In just six issues, "Avengers: The Initiative" writer Dan Slott and artist Stefano Caselli have shown Marvel Comics fans how interesting a place Camp Hammond is. Home to the U.S. government's superpowered fighting unit, The Initiative, Hammond is quite naturally the scene of multiple intrigues and a good deal of violence. With issue #7 shipping next week and the first "Avengers: The Initiative Annual" arriving November 28, CBR News spoke with Slott about what's next for Camp Hammond and The Initiative.
The first issues of "The Initiative" have featured an ex-Nazi supervillain's secret experiments, the cover up of a trainee's death, a clandestine black-ops unit and the attempted murder of Camp Hammond's drill instructor; leading some to suspect like there's sinister things afoot within The Initiative itself. "I would say there's about as much sinister stuff going on in The Initiative as there would be in any government agency," Dan Slott told CBR News. "I've heard some fun comments like, 'Why are they doing that in The Initiative? Don't they see what would go on if they did that? And I'm like, 'What news are you watching?' [Laughs] We have guys like [former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez telling us, 'No! No! That is Constitutional.' And of course all the things [former U.S. Secretary of Defense] Don Rumsfeld used to tell us."
The Initiative has its own controversial and polarizing political figure in the form of Secretary of the Superhuman Armed Forces Henry Peter Gyrich. "He's my ersatz Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld all wrapped into one," explained Slott. "I love writing him. People ask if I'm liberal or conservative but when you're writing a comic you're all the characters and it's really fun to just jump into Gyrich's skin and start doing his dialogue."
Manipulative men like Gyrich are just a small part of the Initiative staff. The bulk of the organization is made up of dedicated fighting men like drill instructor The Gauntlet who, because of his position, might not be the most endearing character to fans. "Everything we saw of Gauntlet right up until issue #6 was him doing exactly what a drill instructor is supposed to do," Slott remarked. "He'd yell, 'What are you guys? Pantywaists?! Come on!' If they can't stand anything that would come out of the Gauntlet's mouth what are they going to do when the face down Dr. Doom or the Red Skull? The Gauntlet toughens them up."
In issue #6 of "The Initiative," The Gauntlet's training pushed one cadet too far and resulted in a vicious assault that almost killed the drill instructor. The crime remains unsolved but a flashback revealed the Gauntlet's assailant to be Steve Harmon AKA the former New Warrior known as Slapstick, a revelation controversial to some fans. Explained Slott, "I've been seeing a lot of people saying things on the Net like 'Slapstick would never do that!' or 'How dare you suck all the fun out of Marvel Comics. You've made Slapstick into another Penance.'
"I'm like, 'Have you read the 'Slapstick' miniseries?' In issue #1, the whole reason Steve Harmon is in trouble at the beginning is because he sent a dead body to the faculty dinner at his school. In issue #2 he's growing fangs and scaring the living heck out of small children by chasing them and saying he's out to suck their blood. A few pages later he's swallowing live ammunition, not rubber bullets, live .45 caliber rounds and using his cartoon powers to spit them at the villain of the story. He didn't kill him but he is shooting at him in a crowded mall with women and children everywhere!
"Also for people who don't know Slapstick, there was an issue where he thought he could get the girl of his dreams as Slapstick," Slott continued. "He goes and he saves her and she's totally enamored with him and it's the first time as Slapstick that he looks down his pants. He then realizes, as Slapstick, he's a cartoon and he doesn't have any junk! So you're Slapstick. You don't have junk and you've been trapped on a military base surrounded by hot superhero chicks. I mean come on! This is a nut that's ready to crack. Everyone has these rosy images of Slapstick but go back and read the original miniseries."
While Slott promises to develop Slapstick's story more in upcoming issues, "The Initiative" has such a huge cast that the writer has to shift the spotlight onto another group of mysterious characters. Issue #7 will focus on the enigmatic trio known as The Scarlet Spiders, and Slott confirmed for CBR News that one of them will be unmasked.
"Issue #7 is also a great jumping on point if you're a Spider-Man fan," Slott added. "It's a done-in-one story with big ramifications and there's a big pre-'One More Day' appearance by Peter Parker. He'll be in action doing a variety of things. This is Peter Parker in action, spider powers and all. So you're going to want this. I'm not saying the internet is going to explode [Laughs] but people are going to talk about this when 'One More Day' is over. I think it's fair to say that after 'One More Day' you're going to want to have your copy of 'Avengers: The Initiative' #7. You're going to want to scrutinize it and when you're having an argument you can go, 'A-ha! In this issue, this happened!"
"The Initiative" #7 is also significant because it marks the return of a group of villains not seen in the Marvel U for almost 20 years, a group Slott thinks will make interesting foils for the red and gold Scarlet Spiders: the similarly hued Vulturions. "We're using the Vulturions because I want to use them. They're fun," Slott said. "One of the guys will be one of the classic Vulturions but he's gotten a new posse."
