Monday, August 27, 2007

Avengers: The Initiative #5

The Avengers Initiative is Marvel’s way of carrying over the ideas presented and established in Civil War. Tony Stark’s plan of introducing a dedicated Avengers unit to every state in the union has come to fruition, and their various adventures are preserved right here. This month, the series throws in their two cents on World War Hulk, with the local Initiates getting involved in the fracas.

Dan Slott’s storytelling is concise and interesting. He measures in a fair amount of action, characterization and conversation, although the introductions are kept a bit too brief for my taste. It’s never too much of an action book or a drama and the pace is consistently good, both of which are major positives for a short, self-contained tale. He handles the issue’s direct tie-in to World War Hulk #3 nicely, too, providing just enough information to educate casual readers (especially those who haven’t been reading the big summer crossover) while telling a story that works both as an original and as a continuation of the Hulk’s latest escapades. You don’t need to buy six other books to understand what’s happening here, but it’ll lend a little more depth to the experience.

The team itself is masterminded by Henry Peter Gyrich, a longtime holdover from the old days of the Avengers, who’s one of the more well-defined faceless government agents in comics. He’s living, breathing stereotype but at least it’s an entertaining stereotype, and one that fits within the confines of the story Slott is trying to tell. As a reader, it’s easy to see that Gyrich’s patchwork unit of faux-Avengers isn’t going to last that long. They have little chemistry, zero teamwork and a lack of meaningful dialog with one another. Whether that was an intentional misstep or a flaw on the part of writer I can’t say, but in the end it leads to a tamer story than I’d expected.

Because the roster is filled with C-Grade reformed villains and virtual unknowns, it’s hard to get excited about their activities. Where the original Thunderbolts took the idea of reformed bad guys and made it interesting, these Avengers fail because they aren’t granted the same level of respect. Kurt Busiek empowered his team of misfits and failed villains, immediately developed them into something worth investigating and put them into the public spotlight. Slott’s pass at the same concept is lacking that charm and personality. He throws these guys together and hopes they’ll work out on their own.

Stefano Caselli’s artwork is strong, with just a few wrinkles. He’s great with over-the-top facial expressions, and shows a deep understanding of how to display emotion. He can showcase the same sensation on a character’s face dozens of times without repeating himself. He knows when and where to insert a dynamic backdrop, and when the characters should be the sole focus. He occasionally runs into some problems with consistent proportions (the Scarlet Spiders’ arms shrink and grow a few times) and he does occasionally take his love of expression a bit too far. Sometimes the characters barely look human, their faces are so distorted to reach for that hard-to-get emotion, but it’s so infrequent that I hesitate to even mention it.

This isn’t a great book, but it’s not a bad one either. It’s one of those issues that fills space in your collection, one that’s just there. The story and artwork are both average, perhaps a step or two above, but do little to distinguish themselves from the masses. It’s not a surefire hit, but it’s at least worth borrowing. Didn’t light my world on fire, didn’t make me feel like an idiot for reading it cover to cover.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.5

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