One of my favorite series in recent memory has got to be Avengers: The Initiative, which concerned the new generation of heroes being trained at Camp Hammond and assigned to a state superhero team upon graduation. This sprang directly out of the events of Marvel Civil War, which I admit to never reading and not especially wanting to read. Still, I'm enamored of the Initiative's own series and the concept. First, however, I'd like to give special attention to the only Initiative team to get its own series and be made up entirely of new characters - my home state of sunny California's own Order. Originally they were going to be called the Champions, after a short-lived California-based team from the early 80s, but Marvel no longer held the trademark on that name.
Why do The Order first? Because I don't think it has a strong enough connection to the Initiative series to interfere with my tackling that one later. I sort of just want to get this one out of the way, and despite how that sounds I really love this series.
Update (May 26th, 2011): This is sort of old news by now but I haven't had a lot of free time lately. Anyway, fans of the Order and the Initiative have a lot to be happy about — because they're back in Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt. I don't want to talk details because it has a lot to do with the Initiative's own series, which I plan on doing after I'm through with the Order, but I'm thrilled to see the Initiative's original heroes haven't been forgotten. Here's hoping they don't drop off the radar again after this series is over with. The Order may only put in a cameo appearance as part of the new Initiative, but at least it's an appearance, right?
So let's dive in to issue #1! this cover rules. It introduces us to the six main members of the squad, who I'll refrain from introducing properly for fear of spoilers. Sorry. There's a guy in a mammoth suit that blurs the line between Powered Armor and Humongous Mecha, a stern-faced woman with dark hair, a pale young woman with a giant hammer, a man playing The Cape archetype, a skinny, levitating blonde, and a speedster in a full-body suit.
The first page asks the reader a question. "If you had a year to save the world, would you do it?" This, it says, is the story of the men and women who answered yes. Selected from an elite corps of volunteers, all of whom being in some form one of The Real Heroes, they were trained rigorously in the powers given to them by Stark technology. Modeled after the Greek pantheon and backed by the best PR and marketing push money can buy, they are... The Order.
If that didn't get the idea across, allow me to mention that a recurring theme in the Initiative is the extensive use of Captain Ethnic relative to the state they inhabit. Texas has the Rangers, consisting of Shooting Star, Texas Twister, and the Phantom Rider (cowboys), Red Wolf (Native American legacy hero), Armadillo (Latino armadillo man), and Firebird (Latina with heat powers). Sou you'll notice hooks like PR, marketing, and ordinary people becoming something much more. Every day in L.A., son.
As our story properly begins, we're introduced to a device that's going to stay with us for most of the series; an interview with a team member. This is how every member is fully explored as the series goes on. It's better than it sounds. The focus of this issue is Henry Hellrung, a washed-up actor famous for playing Iron Man on TV. "Hi, I'm Henry Hellrung — TV's Tony Stark — the billionaire industrialist with a heart of iron! Sorry. There but for the grace of God goes my infomercial." He says his favorite part of playing Iron Man was the kids. How did he get to play Iron Man for so long? He was a good pal of the man himself — the real Tony Stark. The two of them were always going out, drinking, sleeping around. It was a blast.
Did I say drinking? Because, like the real Stark, Henry developed a bit of a drinking problem himself. "Hollywood is nothing if not a monument to its own history. Much like my career." After being "asked not to renew [his] contract", that was pretty much it for him. He's been getting lots of offers, because Hollywood loves a comeback. At this point I'm seeing an undeniable parallel to Robert Downey, Jr., which makes this Hilarious in Hindsight since this came out a year before Iron Man. Anyway, he came out of rehab with some ideas. That addiction was a disease, not a crime, and until someone removed the shame from recovery, a lot of people would stay sick. He soon became the face of the recovery movement - Rolling Stone said he made it "rad".
So here he is now. "A one-time actor according to Wikipedia, a full-time drunk according to public record, and the guy that made AA cool in West Hollywood on Friday nights about a hundred years ago. Are you sure you want me to lead your little superhero team?"
