Every Tuesday, I post excerpts from my best-selling at not-selling super blog, Playing Favorites.
Once upon a time the Hulk destroyed a small town and then some punk kid superjerks called The New Warriors fought a guy called Nitro and a school blew up. Two seconds later, the government passed a bill to make superpeople register with the government, but in a way that wasn’t the same as the Mutant Registration Bill which has been kicking its way around congress since some time around the early seventies. In order to make these super-folks accountable for their actions, they were trained in ethics, physical fitness, public relations, and (of course) combat for their inevitable roles as super-soldiers and super-heroes. The prime training facility was in Camp Hammond (named after the original, android Human Torch who fought alongside Captain America in World War II) as part of a program called The Initiative. ‘The Initiative’ as a comic book was about young, new superkids learning their powers and drama-ing it up in a pseudo-bootcamp run by world champion loser Hank Pym, Marvel’s answer to the insane, paranoid racist telepath Maxwell Lord in Henry Peter Gyrich, and a Nazi in a wheelchair (the only guy to have an honest description because he was a literal Nazi in a literal wheelchair).
Believe it or not, this series was the bomb. B-list characters, C-list characters, and Hank Pym (and this is probably the nicest way I’ve ever referred to him) populated the cast, which let it have good stories with consequences and actions that have effects. The main cast (consisting of the second batch of cadets to arrive at the school), weren’t at ease in the world of super-heroics and most of them were bitter or at the very least reluctant about being forced to join up. There were plenty of mistakes made by both the trainers and the students and most of them (this still being comics) had irrationally harsh consequences. Before the end, you do even feel a little bad for the Nazi in a wheelchair (okay, it happens once).
But as much as I like the narrative quality afforded by being at the periphery of massive crossover events (“World War Hulk” and “Secret Invasion,” not to mention being birthed by “Civil War”) with largely unimportant peripheral characters, The Initiative had one character with a good arc that showed development and depth, and a lot of characters who were fun to watch interact with one another and whose further improvement would (unbelievably) be best explored with exposure to the mainstream Marvel Universe. Don’t get me wrong, Hardball will probably become a wishy-washy Hyrda double-agent. Komodo can get some Spider-Man team-ups and angst points versus The New and Improved (TM) Lizard. I think everyone else did go mainstream and joined up with the New Warriors, so fuck those guys.
Except Crusader. He’s dead. Crusader might actually get one of these spots. Now, I haven’t read the comic that he’s introduced in, so all I know is his brief, albeit memorable, appearances in ‘The Initiative’ just before and during “Secret Invasion.” I do nitpick that he should have been a veteran of more than a few Skrull Invasions to flesh out his background and ‘grizzled veteran’ status, but for a Skrull warrior who was sent undercover to Earth to infiltrate the Avengers just before they were destroyed even though The Skrull Queen herself was doing that very same thing and no one bothered to follow up with him so he ended up learning everything he could about The Avengers and becoming a fanboy until he eventually met Freedom Ring and trained him and Freedom Ring died and he took the ring that was a fragment of a cosmic cube and joined The Initiative as part of his (very recent) lifelong dream to become an Avenger only to get his wish and find himself pitted against his own people in their last grasp at their destiny before becoming a people with no home lost amongst the cosmos because of something that happened in some cosmic miniseries that I didn’t read because, c’mon, I tried that “Emperor Vulcan” thing where a Summer’s spawn ends up running the Shi’ar and fucking everything in space up forever, which I feel that I can only blame on the overall terribleness of recent X-books…
So Crusader chooses Earth (spoiler alert) and fights for his new home, red licorice, and Nick Fury (because who wouldn’t fight for Nick Fury, except for the soldiers hungry for the kind of leadership only a Nick Fury made of red licorice can provide.) and the Earthmen win the day and the Skrulls…well, I guess they’re boned, but no one is much focusing on it and Crusader’s dead, so fuck that too.
Ultimately, Crusader has tried, failed, and then redeemed himself and found focus in his life. He’s given up a lot for something he believes in (I’d like to think it was more than Avengers cartoons, red vines, dudes with one eye, and the prospect of boning not a single, amorphous Skrull sex, but boning humans with their amazing two sets of genitals to choose from. Maybe there was something off screen that really compelled him to stick it out with Team Homo Sapiens.). However shaky his motivations, his (admittedly short) story packs a punch and does a good job of showing how he hardens from an unsure traitor to a confident loyalist.
Tentatively, Crusader’s up.
It should be mentioned here that the Dark Avengers, from Victoria Hand to Bullseye-as-Hawkeye was an awesome read that took ‘dysfunctional team’ to new levels. It was a pity that it was short-lived, but then the series would’ve started looking pretty toothless when all eight deadly assholes kept living after pissing off the other seven assholes on the team. No matter how great a series it was, the only remotely heroic character was Victoria Hand, who was making some moral compromises because she believed in Norman Osborne. Even in the end, she was smart enough to realize that she’d backed the wrong horse. That she’s a good person who’s trying to get something done instead of repeating the asinine, run-in-place games of Nick Fury and the Avengers makes her a damned compelling hero, but until she gets superpowers and puts on a mask, she and her Hot-Topic dye job and lipstick lesbianism fall far short of superheroism.
I guess that covers all of the teams. Unless I somehow mistakenly left you with the impression that any of the X-Men were serious contenders for this list because I just want to assure that that was never even remotely close to the case.