Dan Slott's tenure as writer on the regular Initiative book is coming to an end with issue #20. As that issue will have to resolve the lingering plot threads from the Secret Invasion, Slott and his editors have chosen to devote this special issue to tying up the loose ends around Hardball and Komodo.
What were those issues? Well, Hardball and Komodo are in a long-distance relationship: he's stationed in Las Vegas with Nevada's Heavy Hitters while she's with Arizona's Desert Stars. Also, Hardball harbours a dark secret: he owes his powers to an operation bankrolled by HYDRA. A high-ranking HYDRA operative, Senator Woodman, has been blackmailing Hardball into doing its dirty work, which included embarrassing Tony Stark by sabotaging the Initiative's attempt to end World War Hulk (way back in Avengers: the Initiative #4 ).
All of this is about to come to a head, in a story that apparently takes place shortly after the conclusion of the Secret Invasion but before the Dark Reign really gets rolling.
The Heavy Hitters and the Desert Stars have scrambled to thwart Zzzax's attack on the Hoover Dam. The Initiative troops mean well, but the two teams aren't familiar with each other, and they get in each other's way. Determined to stop Zzzax before matters escalate, Hardball and Komodo – who are of course very familiar with each other's abilities—go into action on their own. Komodo distracts Zzzax long enough for Hardball to dissolve him with an electromagnetic burst, or something. The details don't matter: what matters is that Komodo and Hardball save the day, and their colleagues appreciate the save. Speaking privately, the other Initiative troopers acknowledge that the pair aren't just lovers, but are truly in love. What they have is "the real thing."
Later, the two enjoy some rest and relaxation back in Las Vegas, and have a serious heart-to-heart talk, which serves to recap their history for the readers. What is that history? Well, Komodo rarely uses her human form because in that body, her legs are missing. Hardball can relate, because his older brother is paralyzed from an injury he received while wrestling in the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation. Hardball, unsettled by so much honesty, slips out of the hotel room the pair are sharing and goes in search of something to eat. While he's out, he's contacted by HYDRA agents and takes a meeting with Senator Woodman. Woodman has just learned that Komodo gained her powers from Curt Connors' Lizard formula, and Woodman wants that formula for HYDRA's use. He could simply blackmail Hardball into obtaining it, but to better ensure his loyalty he also promises to heal Hardball's brother's paralysis.
Hardball takes the bait. Going back to the room, he wheedles Komodo's history out of her: how she leveraged her work in life sciences to get a scholarship to work with Connors; how she waited until she'd earned Connors' trust, then stole the formula so that she could regrow her legs (lost in a car accident years before). She also lets slip that Doc Connors' L.A. lab is far less well-guarded than his New York lab.
That's all Hardball needed. After a quick trip home to verify that Woodman is following through with his end of the bargain, Hardball breaks into Connors' L.A. lab... only to find Komodo waiting for him there! She figured from Hardball's odd behavior that something was up, and manipulated him into coming here. She's hurt, of course, because she thinks their whole relationship was a ruse to get him access to Connors' formula. Hardball protests, and is forced to give up all of his secrets to her. Komodo, understanding, offers to isolate the Lizard formula from her own blood. It looks like Hardball will get everything he wants... except Komodo has a trick up her sleeve.
Days later, Hardball meets with Woodman again and gives him the formula. That's all that Komodo needed: she swoops in with the Heavy Hitters to bust them all. Woodman, furious that his position has been compromised, impetuously injects himself with the Connors formula, and transforms himself into a giant lizard-like creature: a true hydra.
It's decision time. Komodo reveals her plan to Hardball: she told everyone he was a double agent, and that he can take this opportunity to escape from HYDRA once and for all. Hardball doesn't think it will be that easy. Unwilling to drag Komodo into the mess he's made of his own life – the mess he feels he is responsible for, because he chose it – he immobilizes Komodo in a force cage. Turning to Woodman, he crushes him to death in a second force ball (off-panel, mercifully). Having murdered his superior in HYDRA, Hardball can assume his place. Gathering the HYDRA troops, who are now under his command, he departs the scene in Woodman's flying limousine (!). Komodo is left behind. When her teammates ask her how she's doing, she says she's fine. With a scowl that belies her words, she says "I can heal from anything, remember?"
In a backup story set back at Camp Hammond, we delve a little into Trauma's backstory, and receive the payoff that Trauma's powers – and his ability to resuscitate himself from death – derive from the fact that, unbeknownst to anyone, he is the bastard child of Nightmare, the unearthly monarch of dark dreams.
A satisfying, but bittersweet, conclusion to the story of Hardball and Komodo. My only regret is that with Slott's departure from the Initiative title, we will likely never see these two again.
Hmm. Hardball, Komodo, and Cloud 9 from the Initiative's first class all come to sad endings: from the readers' perspective, they all lose more than they gain from their superhero careers. Kudos to Dan Slott for his deft touch on these three.
This, along with Avengers: the Initiative #12 , are the high points of Dan Slott's run on the title. I wish he could stay, but I suppose Mighty Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man will require all of his talent.