Many of the Initiative recruits chafe under the program's military discipline, and long to act unilaterally, as superheroes have traditionally done. During World War Hulk, six cadets broke ranks to confront the Hulk and his Warbound on their own, without sanction or backup: exactly the sort of reckless, risky, 'superheroic' behaviour the Initiative was supposed to prevent.
Luckily for the rogue recruits, the Initiative was forced to rescue its trainees, to preserve its own reputation. Unluckily for the recruits, they're back in the custody of their drill instructor. He's got a few words for them, none of which are "happy birthday"...
Rage, Hardball, Thor Girl, Ultragirl, Cloud 9, and Slapstick are called out of formation by the Gauntlet, who's furious with them for disobeying orders and acting on their own. "Six of you run off and pull this New Warriors crap!" he yells. "You think I was hard on you before...?! [I'll] knock every last ounce of New Warrior out of you!"
Cut to the Gauntlet's home, where we get a brief glimpse of him as a human being: kibitizing with his wife, playing with his daughter, eating breakfast. This glimpse is over quick, because as he leaves his billet to walk to work, a mysterious figure ambushes the Gauntlet from behind and beats him severely, to the point of death... and then paints "NW" on his shirt in his own blood.
Very quickly, the obvious suspects are rounded up, namely the former New Warriors on the base: Ultragirl, Debrii, Slapstick, Rage, and even Justice, who is under suspicion even though he's an Initiative staff member. Other staff members have problems of their own: the Gauntlet is barely alive—still unconscious, in fact; Initiative superintendant Henry Gyrich, unable to simply ask the Gauntlet who committed this crime, is forced to accept the intrusion of two SHIELD investigators. If those investigators happen to see inside the camp's labs, they're going to find things that will require an awful lot of uncomfortable explanations.
The prime suspect in the case is Rage. It seems he and Gauntlet had an "altercation" recently, in which Rage lost his temper at Gauntlet's ragging on the New Warriors. This was the final straw, as far as the Gauntlet was concerned, who dragged Rage out of formation to tell him, privately, that his conduct proved he didn't have the discipline to be a superhero, and shortly his powers would be removed until he was mature enough to handle them. Perhaps the Gauntlet's compassion in delivering this news one-on-one betrayed him, because no one else knows about that conversation. The desire to keep his powers was, perhaps, the last bit of incentive Rage needed to take his drill instructor out.
Or maybe not, because when the lab results arrive, they indicate that the Gauntlet's injuries were not caused by a fist, but by a blunt instrument, probably a large, round, and smooth one.
Who on the camp specializes in flinging hard balls at people? Hmm.
Perhaps Justice? Sure, he's got motive—there was bad blood between the two men—but could he really have taken out the Gauntlet with a large, telekinetically-hurled boulder? Just how far could he have thrown it?
No bloody boulders turn up in the search of the camp's grounds, but something else does: the suit of capekiller armour that Hardball stole in issue #4 to facilitate a break-in into Pym's lab. Hardball's sweating bullets that the investigators will use this clue to track him down, so he decides to put them on a different track. He plants a note suggesting theylook at Pym's lab, knowing that what they find in there will make them stop looking in his direction.
The camp administrators are forced to blink. On Gyrich's orders, Pym uses a stimulant to wake the Gauntlet up, at the risk of doing the already-injured man serious and permanent harm. Once he's awake, and has been privately debriefed by Gyrich, the Gauntlet informs the investigators that his assailant was none other than the Ghost, some Iron-Man-villain with the power to walk through walls.
It's patently absurd, but the source is unimpeachable. As the Gauntlet slips back into unconsciousness, and possibly into an extended coma, Gyrich informs the unsatisfied investigators that the case is now closed, and they should get the heck off his base. And no, 'heck' is not the word he used.
On the final page, we find out, in a flashback, who was really responsible for Gauntlet's assault: Slapstick, who used his comedy superpowers to materialize a rubber mallet, which he then used to bash Gauntlet's head in. Despite his comical appearance, Slapstick, a former New Warrior, took the Gauntlet's slurs to heart. "You think you're so funny, huh? Crackin' jokes about my dead friends, huh? Yeah? Well, who's laughin' now, pal? Who's laughin' now?"
It's true. It's always the person you least suspect.
Dan Slott does it again, turning out a solid issue. The main plot, "who beat up the Gauntlet?", is a satisfying yarn, which keeps us guessing all the way to the end. We've got reasons to pick up future issues, too: will the Gauntlet recover? If not, who will train the recruits? If so, what will happen to Slapstick? or did the Gauntlet have a chance to tell Gyrich who really beat him up? If so, what will Gyrich do?
We not only get a strong mystery for our plot; we get extensive thickening of the subplots. The mystery around MVP's death and subsequent activities deepens! Tigra and Yellowjacket continue to date! Justice and Debrii are secret lovers! Rage may or may not get to keep his powers! Hardball's in too deep with a secret faction hostile to the Initiative! And so it goes. There's no decompression here, just old-fashioned Silver Age storytelling. You gotta love it.
What you don't gotta love is the new art on the title. Steve Uy's drawing style is much less detailed and more sketchy than Stephano Caselli's, and the move to a manga-esque, big-eyes-small-mouth approach is rather distracting in a book that hasn't had it before. It's precisely the wrong approach to take on a book that aims to tell a grounded, realistic, down-to-earth story. Big downs, Marvel; big downs.
Not a must-buy, must-read issue, but a very strong piece of work all the same. Loses half a web for the inferior art, which represents a definite drop in quality for this title.