ADVANCED REVIEW: Avengers Arena #1 (Spoiler-Free)

Avengers Arena #1

Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Kev Walker
Color by Frank Martin
Letters by Joe Caramagna

$2.99 / 32 pages / Color
Projected Release Date: December 12

Published by Marvel Comics

When Avengers Arena got announced in the wave of announcements for Marvel NOW!, it was easily the biggest head scratcher of the bunch. With most of the Marvel NOW! titles being fairly safe, middle of the road relaunches of existing titles just with different creative teams, Avengers Arena stood out to me because it was the launch of a new title, one that was doing something different–for the Marvel Universe at least. And so I decided to keep my eye on this book.

What happened after the weeks of the announcement of the book was startling. The fan reaction to Avengers Arena has been part confused and part downright dismissive, due in no small part to the not so subtle… let’s call them “influences” Avengers Arena exhibits. When Avengers Arena was first described to me, it was positioned as “The Hunger Games in the Marvel Universe.” Which, admittedly, I winced at. But then again, The Hunger Games was just a youth fiction book (and then movie) reminiscent of the Japanese manga Battle Royale. So the cycle moves on. But regardless, the fan reaction made sense. It seemed as if Marvel was just capitalizing on the trend set forth by The Hunger Games.  But then I started to see a bit of a reason to give this book a chance. First, as evidenced by the cover (and even within the contents of the book itself), they’re owning the influence with a nod to Battle Royale. Second, as the book was finished and I got early word on how the comic was shaping up, I heard through back channels that, yes, it’s just The Hunger Games in Marvel, but it’s a ton of fun. I’ve never been one to judge a book by it’s cover or it’s preconceived notions, so when I got the chance to read Avengers Arena #1, I jumped at it.

Guess what? Yep, it’s The Hunger Games in the Marvel Universe. But guess what else? They’re right. This is a ton of fun.

Now, I didn’t read Avengers Academy but many of the folks who did told me that it was a great book. Avengers Academy seems to be the closest relative to Avengers Arena, pre-Marvel NOW!, with the book starting off on the grounds of Avengers Academy and focusing on the characters HazMat and Mettle. Without spoiling the events of the book, and not revealing anything that hasn’t already been talked about in interviews, here’s the premise of Avengers Arena: HazMat, Mettle, and 14 other characters are sent to “Murder World”, a new island owned and operated by Arcade. Arcade is a legacy villain best known for his bouts with the X-Men and Spider-Man where he put the heroes through various death traps in his “Murder Worlds” over the years. With 16 heroes (all on the younger/teen side), Arcade informs them they are trapped and have 30 days for one of them to survive. It’s kill or be killed.

After reading Avengers Arena #1, it struck me that this series has several things it going for it in both story and art. First, on art duties is Kev Walker, whom we’ve enjoyed these past couple of years with his work on Thunderbolts. I realized as reading Avengers Arena #1, that it feels like not a month goes by without some Kev Walker comic art from Marvel and I’m afraid I’m getting spoiled. Walker’s art has a unique style and is subtle in how effective it is. His representation of characters we’re familiar with works and at the same time, carries his unique flare. It’s not the most amazing, unprecedented art you’ve ever seen, but in terms of what Walker does for modern super hero comics, it’s way more than functional, often times downright stellar. His action sequences are, without fail, some of the most dynamic and effective depictions around. His strong depiction of action keeps the story moving. I hope that Walker is the main artist on Avengers Arena, because after reading issue #1, I want to drop into a world illustrated by him every month.

In terms of story, Dennis Hopeless has got a couple of things going for him. As a villain, Arcade is a fantastic choice. I don’t know what or how Arcade got to the point of setting this story in motion, but I don’t mind. Similar to work of Rick Remender in Uncanny X-Force, Hopeless is taking a classic character from the Marvel pantheon of villains, staying true to the vision of this character, while also giving them a modern update. The events of Avengers Arena #1, in the context of Arcade, are no different than Uncanny X-Men #123 or any of the other Arcade stories we’ve seen over the years. Just now, it’s got a modern update that’s a welcome read.

