Avengers: The Initiative #26

Written by Christos N. Gage

Art by Rafa Sandoval and Roger Bonet

Colors by Edgar Delgado

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Released on July 22, 2009

Review by David Pepose

For me, I got back into reading Avengers: The Initiative with a bit of trepidation.

I was a big fan of the series when it first came out, as I thrilled to the artwork of Stefano Caselli, as well as the anything-can-happen writing of Dan Slott and his eventual partner-in-crime, Christos Gage. But as the Secret Invasion rolled through -- and Slott and Caselli rolled out to other titles -- I left the book by the wayside. I had heard that the characters I liked might be shuffled off the scenes, and I panicked. I gave up.

So how does Avengers: The Initiative #26 stack up, months later? Despite being seemingly in the middle of a storyline, Christos Gage does a pretty good job in balancing character with exposition, as his artistic partners still preserve the bright, slightly cartoony visual tone -- if not the complete style of Caselli -- that made the series' earliest issues a treat to read.

Gage's hook to the issue is a nice paradigm shift, as an armed police squad stomps into a metahuman brawl in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Okay... let's get out there and help the good guys," one cop says. As flashbangs are thrown and the combatants disperse, this is where we see just how topsy-turvy the Marvel Universe has gotten, as our heroes look to the police in stunned disbelief: "These New Warrior dirtbags aren't going anywhere."

Yet we see that Gage's strength in the next location, as we learn that this is a guy who knows when to get in and get out of a scene. While the beginning of Norman Osborn's expansion of the Inititative is a little slow, Gage gives the scene a shot in the arm as Front Line reporter Sally Floyd hits Norman with her best shot -- telling the public that many of his new Initiative recruits are criminals. "You mean like Hawkeye? Or the Black Widow? Perhaps Quicksilver, the Vision, Wonder Man... shall I run down the entire Avengers roster?" Norman asks. It's a smart tactic by Gage, who really uses continuity to his advantage throughout this issue, giving just enough exposition that you can follow the story without getting pulled out of it.

Of course, I would be remiss not to talk about the art team of penciler Rafa Sandoval, inker Roger Bonet, and colorist Edgar Delgado. As you can tell by the beginning of my review, I was certainly biased going in, as I felt that Stefano Casselli really was the perfect artist for this book. That said, Sandoval and company do a really good job at lending some visual continuity to those early issues -- Sandoval in particular is great with group composition, as all the shots look somewhat cartoony but always dynamic. A scene where Tigra finally begins exacting her revenge on the supervillains that assaulted her before the Secret Invasion looked particularly striking.

Sandoval particularly knocks a scene out of the park with Gage, where the Constrictor sullenly tells a press conference that because of his bionic arms, he "can't pet my dog, or a hold a woman's hand." Even though Cage smartly subverts the entire sequence, it's some nice moody art that unexpectedly makes you feel sorry for this ex-con, who said only a few years ago that losing his arms was a small price for respectability. Now, there are some problems I had with Sandoval and Bonet's work -- namely, certain faces such as Norman Osborn's seemed exceedingly wrinkled, making characters like the Hood suddenly look like Emperor Palpatine in certain panels. It wasn't an endemic problem, but sometimes less is more.

But what I really dug about the art was the colors. The Initiative, despite its intrigue and deception, is a series about new possibilities, of pulling new characters and new vitality from the ether -- so you can't hope but have a brighter, more hopeful pallette. Colorist Edgar Delgado really makes the art shine, whether it's in the Initiative's War Room to the New Warriors' underground lair. In many ways, it's Delgado that really keeps the link going, and it really helps.

If Christos Gage has had any victories with Avengers: The Initiative #26, it's that he not only makes a story in progress at least marginally smooth for new readers, but that he manages to tightly pack so many subplots in 22 pages, without making any of them feel short-shrifted. With subplots running from the New Warriors to Norman Osborn to the Hood to Penance's amnesia to Tigra's revenge, the Initiative has more story in one issue than other titles might have in a trade. Really, the only disadvantage this book has is with the derth of Dark Reign titles -- including Dark, New, and Mighty Avengers -- it sometimes seems like this book is sequestered, feeling a little lightweight in the greater scheme of the Marvel Universe.

And that is both it's blessing and it's curse: while B-list characters have never had it so good as they do in the Initiative, if Gage and company can really give readers a visceral hook, something that digs into the greater Marvel universe, this could definitely be a must-read book.

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