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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 06/06/07
brought to you by Illusive Comics and Games of Santa Clara

Avengers: The Initiative #3
writer: Dan Slott
artist: Stefano Caselli

At first glance, no book really fit the criteria for Spotlight. Then flipping through them again, it became apparent that Dan Slott must once again get singled out for praise. Even if you haven't picked up the previous issues of this series, it's fairly easy to get the lay of the land, absorb the series' main conflicts and enjoy the heck out of the requisite third issue fight with Spider-Man.

(It used to be a Marvel law that Spider-Man appeared in the second issue, but with the direct market, it's understood that he's not really a boost in sales that soon.)

Like a similar franchise spin, New X-Men, Avengers: The Initiative covers young would-be heroes learning to cope with their powers. Instead of being under the caring tutelage of Professor X, they've got most of the a**holes of the Marvel Universe. A super-powered Marine named The Gauntlet leads them through their paces, with advice from Yellowjacket (never, ever a good sign when Henry Pym is Yellowjacket), War Machine and Henry Peter Gyrich. Sure, the Beast and Dani Moonstone serve as consultants on the project, but it's really trial by fire for these kids.

It's not hard to put yourself in these kids' place. Under the Registration Act, this training camp does seem to be the right thing to do, though they have different motivations. This issue focuses on Komodo, a girl that stole and perfected Dr. Curt Connors' Lizard formula. She has the power to change back and forth at will without losing her personality as Connors does. But when a teammate catches her in human form, she freaks out.

She should be freaking out that her first field mission takes her up against the webspinner. If there's a mis-step in this whole Initiative concept (it's bigger than just this title), it's that sorry, no reader will feel sympathy for the characters trying to take Spider-Man down. We love him. We love him. We love him.

Still, Slott has loaded this by making sure we understand Komodo's got issues. We know Yellowjacket and War Machine aren't beloved, but we can feel sorry for the lizard girl. And perhaps Trauma, the kid voted most likely to rip off a Vertigo icon back in high school.

With a writer like Slott, though, all these things take a back seat to the pleasure of the story. Even when he covers a distasteful topic (witness She-Hulk realizing Starfox is a potential date rapist), you can see the wheels turning of an artist legitimately trying to deal with it. Just you wait - this guy is going to come up with something huge someday, and those of us in the know will just nod sagely.

Artist Stefano Caselli deserves some praise. His work veers on the cartoony side, but it's solid, consistent and definitely well-emoted. He's the right choice, because even among these more realistic characters, he has to handle the bizarre Slapstick.

Be careful picking this one out on the stands, as Marvel has thrown this "Initiative" banner across several books, most not nearly as good.

Also on the Stands:

Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears #5: At the risk of making Ghost Rider into something more Image-like, Garth Ennis has laid the groundwork for a whole lot of interesting historical Riders. Clearly, Johnny Blaze has a mollifying affect on Zarathos - if this is Zarathos. Clayton Crain provides incredible visuals to match the sharp writing, which unlike a lot of Ennis' work these days doesn't feel exploitative.

Iron Man, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. #18: Yeah, not after what happened to Steve…

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness #4: Though it's nice to see Sean Phillips step in and join the party, having three pencilers in this issue does bump things around. The transitions aren't even regarding beats to the story; it's just suddenly very visibly a different art style. Still, the story remains funny as heck and very true to Ash's character. Since we already know what happens to this planet, it's nice that we still have the suspense of how Ash will get out of it.

Ms. Marvel #16: If you're a MODOK fan, this book is for you. Aaron Lopresti continues to be an excellent penciler. I'm even buying into Brian Reed's characterization of Ms. Marvel. Still, I find myself uninterested in her as a solo character.

New Warriors #1: Another of the books that could confuse unwary buyers with "The Initiative" banner, this is no initiative. Instead, it's an obvious move by Marvel in the wake of Civil War that invalidates a couple of artistic choices earlier on, simply so you, the reader, will be kept in mystery. There's no real mystery here, though there are some cool powers on display. If you're one of those that loved the New Warriors, it's hard to say that this will reel you in, though at least one member does return. Remember, not even Bucky dead is dead anymore.

Omega Flight #3: Despite the presence of a top-notch creative team, with Scott Kolins getting some of the best reproduction of his career with Brian Reber coloring directly over his pencils, this falls flat. Michael Avon Oeming scrambles to justify a bunch of non-Canadian characters becoming Canadian. They couldn't be more disparate if you'd reached into a bag featuring every Marvel HeroClix and just pulled six out at random to form a team. Which we've all done. I want to like this book very badly, but I cant. And just how many extra-dimensional powers want to eat the Earth anyway? Why can't we feature a book where they all eat each other?

Uncanny X-Men #487: …and everything new is old again. Professor X has his powers back without us ever really exploring how he'd handle life as a normal. Some Morlocks are up to their old tricks. Despite a new marriage and a new membership in the Fantastic Four, Storm returns to the X-Men. Let me give Ed Brubaker credit, though; he does all this with enough style that you don't really notice all this at the time. It's a good read with a bad aftertaste.

Sight Unseen:

Fear Agent: The Last Goodbye #1: Dark Horse publishes its first issue of this great Rick Remender/Tony Moore series. It's hardcore space opera, like the best E.C. never produced. My prediction? We're going to get a film announcement within the next three months. That's not why you should buy it. You should buy it because it's good.

Invincible #42: For this jump-on issue, Image and Robert Kirkman have lowered the price to $1.99. It's a good book no matter the price, but this should make it irresistible. Take the gamble.

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw


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