Secondly, Hopeless’ cast of young superheroes consists of manly B and C list characters. Nothing against them, (hell one of them is one of my all time favorites, Darkhawk) but that’s what they are. I’m sure there are big HazMat or Mettle or even X-23 fans, but the fact of the matter that these characters don’t really “matter” for the vast majority of comic book readers and therefore are equal parts fodder and potential for some interesting character based storytelling. We often complain nothing happens in our comics, that the stories go on and on and there aren’t many consequences that threaten the status quo. It’s the real consequences and the sense that no one is safe that makes us rave about books like Invincible and other books which aren’t afraid to take risks. Well, Avengers Arena #1 does just that. It takes huge risks and is already, out of the gate, filled with consequences. That, combined with a seemingly blank slate (or very lightly filled slate for some) of characters, and the isolation from the rest of the Marvel Universe that the setting provides, and I think we may be in for a treat with what Dennis Hopeless can do with these stories and we may get some characters that finally do “matter” in the grand universe. If they survive. I’ll take those stakes as I read along at home.

The best way to counter and combat any of the rabid fan bases preconceived notions is to deliver a quality book that surprises and that’s exactly what Hopeless and Walker have done. This could be the fresh, exciting bit of “new” that we’ve been hoping for with Marvel NOW!. Avengers Arena #1 is anything but predictable, filled with high stakes consequences and it’s clearly going to be a ton of fun.

Story: 4 / Art: 4  / Overall: 4

(Out of 5 Stars)

Comments

  1. flakbait flakbait says:

    If the characters don’t matter, what consequences are there?

    This is exactly what I knew would happen to the Avengers Academy characters immediately upon reading the first trade. “This is great! These characters are cool! Too bad someone else is going to come along and use them as cannon fodder in a couple years.”

    • Friday Friday says:

      I prefer stories with characters that “Don’t matter” because stories with characters that “matter” always have to be back at the start for the next creative team. Not to say that tings like the Superboy Prime Rampage from IC should happen, just that an ongoing with second tier characters has the potential to change instead of being forced to stagnate.

  2. filippod filippod (@filippodee) says:

    “The fan reaction to Avengers Arena has been part confused and part downright dismissive due to the not so subtle…let’s call them “influences” Avengers Arena exhibits.”

    And let’s not forget the “not so subtle” early interviews…

  3. KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

    I’m planning on giving this a shot. Avengers Academy never clicked with me, but the recent video interview with Dennis Hopeless made me interested in checking out more of his work.

    Does anyone know the release date for this?

  4. koryrosh koryrosh says:

    I really enjoyed Avengers Academy, so color me curious…

  5. walterwhite walterwhite says:

    ok Ron when did Disney buy stock in Ifanboy -lol,,,,not one bad review yet,,,sniff sniff curious smell

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      Not sure how serious you are, but even if that ridiculous implication was true, what would it matter? Journalistic integrity is important, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sure iFanboy ever purports to be journalism.

    • Not one bad book yet either. They been right every time.

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      @davetobin100: Yeah, I haven’t bought every Marvel Now book, but I’ve been very pleased with all the ones I have tried. I’m wondering if Marvel’s creative team reboot approach will have more longevity (with me personally) than DC’s continuity reboot? I’ve gone from 12 to 3 DC New 52 books (maybe even 2, depending on how you look at Batman Inc). I’m on board to try about the same number of Marvel Now books.

    • Not one bad review yet? I guess you didn’t listen to the podcast a few weeks back when they ripped the art in Iron Man #1 to shreds, or when they gave a less than stellar review to Fantastic Four #1. So far all of their critiques about Marvel NOW! have been pretty fair. Even the ones I don’t agree with (I loved Fantastic Four way more than they did), I definitely see how they got to their opinions.

    • LeviHunt15 LeviHunt15 says:

      I’m guessing Marvel has some kind of embargo with iFanboy and other comic sites in order for these sites to get the advanced reviews. If your score is positive you may post the review early, if not hold your opinions until the book is out. Nothing sneaky or underhanded, just the way the entertainment industry works. That’s why there have been advanced reviews for the better books but not Iron Man or Legacy. Again, I don’t know this for sure, just guessing.

      None of these advanced reviews have been misleading either, I’ve agreed with all of them so far. As they always say on their show, if you haven’t come to trust the reviewers yet, why still read their reviews or visit their site? So Ken, I agree to an extent that they aren’t journalists in a strict sense, but it’s also problematic to say that there would be no problem if they were “bought out”. They are still reviewers and a reviewers objectivity is still essential.

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      @LeviHunt15: I’m not sure objectivity is really the goal (since reviews are personal opinions and not reportage of factual events, subjectivity is a given). The more achievable goal is for a reviewer to make valid criticisms — that is, citing examples of the things they perceive as strengths and weaknesses of the work under review.

      And like you say, I think the guys do a great job with that.

