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.
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)