Avengers: The Initiative #31

Story by
Art by
Rafa Sandoval, Roger Bonet
Colors by
Edgar Delgado
Letters by
Joe Caramagna
Cover by
Marvel Comics

"The cover band of super villains," as the Hood dubs Taskmaster (not to his face -- such as it is -- of course), is drawn into Norman Osborn's cabal in this issue. Of course, if you've been reading anything about "Siege" you already know this. In this issue though, Gage provides us with a rare peek into the thoughts of Taskmaster. Gage doesn't lose sight of the characters that readers have come to expect to follow in the pages of "Avengers: The Initiative" -- the Avengers Resistance are here, as are Penance, Constrictor, and Diamondback.

Everything you need to know about the Taskmaster -- at least as far as his involvement with Osborn (who has reverted to playing with gear from his Goblin days) and his role with the Cabal -- are right here, in the pages wonderfully penciled by Rafa Sandoval. Sandoval does a great job in this issue finding ways to have Taskmaster express himself around the skull mask that the villain hides behind. While Taskmaster has always been a visually striking character, love it or hate it, in this issue the creative team makes him a character we can actually care about.

The ancillary bits of this issue which truly are not ancillary, but in retrospect feel so, continue to focus on Tigra's quest for vengeance, Justice's rocky relationship with Ultragirl, and Constrictor's personal conundrums. This title, with these various storylines, has become less a tale about Camp H.A.M.M.E.R. and more like an anthology book with divergent storylines set up to intersect. That doesn't necessarily make it a bad book, since there is no shortage of stories to be told. Gage weighs those stories out well, finding a nice balance between both camps: H.A.M.M.E.R. and the Resistance. This is a fun book with dozens of lesser-known, but still beloved, Marvel characters.

The big reveal on the last page -- which as this point isn't much of a secret if you've seen any advance solicits for January or February comics (or even the March ones) -- is nicely played out, with the revelations hitting more than one character at a time. The two characters that reach the dramatic conclusion are from different sides though, so using the comic book device of having one character half a world away finish another's thoughts or sentences is played out marvelously here. Gage has a handle on the characters, if only the book itself had a stronger sense of purpose.

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