The Man Wit No Voice and The Pure Mood dig out and review a comic from their expansive back issue collection. It could be a pivotal story, a forgotten classic, or even a giant mistake not worth the staples binding it together. From the ’40′s to the ’00′s, come by every week as we take an in-depth look at comics history in CHRONICLES OF COMICS!
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE is almost a perfect example of comics’ impenetrability; it can’t be handed to any new reader without a long list of foot notes and back story, hardly any of the characters featured within are anywhere to be seen in the current comics landscape, and most of what happened within the pages has been forgotten or undone in the years since it passed.
Despite all of this, it was an incredible and unforgettable series that explored not only one of the more unique and fascinating concepts of the first decade of Marvel’s 21st century, but used it’s relatively unknown characters to its advantage. Dan Slott and Christos Gage were able to get away with some unexplored, intelligent and downright shocking ideas about politics, morality and our place in the universe. AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #10 is not only a suspenseful and gripping adventure about good intentions gone horribly wrong, it’s also about one man questioning how real his life actually is, and where that kind of thinking can lead to.
Tony Stark and Hank Pym really only want to save the world. The fact that screwing things up drastically almost every time they attempt to has become their calling card is what makes them two of the best characters in superhero comics. Many fans may consider Stark and Pym to not be ‘real heroes’, but that title reveals more about the person saying it than it does about the characters. If you think these two narcissistic damaged geniuses should just about pack things in and call it quits, you aren’t as fascinated by tenacity as I am. I’m not saying we should be enamored with or reward failure, but the reason that I love Tony Stark and Hank Pym despite being against almost every action that they take is that I firmly believe what they’re doing comes from a place of good intentions. And sure, we all know what the path to hell is lined with, but it isn’t like the two never act out their plans; it’s just that, when they do, things never turn out the way they were expecting.
The Initiative was Iron Man and Pym, as always in a flux of identity that at the time led once again to the guise of Yellow Jacket, wanting to expand the superhero concept. Why did it seemingly stop in New York? How did the Avengers plan to keep the rest of America safe, let alone the rest of the world, if they were all stationed in one place? Unfortunately, what started as a rather wonderful (if simplistic) ideal became something much worse, especially considering the lack of care Stark put into it.
Placing reformed villains like Eric O’Grady and Taskmaster in charge may not have been the best decision, and finding new superheroes is much harder than you’d think, because, let’s face it, being a superhero isn’t a great job. Just as with the sensitive issue of law enforcement in our real world, if a society refuses to put great importance and pay into positions like fighting crime and saving people’s lives, it becomes harder to attract the people best suited for such a job. The people working for the Initiative haven’t learned the lessons that Peter Parker or Scott Summers have, they don’t have someone who cares about leading them like the X-men or the Avengers. They’re born out of a government project, two broken men’s idea to make the world a better place.
MVP was Michael Van Patrick, a young member of the Initiative with the power of genetic perfection. Basically, his physical and mental state is at the highest possible point humanity could achieve. When he died in a training exercise gone wrong, the man performing his autopsy is none other than Professor Baron Werner Von Blitzschlag, a Nazi scientist and former enemy of Marvel Golden Age heroes such as the Whizzer. The good doctor immediately recognizes the power before him, and clones MVP into four perfect human specimens. Unfortunately, one of these clones discovers the true nature of his origin and has a mental breakdown, renaming himself KIA after the three letter code designated to his ‘fathers’ profile.
That’s a pretty amazing concept. KIA learns that his reality is a fabricated one, and immediately makes the decision that every other persons is, too. “Lives are commodities. Things to use, and then toss aside like GARBAGE. Or, in my case, something to be RECYCLED.” I think the way we perceive reality is a concept that haunts everyone – the fact that we can ‘feel’ our consciousness, normally described as floating somewhere behind our eyes, our even our awareness of the subjectivity of experience, of how easy (and often difficult) it is to remind yourself that you aren’t the only one here, that others are on this planet as well, living in very different worlds than you are, coming from different cultures, reacting with different emotions. KIA doesn’t learn his life is meaningless as much as that he learns it isn’t quite real, that his experiences weren’t authentic and his memories came from someone else. We place a pretty big importance on authenticity and individuality in North American society, and KIA is learning that he has none, and that nobody else really does either. Every idea is a recycled one, every life is a wasted one, so why not speed up the whole process?
The actions of the staff is the other fascinating and frightening aspect of the issue. In seeing their students attacked, Taskmaster and Ant Man (the irredeemable Eric O’Grady, that is) choose to watch iPhone videos. Gyrich, the suit and tie in charge of the Initiative program, is concerned only for his own survival. Everybody involved appears to be looking out only for themselves, which makes KIA’s comments about the fabricated, constructional nature of life and reality that much more chilling. Slott and Gage seem to be making a subliminal comment about Stark and Pym as characters – their biggest downfall is their inability to look past themselves. They both desperately need to stop being so self-pitying, to stop using their faults as excuses to hold them back.
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE may seem like a comic that would fade away in your memory, an after-event fallout title starring mostly newly created characters, no less ones that quickly meet their demise. With titles like AVENGERS ARENA receiving so much backlash, THE INITIATIVE may seem like the last sort of superhero story you’d want to read. But almost five years later, and I still find myself thinking about the title, haunted by it’s shady morality and crippling suspense. Any comic that can make us question the motivation of our highest authorities, that presents us with a character suffering from an existential dread that he’s nothing but a formulated construct, that shows us the actual and scary things that result from all of our actions…any comic that can do that is a comic worth reading.