All of the stories in the first Avengers: the Initiative Annual explore the backstory of a single member of the book`s ensemble cast. For this story, it's the late Michael Van Patrick and his clones.
Baron von Blitzschlag is annoyed. After MVP's accidental death, the Baron hoped that the autopsy might help to determine the secret of the boy`s extraordinary athletic ability, an ability that the Baron had, for most of his professional life, sought to imbue in prospective Nazi supersoldiers. But to his disgust, dissecting the corpse reveals no clue as to why the boy was what he was.
But for a man of the Baron`s acumen, MVP's death doesn`t have to end the story. With Yellowjacket's assistance, the Baron arranges to have a clone of MVP grown and aged to the appropriate age. (And implanted with MVP`s memories, an interesting trick that Slott passes over in silence.) All this and more besides: with the Taskmaster`s help, the Baron can even train MVP to have all of the unearthly prowess of Spider-Man, making him an even more effective soldier. But the clone is having none of it. All he wants is to go home to 'his' family.
The Baron and Yellowjacket oblige, returning with the clone to the Van Patrick family home. There they explain that Michael has washed out of the program because he has no superpowers. His father reveals that this is so; Michael's extraordinary abilities are (were) the result of following a training regime that Mr. Van Patrick developed, based on the research of his father, Dr. Abraham Erskine, who developed the super-soldier serum. But the regime involves no chemicals, just wholesome organic food and isometric exercise. The Baron and Yellowjacket are stunned:
"Wait. All this time, the secret to making a super-soldier... is proper diet [and] regular exercise?"
Ultimately, the clone elects to stay with his 'father', and to keep quiet about the Baron's adventures in cloning, at pain of having he and his family silenced by the Initiative's goons. The Baron is disappointed but tolerant about this, but he can afford to be, as he has three other MVP clones, all of whom regard him as their 'father', and who will serve him and the Initiative well as the Scarlet Spiders.
A brisk, fun tale that clears up some of the enduring mysteries of this title. It does cheat a little—there really is no way that the Baron could give his clones MVP's memories, or at least no way that would not create a slew of plot problems, and it seems unlikely that the Baron and Yellowjacket are only hearing about the MVP Exercise Program at this late date—but so what? The story's brisk pacing, and its willingness to solve mysteries in a timely fashion rather than dragging them out, earn it buckets of good will.
Too bad the art is so sloppy. The pencil work is hasty and cartoonish, and looks all the worse surrounded by the fine work in the other stories in the Annual.
Dan Slott does it again. Incidentally, the other stories in the book are just as entertaining and resolve as many nagging mysteries. The book as a whole also gets 4 webs.
Elsewhere in the book, there are lots of fun revelations. We get to see Armory again for the first time since issue #1; she's been better, but she is coping with the loss of her alien weapon. I hope we get to see more of her. Also, we learn just how the Gauntlet got his gauntlet, and the unusual connection he and Armory share; just why Woodman is so hostile to the Initiative (he's a HYDRA mole); and Hardball's dark secret—he got his powers from the criminal Power Broker, and as a result HYDRA has leverage to blackmail the youth. Oh, and also, the Skrulls apparently have agents on every one of the Initiative's fifty superteams (even the Order, I wonder?) and an agent in Camp Hammond itself!
(If I was a betting man, I'd say it's Gyrich, but time will tell.)