It’s the penultimate issue of Avengers Arena, and things continue to go to shit for everyone involved, and that actually includes Arcade!
Yep, Arcade actually kind of loses here, as he starts out at the mercy of Deathlocket, Apex and Chris Powell. It looks like they’ve got him beat, but then Chris starts puking up a hell of a lot of water, and Arcade uses this opportunity to escape, teleporting to safety. This leaves Apex in charge of the computer that controls Murderworld, which is bad news, but more on that later.
Inside the Arena, the final battles are still raging fiercely. Hazmat is not dead yet, but she has burned X-23 to a horrible, fleshy skeleton monster, that is wonderfully drawn by Kev Walker. Anachronism sees X-23 is vulnerable, and he blames her for all the chaos that’s happened in the last few issues, in particular for Nara’s death, so he starts hacking at her with his axe, until Reptil barges in, Triceratops-style, and saves his Avengers Academy buds. Meanwhile, out at sea, Nico is trying to drown Cullen Bloodstone, but finding that, thanks to his ring, he’s harder to kill than she thought. These fights are very exciting, and even though the announcement of ‘Avengers Undercover’ has spoiled which characters survive, they are still very dramatic, and it’s hard to watch these heroes compromise themselves.
Cammi and ChaseHawk are watching the fight between Nico and Cullen, and Cammi tells Chase to go stop her from killing Cullen, he says no, saying that they need to leave them to it. Chase stupidly drops his Darkhawk form, allowing Cammi to take him down, steal the Gem and become… CammiHawk, which is awesome and totally unexpected. I love how the Darkhawk gem has become this wildcard in the game, and Hopeless has managed to make the goofy looking suit and concept actually feel important. Cammi flies over to stop Nico, and it’s here that we get the best scene of the issue, where Cammi says that Nico can’t kill, that she’s better than that, and that she has inspired her, the angry, cynical kid, to be a better person, and that they can’t kill each other as that’s how Arcade wins. Not only was this a great bit of character progression for Cammi, but it also showed the real point of this series, it’s not about just gleefully slaughtering characters, but about putting them in an impossible situation and seeing if their heroism shines through. If the haters of this book actually read it, they’d see it wasn’t really ‘grimdark’ or whatever, but actually a series about real heroes, and one that’s, ironic considering the name of the writer, hopeful. Of course, Cammi’s inspiring words don’t pay off, as Nico sees that she’s Darkhawk now, and wants to know what happened to Chase.
What’s definitely not full of hope is the situation with Apex, who is at the controls, and about to shut everything down and save everyone, when Arcade appears on screen and starts manipulating her. He says that, if she saves everyone, then once they get free, the truth about her villainous actions, killing Juston, trying to kill everyone else, etc, will come to ligh, and she’ll be hated. But if she lets everyone else die… they can manipulate the footage and her voice will be the only left. She can return to the world as either a hero, or a villain, and she has to choose. I really liked that Hopeless introduced this idea, as media manipulation is a big part of the Hunger Games, an obvious inspiration for this title, and hey, Arcade really does raise some good points, and it works, as the Katy side of Apex asserts control again, and goes full on villain, controlling Deathlocket to shoot poor old Chris Powell and allowing things to play out.
What plays out is Nico Vs CammiHawk, Reptil Vs Anachronism, and most dangerously of all, Hazmat, who at the end of the issue, appears to full on nuclear exposion, which is a fucking great cliffhanger. Kev Walker’s art was, as usual, fantastic, he’s the perfect artist for this title, cartoonish enough to work well with teen superheroes, but dark enough for when they have to kill each other.
This was a brilliant issue, and a fantastic set up for the finale, which I am expecting to blow me away, perhaps even literally, thanks to Hazmat. It says something about how good this book and Dennis Hopeless is that, as I said, even though we know that these characters are surviving in another book, I’m still caught up in the drama and violence.