Charm School for Bad Guys? Christos Gage on The Initiative

Christos Gage on The Initiative

Avengers: The Initiative #25

The Initiative has fallen.

Long live The Initiative.

As readers of Avengers: The Initiative know, the group formed to train new heroes has been eaten away from within. As writer Christos Gage has shown in the five part “Avengers: The Initiative: Disassembled” storyline (illustrated by Humberto Ramos, with part five hitting June 24th in issue #25), deep-seated problems within the group and its management at Camp Hammond have come home to roost.

In the storyline, readers have seen the Thor clone from Civil War (now called Ragnarok) escape and trash Camp Hammond, the cloning processes at the camp revealed for all to see, and the Shadow Initiative abandoned in Madripoor after SHIELD was dissolved.

All that had to happen then, was for Norman Osborn to come in, point out how corrupt and dangerous the program was under its previous administration and simply take over. His choice for the new headmaster? Taskmaster.

This cannot be good.

The Initiative #5, page 1

With part five of the “Disassembled” storyline coming up, we spoke with Gage about the storyline so far, as well as what’s coming up with the “new” Initiative.

Newsarama: To start with, “The Initiative Disassembled” storyline dealt with the action on two fronts - the attack of Ragnarok at Camp Hammond and the Shadow Initiative team in Madripoor. The Ragnarok storyline was a straightforward one, and we'll hit the ramifications of that in a minute, but first, let's talk about the Shadow Initiative in Madripoor. What was the origin of that particular vein of the story? It's kind of like The Terminal, except Tom Hanks was replaced by a vampire, Taskmaster, and other homicidal lunatics...

Christos Gage: Ah, you've discovered my trick: if you replace Tom Hanks with Taskmaster in anything, you have gold. “Life is like a box of chocolates…and GRENADES!” Anyway, the genesis of that storyline goes back to when Dan Slott and I were co-writing the book. We knew S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to be dissolved, and we thought it would be fun to do a story about the agents who get left out in the cold when that happens. Plus, we'd been looking for a chance to spotlight the Shadow Initiative, as well as pay off the Hardball/Komodo storyline and see what happens at the inevitable moment Mutant Zero fully loses it and becomes Typhoid Mary again. And this was a great opportunity to do all of the above…plus throw in vampires, lunatics and Ant-Man!

The Initiative #5, page 2

NRAMA: In the bigger picture, clearly “Initiative Disassembled” is moving the team from point A to the new point B, given that the effects of Dark Reign would impact the team directly. Pulling back the curtain a little, was it put to you that the series needed to get from A to B, and it was your job to figure out how, or was the Shadow Initiative mission and Ragnarok already in the mix for this arc? Clearly, you needed to have Osborn cleanse the palate completely of the old Initiative, in a big, splashy, public way....

CG: This book has always been about reflecting what's going on in the larger Marvel Universe, and when something as drastic as Norman Osborn taking charge of national defense happens, it seems like a good time to shake things up. We've known for a while where things were headed-going back to when Dan and I were planning the Secret Invasion arc, if not before-so things were structured with that in mind. But I think it was planned for Ragnarok to eventually bust loose as far back as when Dan showed his shattered body in a tank back in, I think, issue #1. This just happened to be a great time to do it. As for the Shadow Initiative, as I mentioned, we'd wanted to throw a spotlight on them, and this turned out to be the perfect opportunity. That for me is part of the fun of this book: coming up with things you want to do and then doing them whenever it fits best with larger events in the Marvel U.

NRAMA: That said, the implosion of the Initiative happened largely without Osborn's interference. In your view, would what is going down in the pages of the Disassembled arc have happened without the outcome of Secret Invasion and Osborn taking over SHIELD? It seemed that the stresses were reaching a boiling point...

The Initiative #5, page 3

CG: It's true, the Initiative imploded largely through its own mistakes…and some help from the Skrulls. I think you're right in that the Initiative would have to have changed significantly even without Norman's involvement…but it might actually have changed for the better. With Norman swooping in to take advantage of Ragnarok's rampage and the New Warriors' revelation of MVP's death, he's basically used the events to reshape the Initiative in his image…and that's not good news for the country.

NRAMA: At the same time, you also pared down the Scarlet Spider population, and made it clear that the New Warriors were watching the program...larger picture for your team, why did that need to be done?

CG: I killed off one of the two remaining Scarlet Spiders because I thought it made the final one more unique and left him in a more interesting place. He's always defined himself as one of several…almost part of a hive-mind…and now he's got to learn how to be an individual. We'll be following his journey in upcoming issues. As for the New Warriors, I wanted there to be the nucleus of a resistance to Osborn's Initiative already in place, and Dan and I had set up the New Warriors in that role back in issue #12-they vowed to keep an eye on the Initiative and keep them honest. (They were called Counter Force at the time, but as soon as I got the OK to use the New Warriors name again I jumped on it.) Of course, the Warriors will be chagrined to realize that they inadvertently helped Norman remake things in his image…we'll see how they react to that in #25.

The Initiative #5, page 4

NRAMA: Over on the Shadow Initiative side, Mutant Zero/Typhoid Mary took off into Madripoor. Why, after using her so long as Mutant Zero, did you give her up?

