The Initiative program aims to train the next generation of superheroes: recruits Komodo, Trauma, Cloud 9, and Hardball spend their days in military training, with the aim of one day joining the Fifty State Initiative, a program to establish a superhero team in every U.S. state. The Initiative is based at Camp Hammond, a military base established in at Stamford, Connecticut, within the blast zone of the explosion that precipitated the superhero Civil War.
The Initiative recruits are returning to Camp Hammond via an Initiative aircraft. Komodo, tired from the team's efforts against HYDRA in the previous issue, falls asleep. For reasons that aren't clear, this triggers her transformation from her lizard state to her human state. (Komodo was formerly a graduate student of Dr. Curt Connors, and took advantage of her position to inject herself with the Lizard Formula, transforming her into a lizard-creature not unlike that of Connors himself: green skin, prehensile tail, claws and fangs, and preternatural agility.) As it happens, Komodo's made a point of concealing her human state from her fellow recruits. Hardball is thus surprised to learn she has a human state at all, and a sexy one to boot. Komodo, upon awaking, immediately transforms back into her lizard state, and is so angry at her slip that she has to physically restrained from assaulting Hardball.
Back at Camp Hammond, the recruits resume training: Trauma gets snarky with new adjunct faculty Mirage and Beast, Cloud 9 betrays a guilty conscience as she flubs her sniper lesson, and guest professor Thing enjoys a light workout as he spars with the entire Initiative class. Outside of the ring, Curt Connors, whom Yellowjacket has invited to the camp, chats with Yellowjacket about Komodo. Yellowjacket wants to send Komodo into the field, and wonders what Connors makes of that decision. Connors, suprisingly, is indifferent. As far as he's concerned, Komodo's display of skill in tailoring the Lizard Formula to mesh with her own DNA is more interesting and important than the fact that she stole it from him. His only concern is the moral burden that giving Komodo her powers presents. "This field mission you want her for," he asks, "is it something I'd approve of?" Pym ducks the question by pleading he's not at liberty to say, which means the answer, of course, is 'no.'
Pym got what he wanted, it seems, so while Hardball makes plans for a night on the town, Komodo departs for a secret briefing with Yellowjacket and War Machine. The instructors reveal the latest technological advance from Tony Stark (which readers of writer Dan Slott's work on She-Hulk are already familiar with): super-power inhibiting nanobots, or SPIN-tech. A SPIN-tech payload, delivered via adamantium-tipped dart, injects the target with nanites that permanently suppress superpowers, making them magic bullets against metahumans. Komodo's mission, which she will undertake in concert with War Machine, is to shoot Spider-Man with such a dart.
Tony Stark has yet to forgive Peter Parker, I guess.
When the Initiative catches up to Spider-Man, he's tangling with Hydro-Man, the Shocker, and Boomerang: the "lame half of the Sinister Syndicate," as Spidey puts it. Thus he's plenty distracted when War Machine and Komodo (mounted on a hoverbike of some sort) swoop in, firing SPIN darts with abandon. Thanks to Spider-Man's spider-sense and spectacular agility, he dodges them all, but it's a close thing. As the Sinister Syndicate flees, Spidey and the Initiative begin battling in earnest. Well-timed webbing takes out Komodo's hoverbike, as well as War Machine's armour, but Komodo herself is too fast. She grapples Spidey and prepares to stab him with a dart. It looks bad for the wall-crawler, but he's more than just a class clown: he's got a shrewd grasp of psychology, too. He warns Komodo that when she fails to defeat him, Stark will remove her own powers as punishment. This warning shakes her concentration enough to allow Spidey to knock her out and escape. Komodo's biggest fear, it seems, is that she'll go back to being her old self; as she puts it, she's afraid of going back to being a "nobody."
In the midst of all this, Slott keeps the subplots turning. Hardball, in an act of staggering cluelessness, tries to cadge free drinks from the townsfolk of Stanford and nearly gets beaten up for his pains. Rather than free drinks, he gets a proposition from a mysterious stranger, who wants to know all about SPIN tech. And the Sinister Syndicate gets captured by the Initiative's Red Team, which appears to be a squadron of soldiers dressed in copies of the Stark-designed Iron Spider armour.
There's a lot to admire in Dan Slott's writing, and this issue shows off many of reasons why this is so. The story is anything but decompressed, for one thing. ('Decompressed' is the hip synonym among comics bloggers for 'slow-paced'.) There's a lot of story here: not only do several subplots advance, but there's a main plot as well, the hunt for Spider-Man, which begins and ends in the same issue. Most of the ensemble cast gets a chance at the spotlight, as do a variety of visiting characters. In vintage Gruenwald style, a lot of continuity is deployed-- Mirage and Beast's backstories, the Thing and Justice's shared experience as professional wrestlers, and most notably the loose end of the Iron Spider armour from Civil War-- but while these references serve to enhance the story at hand, knowledge of them isn't necessary to understand what's going on.
A solid issue. Slott's portrayal of Spider-Man bodes well for his takeover of a portion of the writing duties on Amazing Spider-Man in late 2007.
The Shocker and Boomerang appear in their classic costumes, but Hydro-Man is wearing a metallic battlesuit I've never seen before, reminiscent of the suit the Sandman wore as a member of the Frightful Four. Is this a first appearance for the suit, or has it been seen before?