Avengers: The Initiative: Basic Training
– By Dan Slott (Writer); Stefano Caselli with Steve Uy (Artists); 2008
The super-hero Civil War is over, and the government won. Now all super-beings and costumed heroes are being drafted into America’s new superhuman armed forces: the Initiative. The heart of the operation is Camp Hammond, where Avengers veterans such as Yellowjacket, War Machines, and Justice train the next generation of heroes. Can young cadets like Cloud 9, Hardball, Komodo, Rage, Slapstick, Trauma, and Ultragirl live up to the Initiative’s superhuman standards? Find out as they and dozens of other heroes from throughout the Marvel Universe clash with hordes of Hydra, the incredible Hulk, and even the amazing Spider-Man!
Published by Marvel Comics, Basic Training collects issues 1-6 of Avengers: The Initiative, an ongoing series that ran from April 2007 to July 2010. At its start the series deals directly with the aftermath of the superhero Civil War. Captain America has been assassinated and Tony Stark is now the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., so with the pro-registration side having won America begins moving forward with this agenda.
I originally purchased this volume years ago, while I was reading Marvel through the Dark Reign banner and wanted to read the precursors to it. I never actually cracked it open, however, as my reading ambition was bigger than my wallet, so the sequence of books I wanted to read never fully came together.
The story of this book is a bit of a mixed bag, having numerous plotlines that don’t make much headway on their own. There are too many independent plotlines going on with a large cast of characters introduced that prevents the volume from being as cohesive of a collection. What this did achieve for me, however, was a compelling introduction to the characters themselves, especially the new recruits. Standouts for me included Komodo, a young woman who stole and perfected Dr. Connors’ Lizard Formula, and Cloud 9, a teenage girl who can manipulate a gaseous cloud allowing her to fly.
Both of these character, focused on with varying consistency, highlighted the foundation of what is wrong with the Fifty-State Initiative, despite its good intentions. If you don’t make the cut you’re sent packing with your powers rendered inert, which would leave Komodo without the form she truly feels is her. While a little clichéd, the context where this comes to a head for her was quite moving. Cloud 9, for her part, simply wants to be able to fly freely, yet this program forces her to become a solider or lose her powers entirely.
The more noble endeavour of training teams of superheroes clashes often with the militarized structure of the training compound, which I did like despite things not quite coming together by the end. Heroes I recognize such as War Machine and Yellowjacket are doing their best to do the right thing, but that’s not always easy for them in this setting. It’s an endeavour formed with the best intentions, but red tape and questionable moral decisions are compromising everything in a way that I’d like to see developed.
I enjoyed Stefano Caselli’s art quite a lot. It was bold, very expressive, and used colour filters well to convey mood. Largescale scenes are well done too, including a two-page spread I particularly liked. His creature designs, often large in scale, were great too. Despite the numerous characters, many without masks, they all looked quite distinct from one another as well. I especially like his approach to Komodo, who to me was comparatively done poorly by Steve Uy, who drew issue #6. While not terrible, the shift in style at the end here was a step down. Everyone looked more cartoony and wooden by comparison, and proportions were more unusual. All things considered the volume was still excellent in terms of illustrations.
Avengers: The Initiative: Basic Training is a decent comic book volume. It’s a little unfocused in terms of plot, but the strength of the characters made up for that to me. They’re cliché in some ways, but I’ve become attached enough to want to see more of them. I’d say it’s worth picking up for the new and obscure characters, as well as the compromised take on the better known heroes. It’s also a good snapshot of the climate of the Marvel Universe at the time, though it does feel a little old hat to me.