Gilligan Cut to Henry wearing the suit from the cover and flying in the sky, coordinating the rest of the Order from above. On the next page we're introduced to another device that will stay with us: the use of three quotes that tie together the theme of the issue and its central character - and usually having a lot to do with L.A. In this case, the first two quotes pertain to the frequency of fires in the L.A. area (to which I can attest; we had to evacuate once. There's several every year) as we see a massive inferno engulfing a suburban area. According to Pepper Potts, the Order's Mission Control, they can actually see it from space. 2000 degrees kelvin. As we draw closer, it becomes clear that there's a human being at the center of it all. The final quote: "Burn, baby, burn!" - Watts riot chant, 1965. There's a little dark humor here where Pepper is concerned by the fact that there's no intel on this guy, so they need to think of a name for him. Because that's a more pressing matter than the fire you can see from space.
The team touches down Henry, alias Anthem, suggests "Inferno Man", but speedster Calamity thinks "Infernal Man" sounds cooler. I'm inclined to agree. Anthem relays this to Pepper, but she heard Calamity; she's in all their heads. We get little profiles on every member on this page. Anthem, the leader and field coordinator, is the Apollo figure, having "all the powers of a supercell thunderstorm." He gives the word to fire opening salvos. Heavy, a guy in a light suit of armor, is team trainer and tactician. He represents Poseidon, and measures his strength on a seismic scale. He orders Bannermen Green and Brown, a pair of experimental artificial super-soldiers, to find an opening. Calamity, James Wa, "the fast one", is Hermes. He tries to flank the Infernal Man, but gets too close; the heat melted his commlink to Pepper. He heads back to base for an equipment change, and suggest they pull back the Bannermen.
Too late; Bannermen Green and Brown melt to nothing. Pierce, The Archer and Olympic gold medalist at Sydney (representative of Artemis) panics, her arrows melting before they can reach the Infernal Man... meaning he's melting titanium. Athena figure Avona listens to her talking sword Bluetooth, who says it's only getting hotter and they need to be careful. Maul, a large man with a larger hammer based on Hephaestus, complains that they can't do anything if they can't get near him. Finally, Corona, who wields solar powers and represents Helios, has an idea.
Back at base, Calamity switches masks as we meet Pepper for reals - acting as Hera. As he rushes back to the scene, Calamity finds Corona leaping at the Infernal Man, shouting "I regret nothing!" He grabs onto the Infernal Man tightly, trying to absorb all the energy he's putting out. It works... kind of. Official mission log: "Corona goes nova. The Infernal Man goes catatonic." and, as we see a flame geyser rise out of the earth and into the ionosphere, "and a couple hundred of Stark's favorite satellites have heart attacks."
Back at ground zero, Avona goes for the Infernal Man's limp body, vowing to cut his head off for the crap he put them through. Heavy and Anthem both order her to back down, and even Bluetooth tries to calm her by reminding her of the "panic breathing" they worked out. Anthem asks Calamity to intervene for safety's sake. Calamity dutifully takes Bluetooth from Avona and hands it to Heavy before she knows what happened. Anthem continues to talk Avona down. Back at the interview, Henry says he hopes for the best and prepares for the worst as a rule.. "but I'm always surprised at how bad it can get."
A strange craft lands. A mysterious Mi B and a crew of soldiers pour out of it and collect the Infernal Man - or "Project 717." As Anthem argues with their mystery man, the rest of the team huddles around Corona's limp body, fearing their teammate dead. The MIB blows Anthem off the more he rails against him. He threatens to call Tony Stark, and the guy dares him to - his company isn't afraid of Stark or SHIELD. "Now: I'm not really here. This isn't really happening. And don't forget to smile for the cameras."
Later, at a press conference, Tony Stark, in his Iron Man suit, gives the official version - that they turned the Infernal Man over to military authorities. He then fields some questions from the press, most of them critical. One in particular notes that in their very first mission they lost both of their android stand-ins and one team member damaged his equipment. What qualifies Henry Hellrung to lead this team? Anthem is dumbfounded at this question, and has a flashback to an AA meeting where he celebrated his fifth year sober... and introduced a friend of his, a disheveled, anxious Tony Stark, to the program. In the present, Stark vouches for Henry wholeheartedly, saying he's a true hero and that soon the world will see him as such.
