Comics : Avengers: The Initiative #9

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This story is part of an Arc: "Killed in Action"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

This review was first published on: 2008.

Background...

Bad things are going down at Camp Hammond. The details aren't clear yet, but what is obvious is that one of the MVP clones has gone on a rampage, with bloody consequences. At the moment he's standing over Yellowjacket, with the shrunken hero dead in the Tactigon's sights...

In Detail...

"First Casualties"
Avengers: The Initiative #9
Mar 2008 : Review (No SM)
Summary: No Spider-Man
Arc: Part 2 of "Killed in Action"
Editor:  Tom Brevoort
Writer:  Christos N. Gage, Dan Slott
Artist:  Steffano Caselli
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Review

...and immediately, the MVP clone fires it, and as far as we readers can tell, annihilates the hero. leaving him "killed in action." That's what the MVP clone styles himself, now, KIA, and has carved the letters into his own chest to prove the point. Yellowjacket seems to have been merely the latest victim of KIA's rampage. The combat simulator is filled with the bodies of the newest recruits!

In a flashback we get a snapshot of life at Camp Hammond before all of this happened:

  • The Taskmaster putting the new recruits through their paces, one of whom, Crusader, is secretly a (good) Skrull;
  • Trauma conducting a therapy session with Cloud 9, helping her to come to terms with the killing she committed back in issue #2 (the HYDRA agent who was attempting to assassinate the President);
  • Moonstar packing her things to leave Camp Hammond, now that Gyrich has ejected her from the base;
  • ...and Gyrich himself, retriving the Tactigon from the vaults.

Gyrich, unimpressed with the quality of recent recruits, has decided that the MVP cloning program is the most successful program the Initiative has. He's also frustrated that no one since Armoury has been able to use the Tactigon, the most powerful weapon available to the Initiative. But perhaps the MVP program can solve this problem? At Gyrich's behest, Blitzschlag and Yellowjacket have made a new clone, one with the "programming" of both MVP and Armoury. In theory, this clone will be a perfect soldier, armed with a perfect weapon. What could go wrong?

Everything, of course. As the Tactigon grafts itself to the clone's arm, the clone 'remembers' Michael van Patrick's death. Whether this is MVP's memory, or Armoury's, or the Tactigon's isn't clear, but regardless of the source, the memory traumatizes the clone. Unable to reconcile its memories with its own existence, the clone unleashes the power of the Tactigon on the room, ranting "Killed in action! Killed in action! Killed in action!" all the while. The clone, now calling himself KIA, kills Blitzschlag, or seems to, at any rate, by crushing him under a heavy weight. As Yellowjacket cravenly shrinks and flees the scene, the clone cuts the letters KIA into his own chest, and begins roaming the base. It aims to find all of those who were present at MVP's death—the people on "the list"—and make sure that they are killed in action, too.

KIA's first stop is the training simulator. None of the old recruits are there, but the new ones are. Unaware of the Tactigon's significance, the recruits, led by Ant-Man, engage KIA in battle. We don't see the fight, but we see the results: everyone dead but Taskmaster and Crusader, the latter now without a hand. The two cower while KIA takes out Yellowjacket (which brings us up to the 'present', as we saw in the opening pages), but the murderous clone declines to kill the survivors: it seems that the clone will only kill people on its list, or people who try to interfere with that mission.

People like Thor Girl. MVP has tracked down Trauma, but Trauma's friend Thor Girl is with him, and she doesn't intend to let anyone harm the man she loves. But tough as she is, she can't withstand a point-blank blast from the Tactigon. Trauma, horrified and furious, transforms into the one thing the Tactigon fears, namely the alien creature whom we glimpsed in the Initiative Annual #1, the Gauntlet-wielding creature who fought the Tactigon-wielding creature in Earth orbit. Unfortunately for Trauma, KIA is unfazed, and deals Trauma what certainly seems to be a fatal blow to the chest.

Next on KIA's list is the Gauntlet, who shouldn't pose a real threat, given that he's still comatose from the assault he suffered in issue #6. But while the Gauntlet (the man) is still unconscious, the Gauntlet (the weapon) seems to be conscious enough for both of them. It's taken over his body and marched him down to the vaults, where it's taken up a mangaesque sword. Holding it in the air, the Gauntlet's body issues an alien war-cry.

Looks like a battle royale is in the offing next issue!

In General...

Body count is in the house this issue. We readers can't always tell who's been killed and who's merely been severely injured, but it seems as if at least ten recruits have been killed, including Trauma and Thor Girl, and maybe including Ant-Man and Diamondback, though the latter two have enough of a history that I suspect we'll see them again. It seems like the Baron and Yellowjacket are dead too, though again Yellowjacket has enough history behind him that I suspect he pulled through somehow. Stature suggested only last issue that it's possible to survive explosions and such by shrinking to atomic size at the last second.

We've only known Trauma for a few issues, but I'm sorry to see him go. Dan Slott put all this together, Dan Slott can take it all apart, and this seems to have been his plan from the beginning: give us a bunch of new characters, make us care about them, and then kill them off. It's a gruesomely effective way to make the point that the series is driving towards.

The Civil War was the first act, teaching us that superheroes have to be held accountable for their actions. The Initiative is the second act, teaching us that, notwithstanding the first act, superheroes can't be manufactured. Not symbolically, as Camp Hammond has been attempting to do, and not literally, as Blitzschlag and Yellowjacket have been attempting with their cloning experiments. Such attempts do not end happily.

It's an idea I'd like to see teased out more in future issues, but philosophical debate will have to wait until all the blood is cleaned up. And it seems there's more blood yet to spill.

Overall Rating...

Harrowing stuff, seeing all those deaths, some of whom are of people we readers care about. And more deaths to come. I hate to see folks like Trauma and Thor Girl go, and I hate to think who'll be next.

It's darker stuff than we've come to expect from Dan Slott, but it's excellent at always. I'm anxious for the next installment.