In the wake of the Civil War, the pro-Registration forces established the Fifty State Initiative, a program to train metahumans to be superheroes and establish superhero teams in each of America's fifty states. The surviving members of Camp Hammond have had a tough year, but it's all about to pay off.
It's graduation day.
While Cloud 9, Komodo, and Hardball prepare for their graduation ceremony, Gyrich, War Machine and Yellowjacket prepare to testify before a hearing of inquiry into the KIA affair. It seems that Yellowjacket survived KIA's attack by shrinking to subatomic size at the last moment, just as he did when he saved the President from the HYDRA attack back in Avengers: the Initiative #2... although readers of Secret Invasion may wonder if "Yellowjacket" actually survived on either occasion.
But let's stick to our knitting. While Yellowjacket catches up with Ms. Marvel, who is representing the Avengers on the hearing, War Machine chats with former colleague Valerie Cooper, representing O*N*E, and Gyrich receives assurances from Senator Woodman (who represents the US government) that everyone else will get the blame for the KIA fiasco.
With a rumble, Iron Man appears, trailing clouds of glory from his recent movie debut (not coincidentally, Iron Man graces this month's Initiative cover as well, in a gratuitous and misleading pose). Iron Man gets down to business immediately, asking Gyrich to explain the circumstances surrounding the original Michael Van Patrick's death, which occurred way back in Avengers: the Initiative #1. Gyrich responds with a Reaganesque "I don't recall."
While a frustrated Iron Man tries to get some answers out of a smirking Gyrich, the new class of Initiative recruits, or the ones who survived the KIA incident at any rate, pay their respects to Dragon Lord's next of kin, and the old class attends Trauma's wake. Prominent among the mourners is Thor Girl... which means, if I'm keeping score correctly, KIA the badass actually only killed three people: Trauma, Dragon Lord, and one of the Scarlet Spider clones. Huh. During the KIA sequence people were dropping like flies, but they all got better, it seems. With each survival, the power of the KIA storyline diminishes a little, because it depended on the fact that KIA could and would kill anything that crossed his path.
Looks like we're not finished undermining that earlier story, because without warning or reason, Trauma wakes up! I guess he was only mostly dead. In a blatant lampshade-hanging, he freely admits he can't explain his sudden resuscitation. I think I can, though: because new writer Christos Gage wants to use Trauma when he takes over the writing duties on this title, perhaps? Sigh. This title has been largely free of lazy writing in the past, so it's unfortunate to see it emerge now.
Let's advance a few subplots. In the infirmary, Constrictor shows off the bionic limbs that have replaced the arms KIA severed; new chief medical officer Physique shows off her disgustingly-transparent skin; and Crusader shows off an extended internal monologue, which explains that while he is indeed a Skrull, as we already knew, but that he's also renounced his people and is not an infiltrator for the Secret Invasion. Sure he isn't; I sense another clumsy intervention to serve the purposes of a new writer.
Oh, and Baron Blitzschlag survived also. That sound you hear is KIA's posthumous reputation collapsing even further.
Back at the inquiry, Iron Man is frustrated with Gyrich's recalcitrance, which Senator Woodman is abetting. Woodman wants to frame the blame around Iron Man's decision to allow the former New Warriors to desert ranks in the wake of KIA's defeat. The tactic fails because one of the Warriors, Ultragirl, returned to testify on the Initiative's behalf. While she agrees with the decision the others made—the others being Justice, Rage, Debris, the Scarlet Spiders, and Slapstick—to go rogue, she couldn't be part of their new team. She wants to make the Initiative work, not to be the independent auditors of the Initiative, as Justice and the rest do.
Iron Man may respect Ultragirl's actions, but he's had it with Gyrich and his smug refusal to accept any responsibility for the KIA shambles. Gyrich doesn't care: he's got connections with every branch of the superhuman regulatory bureaucracies, as far up as the White House, and as such Stark can't lay a finger on him. He's wrong about that, though: Stark makes one off-panel call to the President, and Gyrich is gone.
He's not the only one: Camp Hammond's first class is graduating. This includes first-stringers like Hardball, Komodo, and Cloud 9, and second-stringers like Triathlon, Ultragirl, and Thor Girl. Trauma's graduating too, but while the others are staffing various Fifty-State Initiative teams, he's staying behind to understand what happened to him.
Cloud 9 is joining "Freedom Force" in Montana. In the coda to the entire run so far, we see her, one week later, helping her teammates battle a fire in Billings. Using her cloud, she evacuates civilians out of the building. One of these, a girl, chatters about how much Cloud 9 rocks, but Cloud 9 stares impassively. The girl's mother shushes her child: "Don't distract her! This isn't fun for her, honey... this is her job."
There are a lot of little annoyances in this issue. Iron Man allows the New Warriors to depart the Initiative pretty easily, given it's been established he feels passionately that superheroes have to operate in an open and accountable public hierarchy. Crusader, Trauma, and KIA are subject to blatant manipulation by the writing team (the latter retroactively). These manipulations set up future stories at the expense of the one at hand. Steve Uy's minimalist, mangaesque art style not only looks hurried, but in some cases undermines the story it is meant to serve: frequently it is difficult at a glance to distinguish Cloud 9, Ultragirl, and Thor Girl from each other without reference to their costumes.
The last two pages make up for all this and then some. Full appreciation of it requires going all the way back to the very beginning of Avengers: the Initiative #1. Now, at the end, we see the story Dan Slott was telling was Cloud 9's coming of age. And, in an admirable display of authorial restraint, the ending of this story is ambiguous. Clearly, Cloud 9 has lost the innocence of her childhood; she no longer flies with exuberant joy. And after the horrors she's seen and the violence, however righteous, that she has committed, we understand why. But we also understand that where once she was only interested in flying for the sake of flying, now she's using her unique talents to help others, making a valuable contribution to her community. Has she lost more than she has gained? Wisely, Slott doesn't say. Sometimes, a question, clearly posed, is better than an answer.
Whatever we readers lose with this issue, we've gained more: the merits outweigh the flaws. Four webs.
So is Slott off this title, or not? Anybody know? The fact that the directions Slott set up—with Crusader, with Trauma, with Hardball (he's still a Hydra sleeper agent, however unwillingly, isn't he?)—are being abandoned suggests that he's leaving, but his name appears in the solicitations for next issue. I'm confused!