by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Stefano Caselli and Steve Kurth
There’s a conundrum at the core of Avengers Initiative that the series rarely resolves. The basic premise is that young heroes are required by the government to train at a special facility in order to become licensed to use their powers. That mandate arose as a result of the alleged misuse of powers by young superheroes led to the destruction of Stamford, Connecticut. In other words, young heroes are being trained at this camp in order to keep both them and the public safe.
Here’s the problem: safe isn’t interesting. At least, not in stories. Especially, super-stories. So everything interesting that happens undermines the very premise of the series.
This problem isn’t unique to Avengers Initiative. It plagues every series that purports to train young heroes. That’s why young characters from New Mutants to Starfleet Academy routinely sneak out and get into trouble away from their respective schools. But this problem is intensified in Avengers Initiative. Every issue, we’re told that the purpose of the camp is to keep the students safe. And every issue, they’re routinely thrown into dangerous situations. Every issue, we’re told that the students need to know how to use their powers before they go out into public. And every issue, they either sneak out of the base or are forced into action, betraying the stated purpose of the book.
The first two stories vacillate between two common plots. In one set of stories, the students go into action before they’re ready. Sometimes, they feel stifled by the confinement of the camp and manage to sneak out on their own. Sometimes, they’re pressed into service by trainers who know they’re unprepared. This happened as early as the second issue when the students are sent up against Hydra.
In the other set of stories, the students are put in danger when the camp itself is attacked. This happens frequently. And it often happens because of internal threats. The same camp where students are trained is used as a prison and as a testing facility. Prisoners get loose. Experiments go wild. And the students are forced to defend themselves in the very place where they’re supposed to be safe. It may be dramatic. But it completely undermines the stated purpose of the series.
Some readers have given Avengers Initiative a pass regarding these problems. They see it as an allegory for problems in the real world. After all, attempts to keep us safe often backfire. Government agencies that vow to protect us often fail. And so on. I disagree. Allegorical elements are not an excuse for a broken premise. Individually, the stories may be exciting. But taken together, they create a series that is at odds with itself.
That isn’t to say that Avengers Initiative is entirely bad. The various elements come together for an excellent story with Secret Invasion. While the Initiative has been training heroes to serve on licensed super-teams in each of the 50 states, the alien Skrulls have been planting secret agents in each of those teams. Indeed, the entire 50-state Initiative may have been a Skrull plot to spread their agents around the country. With the third volume, the Skrull’s plans are revealed and the Invasion initiated.
However, the 50-state teams become the heart of the resistance. 3-D Man, a former camp trainer and now team leader, is able to identify Skrulls even when they’re disguised. He jumps from state to state exposing the infiltrators, pulling former students and other allies into his battalion. Along the way, there are some fun guest stars such as the Skrull Kill Krew and some interesting twists. For example, Initiative trainee Crusader is a Skrull defector and not a spy.
The Secret Invasion story rattles along at an exhilarating speed. It’s fun to jump from place to place and to see so many heroes. The near-constant action is a treat. In addition, I think the series is stronger when it focuses on the 50-state teams instead of the training facility. Any flaws in the premise float into the background.
Unfortunately, the training camp takes center stage again after Secret Invasion. Its attacked by yet another internal threat. It becomes home to villains in training as well as heroes. And the initial problems are exaggerated.