This book is about the government sponsored pro-registration teams that were formed after the SHRA was passed. The book's in three chunks, one about the Initiative (a team in every state), another about the Thunderbolts (poachers turned gamekeepers) and the last one about Heroes for Hire (bounty hunters). There's also a shed load of data files.
The Initiative section is half good, half mystifying. The first chunk is about Camp Hammond. This is the place where newly registered and inexperienced heroes go to get trained. Trained so they don't make the sort of mistakes Spidey did trying to save Gwen Stacey. They're also taught enough about ethics so you don't end up like Wolverine. There are a couple of action scenes covering aspects of training and their first serious mission. There are enough data files in the back of the book to gather together a young team, chuck them in and see what happens. So far so good. Now the mystery begins...
The rest of the Initiative section is an outline of some of the Initiative teams. We have the Rangers and the Great Lakes Avengers/Champions amongst others. Each team gets a quick - page long - description, a guide to playing them and a set of Watcher character data files. Er, Watcher data files? Why? What are they for? Why not player data files? Is it so the Watcher gets to play Squirrel Girl (not a bad thing to be honest, after I finish writing this review she's being transcribed to a player data file ASAP)? There doesn't seem to be any explanation of what this section is actually for. Maybe these is an explanation somewhere but I haven't found it in a couple of readings. I suppose one use would be to give anti-registration heroes something to complicate their lives. Anyway, I found the reasoning a bit lacking - your experience may vary though!
The second section is about the Thunderbolts. They're villains given the choice of helping round up anti-registration heroes or rotting in the hell-hole of Project 42. It gives a quick overview of who and what they are at the time of Civil War and mentions that they eventually end up under the control of one Norman Osbourne. There's a couple of good action scenes and the playable data files for enough undesirables (Venom and Bullseye fans rejoice!) to give you a really strong springboard to start a Thunderbolts campaign. The data files also include a few nice milestones which help you visualise the internal conflicts and motivations of the characters. All in all well chuffed by this section.
The third section is about Heroes for Hire - a bunch of mercenary heroes hired to round up anti-registration heroes. Unlike the Thunderbolts this lot are in it for the money, not because they want to avoid prison and/or reform. Again there are a couple of cool action scenes and data files for the key members of the team. These data files also have good milestones and as a Watcher you can develop a decent amount of conflict between team members AND internal conflict for the team member. For example would Black Cat shop Spidey or let him go? Which way does her emotional compass point at this time? And yes, this means that you've got official data files now for a Black Cat/Spidey combo in games outside the Civil War. What's not to like?
The final section are data files. Some I'd heard of, others I hadn't. With 8,000 characters in the Marvel universe I'm not surprised. Most of them look fun to play and have evocative distinctions and milestones. For me Moonstone sticks out as someone interesting (and not just her picture which is in the best bottle-fed tradition of Super Hero art). She's sufficiently conflicted as to make anyone who thinks super heroes are one dimensional a reason to think again.
My final comment is that the book is a bit short for the price. I know, small doesn't necessarily mean low quality or lack of utility. I don't begrudge having paid the cash as there's still a lot to use but the Initiative teams just feel like filler.
So I'll drop a point for the size, drop another for the second half of the initiative section me add one back for Black Cat, Moonstone and Squirrel Girl.
PS: There's been an update recently which has addressed the fuzzy art issues and the lack of printer friendly data files. Hurrah, those really narked me so I'm glad they've been fixed.
[4 of 5 Stars!]