Later this month, after "Initiative" #7, another perfect jumping-on point for new readers hits stores, "Avengers: The Initiative" Annual #1. "In the annual we're going to tell four origin stories of four Initiative characters," Slott explained. One story will be a flashback as to how The Gauntlet got his Gauntlet. That story is being drawn by Salvador Larroca."
Another character whose origin is revealed in the Annual is the mysterious and formerly dead Michael Van Patrick AKA MVP. "His origin will also tell you some weird stuff about Baron Von Blitzschlag, our ex-Nazi scientist, our genetic Wernher Von Braun," Slott stated. "Tom Pfeister of 'Ex Machina' fame is illustrating this story."
The third origin in the Annual will shed some light on the background and motivations of an Initiative member who's been having some tough luck as of late, Hardball. "Hardball's story is being drawn by Steve Uy who just filled in on issue #6," Slott said.
The final origin in the Annual is that of an Initiative washout, Armory. "I just got in a beautiful page from Clayton Henry for that story," Slott remarked. "In Armory's story, we're going to see how she got the Tactigon, which is the deadliest weapon in the universe! You'll open it up to the first pages and you're going to go woah!"
The four short origin stories in "The Initiative Annual" will reveal more than just background information about each character. Indeed, Slott has been quietly cultivating a new mini-line of Slott comics. "The more titles and projects you get to work on the more you start sewing the seeds of your own continuity like the fun characters in the Defalcoverse or how Fabian Nicieza kept bringing back the same tertiary characters in his writing," Slott said. "So in the Slottverse there's some stuff that I've been seeding in almost every title, miniseries or ongoing that I've worked on. In this annual, especially in the Salvador Larroca story, you'll get to see a really big piece of the puzzle. You're going to get answers for a lot of your questions and then more questions for your answers."
As if four eight-page origins weren't enough, readers of "The Initiative Annual" will be treated to a bonus six-page story drawn by Patrick Scherberger featuring Pennsylvania's premier superhero team – sort of. "They're not the Liberty Legion," Slott said. "They're an all-new take on the Liberty Legion. One character you've seen before in the pages of 'She-Hulk.' She's the inheritor of the Whizzer Legacy and her name is Whiz Kid. She's a speedster. That gives you a hint that you'll be seeing people following the legacies of other characters."
Like issue #7 and the annual, Slott designed December's "Avengers: The Initiative" #8 to also be very new reader-friendly. "#8 marks the start of our first big multi-part story and sees the arrival of more new characters," Slott explained. "There will be a busload of new recruits and I can confirm that one of them is Eric 'Ant-Man' O'Grady. One is the Steve Ditko character Dragon Lord! And someone on the bus is Skrull! If it isn't evident I'm having a blast."
If the cover of "The Initiative" #8 --which features Hank Pym decking Eric O'Grady-- is any indication, the Irredeemable Ant-Man begins to work his unique charm within minutes of arriving in Camp Hammond. "People think they know why Hank Pym is smacking him in the head, but they don't." Slott said. "Nobody knows Eric O'Grady is the previous Ant-Man so obviously he has to do something new with his winning personality."
Issue #8 also sees the debut of the Initiative's new Drill Instructor, The Taskmaster, who's filling in for the comatose Gauntlet. Some readers might raise an eyebrow at the U.S. Government hiring the Taskmaster to train heroes, but this isn't the first time Uncle Sam has written a villain a check. "There is a precedent," Slott stated. "If you think about it, the CSA has employed Taskmaster in the past to train guys like the USAgent."
The Initiative cadets better pray Taskmaster is a good teacher, because the story arc beginning in issue #8 marks the end of their training and the beginning of their deadliest mission yet. "It's a four-part story with the ominous title 'Killed in Action!'" Slott laughed. "This is going to be the story where almost every recruit turns into Bill Paxton from 'Aliens' and yells, 'game over, man! Game over!'"
It won't be just the Initiative cadets in peril during "Killed In Action." Some of the more hardened members of the unit may find themselves unexpectedly leaping into the jaws of death as well. "You'll see more of the Shadow Initiative during this story," said Slott. "I'm really going to miss writing Constrict-- . . . Oops."
"Avengers: The Initiative" is a book about superhero soldiers and with "Killed in Action," Slott plans on giving the fighting unit it's first real taste of the horrors and carnage of war. "One of the reasons Robert Kirkman asked me to put Ant-Man in the Initiative is because he trusts me and wanted the book to be a lifeboat for the character so no one Black Goliath's him when he isn't looking," Slott explained. "But maybe sticking him in the Initiative wasn't such a bright idea. We're coming to a point where we're going to start thinning the herd. All those concerns about too many characters being in The Initiative will soon be over."
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