The Initiative is a plan for training superheroes that intends to place a local superhero team in each of America's fifty states. Everyone knows that.
What everyone doesn't know is that it also intends to operate a covert operations team to police America's superhuman population. That team is known as the Shadow Initiative.
Peter Henry Gyrich, the Secretary of Superhuman Armed Forces and the Initiative's liaison with the U.S. government, isn't happy unless he has a really big gun. He had one in Armory, but she washed out of the Initiative and without her the Tactigon—an alien weapon—won't function. So Gyrich is making do with Trauma. Thanks to his training with Danielle "Mirage" Moonstar, Trauma can now control his own powers, transforming at will into whatever his interlocutor fears. Mirage thinks Trauma has a great future as a behaviour therapist, but Gyrich wants a big gun, so that's what Trauma will have to be.
Trauma is the final element in Gyrich's Shadow Initiative team, which otherwise consists of Bengal, the Constrictor, the heretofore-unknown "Mutant Zero", and the Scarlet Spiders (Stark flunkies in copies of the 'Iron Spider' armour). Gyrich has an assignment for them: go into Manhattan and retrieve the Initiative kids who foolishly chose to engage the Hulk (in issue #4). Gyrich has no intel on what happened, but he can guess, which is why he's ordering the Shadow Initiative to sneak into Manhattan and retrieve the bodies. He wants no evidence that a bunch of Initiative recruits went off half-cocked and got themselves killed, just as the New Warriors did. The Initiative's very purpose is to prevent that sort of thing.
The team is airlifted into Manhattan, where the Scarlet Spiders and Mutant Zero go into stealth mode and take point. Feeling alone and abandoned, Constrictor, Bengal, and Trauma approach Madison Square Garden, where they suspect the Initiative kids' bodies were taken. Inside they are quickly detected and set upon by swarms of robots, which is bad, because neither Trauma's powers nor Bengal and Constrictor's "ninja crap" works on robots. Luckily Mutant Zero is there to take the robots out, John-Woo style. Having saved the team, she departs: "According to Gyrich," says Bengal, "she can only be 'activated' once per mission." Constrictor is nonplussed but pleased. "Looks like our little team got its own 'Deus X-Man.'"
In the cells (!) far below Madison Square Garden, the Shadow Initiative is surprised to find the Initiative kids, alive! (I wonder why they're alive? What reason does the Hulk have to play nice?) The Hulk's Warbound try to interrupt the rescue, but Trauma's funky shapeshifting powers allow him to turn into Thor (!) and take the Warbound out. As a result the Shadow Initiative is able to get the kids as far as the escape ship before the Hulk turns up.
The battle between Trauma and the Hulk is short but impressive. Trauma first tries bruth strength, but turning into the Abomination and then the Juggernaut barely slows the green goliath down. Trauma changes tacks and tries becoming Bruce Banner's dad, whom Bruce could never live up to; and then Bruce Banner himself, the real person of whom the Hulk is just an attribute. Neither works, and Trauma is horrified to discover he can no longer change into anything, which allows the Hulk to beat him severely. The Hulk does not kill him, though, because he wants Trauma to carry a message: the Hulk is no longer afraid of anything.
Thanks to the Scarlet Spiders, who bravely hid in stealth mode and watched the whole thing, Trauma gets medical attention. He'll live, but Gyrich, disgusted, declares that he no longer considers him to be a 'big gun'. Mirage, at least, is happy. Perhaps Trauma will get to be a behavioural therapist after all.
Initially the reader feels cheated because last issue was a big buildup to the confrontation between the Initiative kids and the Hulk. This issue was supposed to be the payoff, but we see only glimpses of the battle, and in flashback to boot. Instead we get the Shadow Initiative: Constrictor and Bengal (yawn), Mutant Zero (ooh, she's mysterious), the Scarlet Spiders (one-dimensional), and Trauma.
This is Trauma's issue, and it's a good one. It manages to tell a brisk and effective suspense story, with several nice touches. The Hulk comes off as a monster, and a dangerous one. We're treated to a serious exploration of Trauma's superpowers, with equal attention paid to their non-combat implications, something rare in superhero comics. And, by story's end, the fact that Trauma's powers are weaker than previously thought comes off as a positive thing, which is practically unheard of.
It loses points for the rest of the Shadow Initiative, who are dull as dishwater. Seriously, the Constrictor? At least I've heard of him, which is more than I can say about Bengal. And the Scarlet Ciphers don't add anything to the mix either. Mutant Zero has potential, but right now she's just another Snake Eyes ripoff.
This is the best Gyrich can come up with? This is the best Slott could come up with? Please.
Some strong points, some weak points, which all balance out to form a middle-of-the-road entry. Three webs.
Okay, smart guy, I hear you asking, you think Bengal and the Constrictor are lazy choices, just who would you induct into the Shadow Initiative? Or at least I hope you're asking that: beware any reviewer who condemns a writer for mishandling a scenario but can't tell you what the right way to do it is. So, in the interests of making a positive contribution, here are some suggestions for future Shadow Initiative inductees. They're all C-listers: big enough for people to have heard of them, small enough that Slott could pick them up and use them without stepping on anyone's toes, and with potential as characters that might be worth exploring:
Who would you recommend?