In the Army Now: Slott Talks "Avengers: The Initiative"

Tue, April 3rd, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

"Avengers: The Initiative" #1
So you're a superhero in the Marvel Universe and you want to truly uphold the law? Guess what, you're joining the army! This Wednesday, readers will get to know some of the members of Marvel's Superhuman Armed Forces when issue #1 of "Avengers: The Initiative" hits stores. CBR News spoke with writer Dan Slott about this all-new Avengers title.

When Slott originally pitched "The Initiative" he had no idea how big the project would become. "Tom Brevoort liked a lot of the ideas I had riffing off of Millar's 50 State Initiative concept.  And he said, 'Why don't you pitch that at the next editorial retreat?'" Slott told CBR News. "We threw it out there and people just went crazy about it. Bendis was a really big booster for it. Joe Quesada really liked it. Guys like Ed Brubaker and Mike Carey were chiming in as well and they just really seemed to dig it. Before I realized it everybody was saying, 'Let's make this an ongoing.' Tom Brevoort and I were the only ones saying, 'Whoa! Let's try six issues first and see what people think.' The only person who was agreeing with us was Dan Buckley. It was weird to be fighting for a book to be a mini instead of an ongoing.

"But once we started getting all the designs and art work in from Stefano Caselli, it was all so gorgeous! And suddenly I was like, 'There's all these stories I want to tell with these characters, this set up, and status quo! I'm an idiot! Why did I say six issues?! Why?!' Then the orders came in for the first issue and it was like, 'My god this thing is huge.' Marvel wanted to make it an ongoing, and I wasn't going to complain!"

"Avengers: The Initiative" #1, page 1
Readers who have seen the covers for issue #1 of "The Initiative" might think it's a book with a huge cast and they'd be sort of right. "You look at those gorgeous Jim Cheung covers and you go, 'Wow! This book has everybody,'" Slott said. "But the core characters of the book really are the Initiative staff which is War Machine; who is running the Initiative, Yellow Jacket, Justice, and a new character called The Gauntlet; who's our Drill Sergeant character, and Henry Peter Gyrich."

The Gauntlet may seem familiar to readers of "She-Hulk," Slott's other ongoing series at Marvel. "If you're aware of the 'She-Hulk' character, Southpaw, you should know what Gauntlet can do," Slott explained. "She's got a left gauntlet and Hey! He's got a right one. There's also a bit of foreshadowing in 'She-Hulk' Volume 2 #3 (which was the one with the big 100 on the cover). We saw in a possible future that Southpaw becomes a hero and she had a sidekick who has that same right gauntlet. And she also mentions how she was taught to be a hero by someone called The Gauntlet.

"Also there's a really nice shot in the Eric Powell segment of that issue, where you catch a glimpse of The Gauntlet in another uniform at some really huge mega event called The Reckoning War!" Slott continued. "And Hey! Iron Man's there too! Hmmm… Just sayin'."

"Avengers: The Initiative" #1, page 2
The Gauntlet is just one of the many new characters in this book. When pushed to talk about some of the others, Slott said, "I don't want to spoil all of them, but some of the new characters I'm jazzed about include Cloud Nine, a girl that can kind of control this extraterrestrial gas that allows her to fly," Slott stated. "There's Komodo, a student of Curt Connors, who stole some of his Lizard formula and thinks she's perfected it. There's also a guy called Trauma that I really like."

Readers can also expect to see the regular cast of "The Initiative," both old characters and new, interacting with plenty of guest stars "As you can see from the covers, if you're a registered hero, you're part of the Initiative. So, all kinds of characters are going to stop by," Slott explained. "Whether it's somebody getting training or someone acting as an instructor. The whole Marvel Universe IS our supporting cast. So if you love your A, B, C, and even D-Listers, they're all mixed in there, showing up for guest shots, cameos, fly bys and crowd scenes."

