Matt's Fave Comics 2008 – Avengers: The Initiative

Matt's Fave Comics 2008 – Avengers: The Initiative

Dec 26

I love year-end lists, both reading them and writing them, but I rarely feel as though I’ve read enough of everything to actually offer any valid criticism.

So this’ll be an occasional, informal rundown of some comics that I enjoyed in 2008, most of them ongoing series, and none of them very adventurous from a mainstream vs. art/indie comix perspective. I tend to be too conservative when buying art/indie comics, waiting until the heavy weight of critical consensus forces a purchase or a loan from the library.

Anyway, that’s not to apologize for my taste, just to explain why this list will be heavy on the superheroes and quite light on the moody, introspective artsy fartsy stuff. That’s what early 2009 is for, after the experts have weighed in with their best-of lists.


There’s a very specific, unique style of serialized storytelling that can only be done in the Marvel Universe.

It can be done at DC, and I’m sure Marvel writers have tried it there on occasion, but it’s really only effective in the angst-driven tapestry of the 616, and that’s the last time I’ll refer to the place by that nerd douche euphemism, I promise.

It’s episodic in nature, but with any number of thrulines, some short and some seemingly endless, that give it the feel of a spandex soap opera. Stan Lee perfected it; Steve Englehart elevated it further; a number of writers over the seventies and eighties mastered it as well. It’s not usually easily collected in a six-issue slender volume; in fact, Essentials are the ideal way to read these types of books, like old-school Avengers or Gruenwald’s Captain America or David’s Hulk. It’s a style both compelling and repulsive to the new reader, who gets just enough information on an issue-by-issue basis to be intrigued, but will inevitably find themselves prowling back issue bins to connect all the dots.

Over the years, as arc-driven plotting took over, this peculiar Marvel style became harder to spot; every four, six, or even two issues was almost a different series, especially if creative team turnover was high. Dan Slott and Christos Gage have taken the time and methodical planning required to pull off great Marvel-style sequential storytelling in Avengers: The Initiative; what’s remarkable about the book is that it’s married this traditional Marvel melodrama to the modern arc-oriented style, and it pulls it off using lost C-level characters and a pack of newbies.

Just that last detail is pretty amazing, if you stop to think about it; it’s hard enough to keep plates spinning when you’re working with characters known and loved by the readership, but when you’re introducing new characters all the time, and still keeping relatively new characters in the spotlight, drawing the dotted lines of relationships and rivalries and hidden tensions and secrets carefully kept–it’s a tangled web they weave, but also perfectly clear, crisp, and compelling.

The Secret Invasion issues of Avengers: The Initiative were where the storyline’s central action seemed to happen, with the Skrulls staging their invasion strategy largely from the Initiative’s base and using sleeper agents throughout the Fifty-State Initative to ignite conflict across the country. These issues practically shone with activity and characterization compared with the story’s central miniseries; Slott and Gage utilized the new 3-D Man (sadly left out of Parker & Kirk’s Agents of Atlas revival), Robert Kirkman’s douchebag Ant Man, the Morrison/Millar Skrull Kill Krew, and their own assortment of newer characters to set up a high-stakes battle across the nation against the alien invaders. Good stuff.

As trades become more and more attractive to me, I find myself constantly dropping series that I will then pick up later in collected format. The ones I hang onto have to bring something fresh and compelling to the table on a monthly basis, and that’s what Avengers: The Initiative does–I like these characters, and I enjoy following them every thirty days, and it feels like old times in the Marvel U, but everything’s also new again.

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