This isn't your father's Murder World.
Avengers Arena #1
Written by: Dennis Hopeless
Art by: Kev Walker
Published by: Marvel
Its easy to look on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or any comic book website (The Outhousers is the best) and see all the whining about Avengers Arena and just want all these kids to die just to spite these people who have been whining for (feels like) two years about a book that hasn’t even come out yet.
It’s really easy.
But, instead, and this is the weird part, I decided to read the book before deciding if it was worse than Honey Boo-Boo and because I like some of the characters and not morbid curiosity.
First and foremost, the main reasons I wanted to read Avengers Arena are named Darkhawk and Arcade (yes, I’m old.) Darkhawk was always that hero that you knew could be cool if he could just catch a break, and that break came with The Marvel cosmic event War Of Kings by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning and continued into Realm Of Kings. On the flip side, Arcade was that silly villain who reminded me of early Bond baddies, with overly elaborate plans when a gun would do, and, yet, I’ve held out hope that, someday, he’d become the creepy toymaker worthy of the name Murder World. Avengers Arena #1 is sorely lacking in the Darkhawk department, but WOW is Arcade finally a badass.
Spoilers for Avengers Arena #1 to follow (to avoid them do a “ctrl-F” for “Thus endith the spoilers” and then scroll fast so you don’t see whats above that line)
All we know from the “before the credits” scene is that Hazmat and X-23 are in their 23rd day of something very unpleasant. It's so unpleasant that Hazmat ends up burning off X-23’s face, so that happened. After the credits page, the comic opens on Christmas Eve at the Avengers Academy campus, where boys play with their sentinels, living weapons learn how to play Ping-Pong, and teenage love is in the (radioactive) air. Next thing we know, our heroes awaken in stasis, being monologued at by a long haired, taller, skinnier version of Arcade than I’ve ever seen. This isn’t just artistic license. There is something going on here with Arcade that is different then before. Something awesome. He is “not the villain here. [He is] the God!” His new powers are not explained in this issue, but if I were to venture a guess, take a look at the New Avengers ad in X-Men #39 for a hint to what I think happened.
New and improved Arcade’s monologue confirms what we already knew: teenage heroes kill each other for his amusement. It’s a total rip off of something that was a rip off of something else (but that thing is Japanese so we ignore that it too was a rip off as well). Arcade even gives a nod to his inspiration for his new Murder World:
"Got the idea from a couple of kids’ books I read."
But, so what? That is Arcade taking an idea and making it (more) violent, like a pinball machine. That Arcade ripped off Hunger Games makes sense in the book, in continuity, and in character.
After the requisite fight where one bad guy defeats a group of heroes, we catch up with Mettle and Hazmat as they discuss their plans. Hazmat wants to beat in Arcade’s head. Mettle wants to do whatever they can to survive. While all this is going on, Arcade is counting down from 10; if the kids don’t decide who dies first, who the weak link is, he does. At five, Hazmat tries to burn Arcade to the ground and fails. Thus, Arcade’s choice is made for him, unless some one wants to step up.
Enter Mettle, making himself Arcade’s tribute, who is immediately blown up. There you go. There is your big controversy for issue one, Mettle died.
He died protecting the girl he loves.
He died hoping she’d figure out a way to live, to survive.
He died in character.
He died a hero.
Thus endith the spoilers
Avengers Arena #1 is a good comic book.
We can complain all we want about deaths in comics for shock value, that it wastes opportunities, that they don’t matter anywas, or that they are just plain played out. All of these are valid critiques of the current comic book industry and its bad comics, but, they are not applicable when a book is entertaining in spite of these complaints, and this one is.
Hopeless’ writing is spot on for these characters, from Arcade’s self-assurance, to the teenagers fear, confidence, and love. Its been a while since a villain in a Marvel book really creeped me out and made me actually fear for the heroes, but Hopeless was able to pull it off, with Arcade of all people. He deserves a medal just for that alone.
Kev Walker’s art reminds me of a cleaned up version of Chris Bachalo’s run on Shade, The Changing Man – and I mean that as a compliment. Looking at the last page is almost worth all the impending deaths on its own. Arcade’s smug look, combined with Hazmat’s horror at her situation, makes for a compelling “to be continued” image.
At least it did for me. I want to know what is going on. I want to know what the twist will be. I want to know why none of the adults noticed that the students are gone. I want to know, and this is most important, if I'm a right about Arcade’s new powers.
Take away drummed up controversy, hipster screams of “so and so did it first,” and crazy internet ramblings, and you are left with a good comic book that has a lot of potential for success or failure, depending on where it goes and how drawn out the initial “kill all the heroes” story-line goes.
That is, if you bother to read it before having an opinion.
When this book was announced, I was in the "wait and see what people say" camp. Now I'm in the "where is issue two already?!" camp.