The place where you're likely to see many of the heroes in "The Initiative" is the organization's headquarters, Camp Hammond. "It's named after Jim Hammond [The original Human Torch], the first of the Marvels, who also served in the military," Slott said. "Camp Hammond is built on Stamford and putting the base there is the heroes' way of saying to the survivors of Stamford, 'From now on all your heroes will be trained and held accountable. And what happened here will NEVER happen again!' Camp Hammond is such an important hub now in the Marvel Universe that everyone is going to be going through there. There's going to be such a proliferation of heroes that Stamford is going to be the safest spot in the world."

"Avengers: The Initiative" #1, page 3
The training heroes receive at Camp Hammond will be in more than just the proper use of their powers. "This isn't some glorified Danger Room," Slott stated. "This isn't about learning to use your powers. This is about learning everything you need to be a first responder in the Marvel Universe. I'm sorry but you don't get to take on a tense hostage situation unless you've had hostage training. If there's been an accident you don't get to move someone from a vehicle unless you know some Paramedic training. All of this is going to happen at Camp Hammond."

Training is a big part of the Initiative but it's not the organization's sole purpose. "Whenever something hits the fan, it also kind of acts like a National Guard," Slott explained. "Camp Hammond is where you can deploy your superhuman troops. This is really treating the registered heroes as the superhuman armed forces. That's pretty much Gyrich's position on the base. He's the new Secretary of Superhuman Armed Forces."

As a division of the U.S. Armed Forces the Initiative are under the ultimate authority of the President of the United States but they also take orders from another Marvel hero who recently assumed leadership of an international organization. "They also answer to Tony Stark," Slott said. "You'll see how it all works. They have connections and ties to S.H.I.E.L.D., and even though S.H.I.E.L.D. is an international organization, the 50 States Initiative is an American Military organization."

"Avengers: The Initiative" #2, page 2
The Initiative is tasked with defending American interests but currently only at home. Certain Marvel characters like the Black Panther are concerned though that organization may extend its operations to include the rest of the world. "Wow! That would be really scary if they were involved in missions abroad seeing as how America would have a superhuman army and other countries wouldn't," Slott said. "That could lead to a lot of paranoia. Wow! That could have terrible ramifications! Hmmm… I wonder what Captain Britain was doing on the cover to issue #1? We'll just have to see."

Readers will soon become aware of something else that may cause some concern among the International community should they ever discover it, the Initiative's Black Ops Squad. "The Initiative Black Ops squad is so freaking cool," Slott stated. "You'll see the first inklings of whose going to make up the team in #3. And they'll probably make their big debut in #5. Fans are going to freak out about when more stuff falls into place. Once things come to a head in the first major storyline and it's time to move onto the next arc, I'm dying to do more Black Ops stuff because the team is just so cool."

Whether it's a mission that's launched with full public knowledge or a secret off- the-books mission, the heroes of Initiative will be tackling a variety of threats. In issue #2 the group tangles with the forces of Hydra. "In America we're engaged in a War on Terror and you're going to find out that Hydra has been taking advantage of that," Slott explained. "They've been funding, seeding, and absorbing many terrorist groups around the world. Battling them is a perfect use of the Initiative."

"Avengers: The Initiative" #2, page 6
This summer, The Initiative will face its biggest threat yet when the Atomic Emerald Fury that is the Hulk returns from space. "Issue #1 introduces us to the world of the Initiative and Camp Hammond," Slott said. "Issue #2 is one of your first away missions. Issue #3 is a manhunt. But when you hit issues 4 and 5… it's war! Or rather 'World War Hulk!'"

The Hulk isn't the only Marvel Hero the Initiative will set their sites on. Issue #3 sends the team after a character whose actions may be heroic but he's still a law-breaker. "Issue #3 is a Spider-Man 'Back in Black' tie in, where Spidey is not in the Iron Man frame of mind anymore," Slott stated. "He's acting like a lawless vigilante and that means the Initiative is going to try and take him down.

People who've seen the cover of issue #3 have assumed that the Initiative will be employing captured villains in their pursuit of unregistered heroes like Spider-Man. "You look at the cover to issue #3 and you say, 'Hey there's Shocker! And Hydro-Man! And Boomerang! And they all seem to be ganging up on Spider-Man.' But let's see the story in context. I'm not saying a thing about that. But I will say that there's something happening in issue #3 that will freak a lot of people out. They'll go, 'Whoa!'"

