Comics : Avengers: The Initiative #7

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This review was first published on: 2007.

Background...

After the Civil War, the US government is bringing its superhumans into a military structure and a chain of command. One link in that chain is Camp Hammond's covert-operations team: three men who wear replicas of the Iron Spider suit Spider-Man wore briefly. At the time of this issue's publication we readers know little about these "Scarlet Spiders," but that's about to change...

In Detail...

"The Scarlet Spiders in... Triple Threat"
Avengers: The Initiative #7
Dec 2007 : SM Guest
Summary: Peter Parker and the Scarlet Spiders (MVP) appear
Editor:  Tom Brevoort
Writer:  Dan Slott
Artist:  Steve Uy
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Baron von Blitzschlag is leading a tour of the wreckage of Avengers Tower. The Tower was destroyed during World War Hulk, and the Baron wants to drive home the point that gamma technology is critically dangerous and critically important.

The man to whom this point is being driven is Senator Woodman, who seems supportive of the Initiative but wary. His demeanour is merely a facade, however, for we readers recognize Woodman as the mysterious man who blackmailed Hardball into stealing the anti-Hulk weapons back in issue X, preventing a quick completion of World War Hulk. That action alone is enough to tell us that Woodman is no friend of the Initiative. Further proof is provided when we readers learn that the Senator has hired the Vulturions (mercenaries wearing knock-offs of the Vulture's suit) to steal the gamma secrets the Baron is carrying in a briefcase.

Wha-huh? The Baron is just carrying around gamma-bomb schematics in a briefcase? Schematics technical enough to be valuable to an enemy nation, yet simple enough that they'd be useful at a summit for non-technical folks like Senator Woodman? Dear reader, I find that hard to believe.

...And while I'm shopping for things that are hard to believe, I'll add that while I can accept a U.S. senator might be up to dirty tricks, I can't accept that he hires his criminal flunkies in person rather than through an intermediary. I mean, the Vulturions clearly know that Woodman hired them, and that he's a Senator. Folks in power usually like to keep a buffer between them and this sort of thing: just look at Nixon. Unlike Nixon, Woodman is the hands-on type, I suppose. How else can I account for the fact that the Senator met Hardball, in person, to blackmail him... in a public place, where any random voter might see him! You'd think that he'd be exquisitively sensitive to how such behaviour would make him vulnerable to blackmail himself.

Anyway. The Vulturions easily snatch the case and make their getaway, knocking the Baron down in the process. The sight of the Baron being roughhoused prompts the Scarlet Spiders, who had been hiding in stealth mode, out into the open to help him. Appearing like that breaks their cover—as a covert ops team, they have to keep a low profile—but apparently they're attached enough to the Baron that they don't mind abandoning protocol. In for a pound, in for a penny; with their cover blown, there's no reason for them not to pursue the Vulturions and get the case back.

The pursuit happens to pass by the hospital where Peter Parker's Aunt May is slowly dying, and where Peter himself is lurking on the exterior wall, wanting to be close to his aunt but unable, because of his status as a fugitive, from being with her in the flesh. His monologue of self-pity is disturbed by the passing superhumans, and the sight of other men wearing his former costume transforms his angst into rage. In a fury, he attacks one of the Scarlet Spiders. Said Spider points out to him that as recently as issue #3, Parker had been in favour of taking out the villains before engaging in any hero-on-hero violence, and Parker, chagrined, agrees to help subdue the Vulturions.

Using their powers of mimickry, each Scarlet Spider assumes the guise of a more traditional Spider-Man costume, and tricks the Vulturions into believing that the actual Spider-Man has entered the fray. The thought panics the Vulturions, and they separate; without the strength of numbers, they are easily dispatched, with the real Peter Parker taking out the Vulturion carrying the gamma-schematics case.