At the site of the incident, Calamity, Heavy, Maul, Pierce, and Avona help clean up - and Corona seems to have regained consciousness, though his gear's pretty messed up. Maul and Avona are acting very immature. They invite Pierce and Corona to join them in celebrating later. Calamity doesn't feel like it; after all, they signed morality clauses in their contracts. He's also got another reason to stay away from alcohol that we'll see later. Maul doesn't care. They just saved Los Angeles! "Henry Hellrung can't even remember our names! What's he gonna do, fire us in the morning?"
Cut to the next morning, at Orders HQ, where Henry hears on TV about the raucous partying of the Order and the scandal it created. Pepper sleepily emerges from her room to tell him about it, but he says he's already taking care of it and tells her to call Tony. Later, the three of them meet to discuss the future of the Order. Henry's reluctant to kick anyone out. It'll look bad, it'll look like he dropped them for not being a teetotaler like he is. Pepper points out that they're in violation of their contracts; they have to fire them. Besides, as Stark notes, there's lots of viable candidates waiting in the wings who've been training just as hard. This is why the Civil War happened. Accountability for superheroes, and responsibility to the people they're sworn to protect. Pepper says the second string is to be processed immediately - and she wants them on the starting lineup before the news breaks that they're letting the troublemakers go.
Morality clauses, second-stringers, starting lineup... Is this the USC football team, or something? Anyway, cut to Anthem and Pepper telling off Avona, Pierce, Corona, and Maul. "Power and responsibility. You blew it." In their place, meet the new team. Mulholland Black, a young woman with styled white-pink hair. Milo Fields, a large man in a wheelchair. Rebecca Ryan, a thin blonde with large breasts. And Magdalena Marie, a woman with dark hair and a stern face. Anthem gives them the score. "You get down to the Center and get yourselves evolved. You're the starting line of the Order. Be at the training site at eleven or you're all fired, too."
Mulholland is about to say something when Anthem clarifies that he was joking. "But don't be late." Pepper tells him that went well, but he's worried. Him, Heavy, and Calamity are basically the only active superpowers in California right now. That doesn't feel right.
The new teammates are taken to the training site via limousine. Rebecca wonders what the fired teammates are thinking right now. Mulholland says they're thinking about what massive screw-ups they are. When they arrive, they put on these form-fitting catsuits and head on out. As Rebecca wheels Milo along, she asks everyone what they're most looking forward to. Magdalena says flying. They said everyone gets to fly, that even "the lithe little runner boy" can fly if he wants to. Becca reiterates the question to Milo, confused as to whether or not to call him Mr. Fields or Sgt. Fields. He says "Milo" is fine... and he's mostly looking forward to walking. Becca is mortified, but Milo says it's alright. They see Heavy waiting for them at the end of the hallway.
Heavy runs them through the process of how it works, and tells them their powers and contracts are only good for a year; the machines they use to give them their abilities aren't designed to work for much longer. If they've got the stuff, their contracts will get renewed. Anyway, after they're through with this, Anthem's got a coming out party scheduled for them, attended by most of the LA media.
At the event, he describes the team's abilities. Magdalena Marie is Veda, and can summon humanoid soldiers out of nearby material to do her bidding. "Calamity" James Wa and Heavy (Dennis Murray), as previously stated, are "speed and brawn, if you're looking for bullet points." Sgt. Milo Fields, known for his distinguished military service and the Liberty Memorial protest, is the armored heavy artillery unit, Supernaut. Mulholland Black, wielding Maul's hammer (and opting to keep her name) has a psycho-kinetic connection to the city of L.A. itself. Before he gets a chance to introduce Rebecca, he gets a bulletin from Pepper about a disturbance off the Catalina coast. Anthem consults Supernaut, who confirms that there's six rapidly approaching objects, maybe missiles. The Order sets out to stop those missiles, but Pepper has some, er, "good" news. "They're human... ish." A small man with a large head leads them on a jetpack, screaming in Russian. Joining him are at least three people in suits of Powered Armor, a bear wearing some sort of tech harness, and a giant man with a mustache. I'm seeing the original Crimson Dynamo and the Gremlin, but the others are a mystery to me. The point is, they're dangerous — and they're headed this way.
Anthem rallies his team, saying "Heads up, heroes - time to get heroic." Way back at that interview, Henry is asked if he's afraid of dying. He says he isn't, at least no more than anyone else. "Should I be?"
Next time: Ca-li-for-nia Girls!