    • walterwhite walterwhite says:

      Sorry for the bad joke guys…I’m actually really enjoying a lot of the Marvel now titles. I just want a bad review so I can save money:)

    • j206 j206 says:

      I’m with KenOchalek. DC’s New 52 reboot has lost me for the most part. I’m still reading a handful of titles. But it’s no different than prior the reboot. And in each case my reasoning for sticking with the book is the creative team and storytelling, not the rebooted continuity. Marvel has gotten a lot of flak from readers, joking about how this is a reboot even if Marvel says otherwise. But really it isn’t. It’s just a creative team reshuffling. New creative teams and new directions are what get me excited about new books. Not creating new continuity with mostly mediocre to sub-par creative talent. I give Marvel a big thumbs up so far. For the most part these new books are hitting the mark. And I give credit to the overall superior stable of creative talent they have compared to DC. I dont blame iFanboy for giving positive reviews to quality books.

  6. Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    This is the only Marvel NOW! book I’m jumping into with issues. Seems like a nice self-contained story, which is what interests me. Glad to hear that it’s pretty good too.

  7. Friday Friday says:

    So it takes the hunger games/battle royal premise an applies it to the Marvel Universe? That sounds fun. And its got Darkhawk? Even more fun. This and the two Hickman Avengers books are going to be my Marvel Pulls for now.

    Quick question: should I check out Avengers Academy before this comes out?

    • jonb227 says:

      i obviously haven’t read arena, but i don’t think academy would be required reading….it’s worth giving a read if you have some disposable income though, it was one of my favorite avengers titles during the ‘heroic age’, you will probably care about the characters more going in if you do, because it seems like the majority of that cast, if not all of them, are going to be in the arena

  8. randall4000 randall4000 says:

    Kev Walker rules!

  9. GoldStarz says:

    “But then again, The Hunger Games was just a youth fiction and then movie, of the Japanese manga Battle Royale.”

    Aaaaaaand we’re done with this review.

  10. zombox zombox says:

    Its actually Battle Royale in the Marvel U. That cover is a direct rip from the imagery of the Japanese movie version.

  11. jlddlj11 jlddlj11 says:

    People should have checked out Academy before this, so don’t bother checking it out now since it’s over and this is what’s replacing it. The idea of kids fighting to the death sickens me, even in a fictional universe, so I’ll be putting my money into other books. Avengers Academy was my favorite comic on the stands, and although I’d love to see where the character’s stories go next, I’ve learned my lesson on following characters and not creators. There’s lots of other great books coming out with some of my favorite writers writing them, so I’ll go there instead. Good luck to this book, however :)

    • tazz says:

      Well said ! The premise makes me sick as well..and the fact that I invested all this time on characters that are just going to be used as fodder makes me equally sick.

    • homiegfunk03 homiegfunk03 says:

      Using new characters that were complex and interesting as cannon fodder is really frustrating. You can’t become an A-list character if you don’t get opportunities to build an audience and develop a history. An unfortunate by product of that is that many of these B- and C- list characters are some of the few representatives of groups that were not allowed to be part of the Golden and Silver age and seeing them be talked about as not mattering is kind of a slap in the face. I love comics and the creators are both talented guys and I’m sure they’ll create a compelling story but I’m going in with a sense of dread.

      I am a big HazMat and Mettle fan and I think it’s easy to become one if you actually spent the time and money to follow their stories. Unfortunately, comic fans didn’t give them a fair shake but continue to complain about the sameness of things. I reserve judgement on the series until I read it but the disposable nature of these new (and interesting) characters it frustrating to watch as someone who wants to see comics grow and reach new people.

  12. SD says:

    This book being “fun” is probably the worst thing you could do.
    You’re wrong in thinking that it being like the Hunger Games is the reason people are pissed off. People are pissed off that they are killing good characters just for Arcade of all villains. The fact you’re so dismissive to the characters is the reason why people hate this premise and won’t give it a chance.

    But obviously seeing who’s going to die is fun for you. And why should people be happy if they’re told “Oh, these characters don’t matter, so they can be killed off”? That’s even more reason to hate this book. “Cut the fat, now focus on the Avengers!”

    Screw that.

  13. RazorEdge757 RazorEdge757 says:

    I am interested in this book and this review only provided more hype for me to be excited about. Thanks. Look forward to the book.

  14. Firevine Firevine says:

    Seeing Kev Walker’s name on comics was jarring to me at first. Familiar with his art by all means though. For those of you who don’t play Magic: the Gathering, here’s some of his work. http://gatherer.wizards.com/pages/search/default.aspx?action=advanced&artist=%22kev%20walker%22

    The man has some serious artistic range.