Posted by: Graeme McMillan on April 6, 2007
So, for once I actually get time to sit down and write reviews ahead of time, and then Brian manages to beat me to every single one. I was going to post about Madman today, but considering Hibbs’ review is below, I’ll do that one tomorrow, and today go for…
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #1: Color me surprised that Hibbs disliked this more than I did, and also that he didn’t mention the really, really bum note that opened the book – It starts in Iraq, where one of the new characters is introduced fighting terrorist insurgents… who are from the Marvel Universe terrorist organization, Hydra. Now, as much as I liked Hydra and know that they’ve never really been portrayed as a joke within Marvel’s books, and as much as I know that Marvel really really wants to be socially relevant and set in “the real world,” there’s something really odd and kind of cheap about seeing carbombers in Iraq yelling “Hail Hydra! Cut off a limb, two more will take its place!” as they try to drive into American soldiers. Is it weird that that disturbed me so much? It’s literally one panel, but there was something about it…
Anyway, kind of like Hibbs, the first thing I thought about this book was that it was trying too hard to be serious and dark – I kind of feel for Dan Slott, whose previous recent series for Marvel have been lighter, more an old-school mix of action and comedy, and relative failures in the marketplace. Then he does this book, which is almost comedically bleak (The good guy with the heart of gold gets killed accidentally saving someone’s life! Life is pain), and Marvel upgrades it from a miniseries to an ongoing before the first issue is even released; there’s a lesson there, and it’s not necessarily a good one. The thing is, I don’t see what here could support an ongoing book; the characters certainly can’t, as introduced here (Brian’s right, there aren’t many sympathetic ones), and the concept is essentially “Superheroes get trained to be superheroes,” which we’ve seen waaaay too many times before, without too much of a twist. Or too much of an open twist, anyway.
The reason I mention an open twist is that there’s a weird subtext in the structure and dialogue of the book. We’re introduced to the main characters of the issue, but in the process, one of the characters screws up and is sent home, and the issue finishes with them walking off into the sunset… like some kind of reality show. And at first, that seems like a stretch, but here’s the dialogue from the scene where she’s told that she’s leaving:
“I’m sorry, Armory, you’ve been washed out of the Initiative. We’ll be confiscating your weapon. You’re grounded.”
Referring to the title of the book in the dialogue? “You’ve been washed out of the Initiative”? “You’re grounded”? Am I the only person who can see this as the follow-up to “In fashion, some days you’re in, some days you’re out… I’m sorry [name of contestant], you’re out” or “You’re no longer in the running to become America’s Next Top Model”? The introduction that the new characters get to their new situation is also kind of Tyra-esque:
“Here at Camp Hammond, you will be put through Avengers basic training. This includes combat, first aid, and superhuman ethics. Once you pass, your registration card will be upgraded to a full hero’s license. And if you’re among the best and brightest… You’ll be offered a spot on of our fifty nationwide teams. Do that, and you’ve made it to ‘The Show‘.”
Yes, he really offers them a chance to make it to “The Show” (whatever that is supposed to be – Has anyone ever referred to being a superhero as “The Show” before?). Maybe it’s just me, but there’s a definite reality show feeling to this book; I’m just not sure if it’s intentional or not. Nonetheless, that also drives the feeling that this isn’t a book that should be ongoing – There is, surely, a finite end to this story (When America’s Next Top Avenger is crowned), and the idea of the series just shifting towards another cast at that point isn’t an exciting one; similarly, the idea that none of these characters will ever become competent enough to graduate the Initiative or the series strains the credibility of the whole enterprise. I know this book has the Avengers name on it (even though, really, it doesn’t need it – The characters are getting “Avengers basic training,” whatever that is, but that’s about the only link to the team in the entire first issue), and that means that Marvel will want to capitalize on their franchise for as long as possible, but this is really a book too far. Crap.