Peter's not sure he trusts the Scarlet Spiders with that prize, so as a show of good faith, the Spiders mimic Peter's own appearance. As reporters and citizens come near, the Spiders explain how they are government soldiers wearing a suit that replicates Spider-Man's powers, and that Peter Parker himself is one of their number, recently expelled for bad behaviour. It's a clever bit of misdirection, because it suggests that Peter is not, and never was, Spider-Man, but only a civilian imitating Spider-Man with the help of technology. As Betty Brant observes, it wouldn't be the first time that Peter pretended to be Spidey to help the real wall-crawler out; perhaps his self-outing during the Civil War was a similar stunt? Even J. Jonah Jameson is unsure. Maybe Peter Parker isn't Spider-Man after all!

Grateful, Peter turns over the case to the Scarlet Spiders and departs. The Spiders, despite being ordered through their comlinks to subdue Parker, allow him to go.

In the subplot department, we watch Justice and Cloud 9 probe the mystery of MVP's appearance at the Van Patrick farm. The farm has been abandoned, leaving no trace of the former recruit who apparently died back in issue #1. Justice, angry and wracked by guilt, is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, even if that means severing his links to the Initiative and becoming a fugitive himself.

Also, the strains within the Initiative itself are revealed: it seems that Yellowjacket, Gyrich, and Blitzschlag consider their first loyalty to be to the U.S. government, while Justice and Camp Hammond commander War Machine are instead loyal to Tony Stark and SHIELD, an international organization. Rhodes is shocked to learn of MVP's death, and wonders what other dubious deeds have been happening on his base, but neither Yellowjacket nor Gyrich are willing to cooperate with him.

The final reveal of the issue involves the Scarlet Spiders. Are they random U.S. soldiers? Are they clones of Peter Parker? ("God, I hate clones," mutters JJJ. One suspects most readers agree.) As it turns out, they are clones... but not of Peter Parker, but of the late MVP!

Cue Hermes Conrad: "That just raises further questions!" Questions like whether these clones have Michael van Patrick's memories, where the van Patrick family fits into all this, and most importantly, how Justice and the other recruits will react if they find out—but that's fodder for future issues.

In General...

Lots to like here. Some mysteries are cleared up (who are those Scarlet Spiders? What have Yellowjacket and Blitzschlag been hiding in the lab?) while others are deepened (just why is a U.S. Senator trying to sabotage the Initiative?). Plenty of superhero action, and of an interesting sort: Peter Parker versus men essentially possess all of his own powers. Above all, a neat solution to the Parker secret-identity problem. I suspect this is Dan Slott showing the readers that were it up to him, he could solve this problem on his own, without recourse to some magical, lazily-written reset button, which is what One More Day has on offer, it seems. God bless Dan Slott: a writer who loves continuity and takes ideas seriously but makes those things serve the story rather than the other way around.

It`s a sour note to go out on, but I have to point out that the friction in this story between the Camp Hammond faction loyal to the USA and the faction loyal to SHIELD simply won`t fly. It is just possible that the United States government would allow an international agency to operate a military base inside the USA's s own borders. In the real world, of course, countries like Italy allow foreign (i.e. U.S.) bases within their own borders, but the USA does not and never will; but this is the Marvel universe. I can buy it, but only just.

What I can`t buy is that the USA would allow SHIELD to operate a base without making it crystal clear what the chain of command is: there would never, ever be any doubt as to just to whom the people on the base report. And if Gyrich et al. have to report to Rhodes, then the US government would never, ever put sensitive projects on that base where a foreign power (i.e. SHIELD) would have access to them. Even in a fantasy world, militaries and government bureaucracies rely on clear lines of authority. That Gyrich and Rhodes haven`t thrown down before now on who`s in charge beggars belief.

And while we`re on the subject: Rhodes clearly knows that the Scarlet Spiders exist— he led them into battle back in issue #3— but does he know who the Scarlet Spiders are? If so, how can he be ignorant of MVP`s death? And if not, why is he allowing mystery men to operate on his own base? The whole point of the Initiative is that the days of superpowers behind masks are finished.

Slott has some work to do to clear all this political business up, but I am sure he will. He gets a generous helping of benefit of the doubt from me.

Overall Rating...

A good issue, of particular interest to anyone interested in where Spider-Man's continuity is headed.