CG: It was time. I suppose Typhoid Mary could have fit into the new, villain-centric Initiative in theory, but in practice she's always been kind of a lone wolf. Plus, we'd been keeping her away from the Daredevil folks for a long time (with their kind approval) and felt it was just good manners to return the toys we'd borrowed.

NRAMA: Let's talk future - at the end of #24, Norman is asking the Taskmaster to lead the program. Take us inside Norman's head - why does he want him in that spot? Tactically, it's a smart choice, but still - Taskmaster is off his nut. Does Norman just have a blind spot when it comes to wackos?

CG: Norman knows that Taskmaster has spent his life training criminals, and as we saw during the first meeting of the Cabal, he wants the Hood's gang of super-villains to register with the government and go straight…at least on paper. There's no one better than the Taskmaster to train them how to fight like heroes, since he's got about a zillion heroes' moves memorized and can duplicate them exactly. Which could also come in useful if Norman needs to go the Dark Avengers route and, for example, pass Batroc off to the public as Iron Fist. As for Taskmaster being nuts, well, Norman isn't exactly partial to well-adjusted folks. But if he ever finds out that Taskmaster secretly helped Deadpool break into Avengers Tower and attack him, there could be hell to pay…

The Initiative #25, page 14

NRAMA: Tell us a little about #25 - we've got Taskmaster, we've got the Hood...are they both in charge of The Initiative?

CG: The Hood is more in the Iron Man role, if you want to describe things in terms of the old Initiative, while Taskmaster is more of the Hank Pym. You won't see the Hood every issue, but when something big and important has to be decided, he's the go-to guy, while Taskmaster oversees the day-to-day business. In #25, we'll be seeing Norman's final decisions as to what will happen to a number of longtime Initiative characters, like Gauntlet. We'll see a character who has existing ties to several prominent figures in the book become part of our cast-someone I think will turn more than a few heads. We'll also witness the unveiling of the Initiative's new training camp…and new members. It's a huge paradigm shift…one that'll reverberate for a long time to come!

NRAMA: We know that the Tony Stark/SHIELD run Initiative was all about developing new Avengers teams. What will/would Norman's Initiative teams and program look like? How overt can he be? I mean - he doesn't want to draw too much attention and prove his costumed critics right and have it be an out and out villain training school...does he?

The Initiative #25, page 18

CG: Oh, I think you'll find out in issue #26 what it'll look like, but suffice it to say that Norman's Initiative is all about spreading Norman's love-which is to say his power-throughout all fifty states. As to how overt Norman can be…well, it's not a secret that he was the Green Goblin, but the public is willing to accept him because he saved them from the Skrull invaders. That redeemed him for his past mistakes in most peoples' eyes. Also fighting on the side of Earth in the Battle of Central Park were the Hood's entire gang of super-criminals, so why not cut them a break too? The Dirty Dozen were promised pardons for fighting for their country, so is it a big stretch to imagine the same for, say, the Living Laser, who is probably someone most citizens haven't even heard of? Also, the giant mess that Ragnarok made of Camp Hammond and the city of Stamford itself gives Norman a great excuse to say that the Initiative's next training camp has to be out of the public eye and away from population centers…for “safety reasons”.

The Initiative #26

NRAMA: Moving on from this arc, you've got Rafa Sandoval joining the series - and things seem to get worse...or better, if you're Norman. Big picture, what will the series be like from #26-on? The Taskmaster and Hood are in charge, but there is a resistance, isn't there?

CG: Definitely. There's an active resistance, whose membership will be revealed in issues #25 and 26, but I've already let slip that Tigra is a big part of it…she has a grudge against the Hood and his gang for beating, terrorizing and humiliating her, and there's an old Ricardo Montalban proverb that says revenge is a dish best served cold…with razor-sharp claws. There's also the question of those heroes who, either by choice or because they had few other options, have stayed in the Initiative. How long can they participate in Norman's agenda? What will they do when they're ordered to commit acts they find reprehensible? And what about the state teams…might some of them just decide to secede and go independent rather than take orders from the Green Goblin? These are all questions we'll be exploring…as well as the difficulties inherent in passing villains, who are at their core self-interested, off as heroes, who are expected to put the welfare of others before themselves. But suffice it to say that Norman won't go unopposed. And let me just say how thrilled I am to have Rafa Sandoval (and his ace inker, Roger Bonet) joining the book…the pages for #26 look amazing!

NRAMA: And there's an assault on 42 coming up? Care to tease that?

CG: Well, as we saw in Guardians of the Galaxy #8-#10, Blastaar and his band of alien pirates took over 42, the Initiative's prison in the Negative Zone, and most of the inmates threw in with them. Now the Initiative wants it back. But wait, Hardball got thrown into 42, didn't he? I wonder who's side he'll be on…?

NRAMA: And finally...Butterball’s returning? The fan reaction to him was pretty good, but are you okay with part of your Marvel legacy being a tubby guy named Butterball?

CG: If it can't be Devil Dinosaur, I can live with Butterball!

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