos, as creative names in a sychophantic market, are a pretty decent vote of confidence for the title, following Dan Slott and his collaborators.

Ramos' kinetic cartoon style probably won't endear to traditionalists, but this is the kind of title that's arguably laying the foundations for future generations of readers. Osmosis on the internet has probably led a lot of youngsters to adopt the cross-eyed confusion of those who genuinely struggle with the concept of the shared superhero universe, but those more open-minded cartoon networkers are exactly the kind of demographic that Ramos' style could speak to -- inducting them into the Marvel Universe with some of the most interesting tangential characters. Which is how many of us got into this gig twenty-or-more years ago.

For the modern-traditionalists, if you're knee-deep in Dark Reign and considering the Initiative, it might just be worth your while to check this out. 'Cause with a special ops team all to his own, y'just know Osborn's going to get up to no good!

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 4.5

To get the whole transition of The Initiative from SHIELD control, to HAMMER, check out the Disassembled collection available in hardcover, and soft TPB at the end of the year. By taking the initiative to use Amazon purchase links provided on the site, you help sponsor future entries of the Infinite Wars. You'll find plenty more collections in the Gift Shop, which features editions containin most issues reviewed in the Secret Archives. Thank you for your patience.

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