Whether or not the Initiative will employ supervillains in the pursuit of unregistered heroes is a question that remains to be answered but Slott confirmed that the organization will have at least one former villain in its ranks. "Baron Von Blitzschlag is kind of a supporting character," Slott said. "He's a Nazi supervillain that you've never seen. He's someone who had off panel run-ins with guys like The Whizzer, Miss America, and Thin Man. But no one really remembers him. The way he works in this book is that he's one of the guys in Hank Pym's lab in the Initiative. You read stuff like 'Civil War' and you see that they're making heroes like the new Champions. And that's one of the places he comes in. The Baron is a Nazi geneticist who is helping out the Initiative in the same way Werner von Braun was helping out the NASA space program. As much as we hate the Nazis and they were awful human beings, we used guys who worked on the V-2 rockets to help us put men on the moon and the Russians were using them too. There's something like that going on in the Initiative but I can't say any more about it."

"Avengers: The Initiative" #2, page 15
With the heroes of the Initiative hunting down unregistered heroes and ex-Nazi supervillains toiling away in the organization's labs, readers might have guessed that "The Initiative" is a book that will feature shades of grey stories. "The point of 'Civil War' was that there are grey areas," Slott said. "I know a lot of fans felt very anti-reg and for me there's a very good reason for that. When we read these stories we know the hero's secret identity it's kind of like a pact between us and the character. WE know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man but no one else should. So when someone says to the hero, 'Hey, you've got to give up your secret identity.' We're like, 'No! If they do that, the bad guys can find them and hurt their loved ones!'

"But if you really look at it from the other side, from a real world perspective, imagine a tense situation where trained police, sharpshooters, and psychologists are lined up in front of a building trying to talk down some hostage takers down… when suddenly someone shows up in a draped in a white sheet and mask and says, 'No. No. No. I'll take care of this! I have the Spirit of an Egyptian God inside me,'" Slott continued. "You would SO knock that guy out! If you were trapped under a car, and you could hear fire trucks coming, and all of a sudden someone wearing a Nixon mask came up to you and said, 'I'll pull you out!' You would say, 'Get the hell away from me! I'm going to wait for the pros!'

"I can see how both people have their sides," Slott said. "Neither side is right or wrong. We could argue this all day and to me that creates interesting stories. So, one of my goals with 'The Initiative' is to keep that going. That was a lot of the fun about 'Civil War.' People wrote me a lot of nice e-mails and private messages about how She-Hulk was pro-reg and it made sense. I hope people can see that I can play both sides of the fence. So we're going to explore this and that means a book like 'The Initiative' is going to be grey. I want the characters to be heroic. I want them to be noble and do the right thing. I don't think you can put out a book about treating heroes as a military unit in this day and age and not make the men who are fighting heroic. But as to why they're in certain situations and how they got there? What policies placed them there? That we can debate and pick apart. And that just gives you one interesting story after another."

One thing that isn't open to debate for Slott is how much he loves the work of his collaborators on "Avengers: The Initiative," artist Stefano Caselli and colorist Daniele Rudoni. "I first saw Stefano's work on the 'Young Avengers/Runaways' cross-over for 'Civil War' and I thought it looked really sweet. And as good as I thought those issues were, the stuff he's doing in 'Avengers: The Initiative' is even more amazing.

"Daniele is doing the coloring and they work together as a team," Slott continued. "You get a lot of amazing effects and things that we're planned for while Stefano was drawing. I remember seeing a page with Texas Twister, of the Rangers in it, and I e-mailed Stefano and said, 'You do know he's got a cyclone right? He's just floating in mid air.' I got a reply saying, 'That's a color effect. Don't worry. We've got it.' Sure enough the color pages come in and they had done this swirl effect in color. It was amazing. So you get these pages and you see them in color-- and as good as you thought the pencils and inks were-- they take on a life of their own. They become this amazing and detailed 3-D world that you've just gotta see!"

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