By Ben Morse
Graduation day for most may come in the spring, but Camp Hammond hardly constitutes anything resembling "normal," so with this week's AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #8, we begin to bid a fond farewell to some of the book's regular cast as they head off for the greener pasture of the 50-State Initiative.
And with AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #9, hitting stores January 23, it's time to meet some of the new faculty and cadets set to wash out, have holes blown through their heads, get beaten into comas by Slapstick and maybe—if they're lucky—become heroes.
We put the newest Ant-Man, Eric O'Grady, under the microscope last time around in Initiative Initiation
, but here's what to expect from the rest of the fresh faces hanging around base.
One of the Marvel Universe's most masterful mercenaries, the man known only as Taskmaster possesses a superhuman photographic memory that allows him to perfectly mimic the movements of any other person he observes.
Early on in his career as a super criminal, Taskmaster elected to forsake risky ventures like world domination and even major heists in favor of using his abilities to train others as henchmen and lackeys for the likes of the Red Skull and other heavy duty bad guys. Tasky's flunky franchises have proven quite profitable for the evil entrepreneur over the years, but as he has run up
against the Avengers and other heroes on numerous occasions, he keeps his own skill fresh by constantly studying video footage of everyone from Captain America to Spider-Man.
In addition to prepping ambitious young men and women for lives as walking cannon fodder, Taskmaster also takes on mercenary gigs and contracts on folks like Moon Knight to help pay the bills. For a time, the skull-faced fiend associated himself with Agency X, the merc squad headed up by Agent X, a doppelganger of Tasky's old rival Deadpool.
Taskmaster also has on his resume the training of John Walker, now known as USAgent, when he got tapped as the new Captain America. Now the U.S. government has come calling again, recruiting Taskmaster and his unique skill set as the new drill instructor at Camp Hammond, replacing the still comatose Gauntlet.
A card-carrying B.A.D. Girl—acronym and all—this sultry serpent once captured Captain America's heart and will soon slither her way onto Camp Hammond as the instructor most likely to make the male recruits' libidos go A.W.O.L.
Rachel Leighton trained under fellow new Initiative initiate Taskmaster in hand-to-hand combat. She had her skills supplemented with both an array of throwing diamonds and further instruction under Anaconda, who recruited her into the original Serpent Society as Diamondback.
Despite consorting with a pack of snakes determined to wrap Captain America in their deadly coils, Diamondback developed an attraction to the Star-Spangled Avenger, and even went on a date with Cap, learning he dug her right back. Her amorous attentions got Rachel tossed from the Serpent Society, but Diamondback drew support from gal pals Black Mamba and Asp, who also left the group. The trio forming the mercenary group B.A.D. Girls.
Diamondback spent some time as Cap's main squeeze, but ultimately felt her criminal past made her unworthy of Steve Rogers' love. She has since split her time between pursuing bucks with Asp and Mamba, and pursuing redemption as a sometime operative of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Created by comics legends Marv Wolfman and Steve Ditko, Tako Shamara took up the mantel of the Dragon Lord in order to protect his native Korean fishing village from the monstrous reptilian creature called the Wani.
Tako's journey along the path of the hero actually began centuries earlier when the residents of that same fishing village made the mistake of riling up minor Korean deity and notorious crank O-Wata-Tsu-Mi, who unleashed the Wani on them. Tako's ancestor, also named Tako Shamara, repelled the creature and his son Kiri vowed their bloodline would fend off the monster should he ever return.
After countless years of magic being handed down through his family, Tako stepped up to the plate and hit a home run that got the attention of Tony Stark and the Initiative.
Wallace Jackson could be considered a forerunner of those punks who you watch on shows like "Super Sweet 16" nowadays. This red-headed goober chose to celebrate turning old enough to drive by stealing a battle suit created by his NASA scientist uncle and hopping a bus from Texas to New York City. Why? So he could fight his hero Spider-Man for "fun."
Spidey didn't find Red 9's antics terribly amusing, and despite attempts to hold back, he eventually gave the youngster a solid thrashing. However, the Webhead saw Wallace's potential later in the day when he helped out a group of elderly patients at the hospital thwart a corrupt doctor.
Red 9 gets his first real shot at the big time when he joins the Initiative.
One could say Delilah "Dee Dee" Deerborn, aka Geiger, benefited from a bit of nepotism as far as joining the Initiative, given that her "daddy" Dan Slott, who created her in his 1996 DOC SAMSON mini-series, also writes AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE.
An Empire State University student who followed the sterling example of ESU alumni Peter Parker and got too close to a radioactive experiment—in this case a gamma accelerator—Dee Dee wound up with the somewhat involuntary ability to mimic the powers, personality and appearance of any gamma-enhanced superhuman she came into proximity of.
Geiger's early lack of control over her powers led gamma-powered psychiatrist Doc Samson to mistake her for the villain Patchwork, but after he learned her true nature, he helped to provide rough on-the-job training as the duo pursued the real Patchwork.
Hopefully Camp Hammond will provide Geiger with the knowledge she needs to use her powers for good, lest the Marvel Universe have another Hulk on its hands.
No info available on this rookie, other than Slott's promise that, "once you find out his name, you'll realize this is a character you've seen before, just not in the 'real' Marvel Universe."
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #9, written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage with art by Stefano Caselli, ships January 23, but before then you can read the first appearance of Taskmaster with Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.