Sunday, December 22, 2013
Review: Avengers Arena Vols. 1-2
Watching teen heroes kill each other didn't really strike me as all that entertaining (I certainly didn't enjoy DC's Terror Titans any), especially given the already rather hight mortality rate among teenaged super-characters, the idea seemed rather creatively bankrupt (which the covers at least acknowledged, visually homaging Battle Royale on the first issue, and the going on to do so towards Lord of the Flies and Hunger Games), and given the make-up of the cast, it seemed rather likely a lot of these characters were going to end up dead by the end of the series, as the only ones to actually star in their own titles at any point—just as an indication of how relatively popular or unpopular the cast of this book is—were X-23, Darkhawk and Juston Seyfert, who starred in a 12-issue Sentinel ongoing written by Sean McKeever and drawn by the Udon studio. So if popularity is the main determining factor of whether a superhero will live or die (Batman? Never longer than temporarily. Robin II, IV or V...?), well, let's just say it's not too hard to imagine a Marvel Universe in which X-23 is the only character who survives this title (Which was actually another rather galling thing about it; should writer Dennis Hopeless be allowed to kill off characters like the McKeever-created Seyfert, or the Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona-created Nico and Chase?)
Well, I finally got around to reading the first two trades of this and, despite all of my reservations, I have to admit that it really isn't that bad of a book at all.
It opens with Arcade, now wearing his hair long and dressing a bit more dapper than clownish, somehow abducting 16 teenaged superheroes. It takes a while to introduce them all within the narrative, but there's Juston, X-23, Reptil, Mettle and Hazmat of Avengers Academy and then Apex, Anachronism, Cullen Bloodstone (a relative of Elsa's), Kid Britton and Nara (a blue Atlantean) from the Braddock Academy (I had never heard of any of these British characters before reading this, so, for all I know, they may be original creations of Hopelesses and artist Kev Walker). The rest of the cast includes Cammi from some of the Annihilation books, Runaways Chase and Nico, the aforementioned Darkhawk, a little girl Deathlok eventually named Death Locket and a Red Raven legacy character who, given how long she lasts, I assume was an original to the series.
He says he got the idea from some "children's books," and in a later issue devoted to how and why Arcade did this, we learn that it was a book he read in his youth, so I'm assuming its Lord of the Flies, but Hopeless' script never identifies it.
The group splinters into camps almost immediately, with the two school groups sticking mostly together in two large groups, Nico and Chase going off on their own, and several loner characters going solo until forced into uneasy alliances. As with Lost, another bit of island survivalist pop fiction, Hopeless spends a great deal of time flashing-back to the characters' lives before they arrived on the island, which is pretty helpful considering how little we know of a lot of these new-ish characters (Death Locket, the kids from Braddock Academy) or characters that might have existed previously, but are awfully different now then when we last saw them (Cammi).
If you'd call what Hopeless is doing here stealing or simply "being inspired by"—and me, were I in his position, would feel way too uncomfortable about the thinless of the line between them to even pitch a Battle Royale-with-Marvel-characters comic—at least he's stealing or borrowing or homaging a good, pressure-cooker premise. Stripped of adult supervision, their superhero mentors and all hope of rescue, the characters begin to change almost immediately, with some becoming better people as they are forced to trust others, and others becoming, well, villains as they do whatever they have to do to survive, and then there is a lot of gray area—particularly among the Brits—the characters are forced to move through from issue to issue.
Horrible things do indeed happen to teenagers, and too horrible things happen to characters that it seems somewhat gauche for Hopeless to be messing with in the first place—
He can't draw the whole series though, and there are occasional fill-in issues. In the first volume, Kill or Die, Alessandro Vitti draws one issue, while in the second volume, Game On, Walker is only one of four artists, a quartet including Vitti, Jason Gorder and Riccardo Burchelli (it's unclear who does what; I can't tell if Gorder and Burchielli are inking Walker, or penciling and inking their own work or...what).
At any rate, it obviously gets less an less consistent as it goes on, but no one drawing the book is bad at drawing, and there aren't really any visual flow destroying changes in style.
I rolled my eyes at this book's announcement and initial promotion, and picked up the trades expecting to not like it at all, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit and eager to find out what happens in the third and final volume. So I'd say Hopeless and company did a pretty fine job here (As for Marvel, I'm not sure what the point of making this an "ongoing" series if it was only to run 18 issues was, other than some sort of marketing ploy).