Pick of the Week
What did the
Art by Kev Walker
Cover by Mike Del Mundo & Jorge Molina
Size: 32 pages
I am as surprised as you are.
You know what? That’s a lie. Avengers Arena is an enigma, surely. It seems like a crass bit of high concept marketing drummed up by the sales department to move units. It made all sorts of people I don’t know personally very upset when it was announced. But on the other hand, Avengers Arena has a top notch creative team, and prior to the launch of Marvel NOW!, I’d heard from quite a few professionals in the know that it was the book to watch. When the first issue hit, it seemed like exactly the kind of book I’d try once, say “it was fine” and move along. But I kept coming back. I kept reading. And I kept being impressed more and more, which brings us to issue #6.
This issue, the final chapter of the first arc, was chosen as Pick of the Week because of the impressive skill of the creators, and the fact that of all the books I read this week, this is the one where I most want to read the next issue. In just six issues time, Dennis Hopeless, a first time ongoing series writer, has done an extraordinary amount of heavy lifting, getting someone like me up to speed on all these myriad characters, and making me care about them. Because the main plot of the series is pretty simple (a bunch of teenage superheroes are being made to kill each other, even if they don’t want to), the strength of this book really lies in making us care about these characters, and what happens to them, which Hopeless has certainly done. I realize that these aren’t new characters to a lot of readers, but they mostly were to me. There’s been a slow burn in getting to know them, and it’s been handled really well, right up until the smack in the kisser that is the last page. In the meantime, looking backwards through this issue, there is a letter perfect trail of structural breadcrumbs for what will happen, and it was done just right. Honestly, Hopeless is working at a higher level than his experience would suggest, and it’s fun to watch. There’s so much exposition that’s delivered naturally, when it can be tedious in less skilled hands. The dialog snaps and sounds like real people, and it’s tinged with the real anxieties of young people. He had it down in X-Men: Season One, and he’s got it down here as well. Hopeless even makes me want to read more about X-23. There should be a special Eisner for that. This should all be much worse than it is, and the fact that it’s one of the books I’m most enjoying from Marvel Comics is a real testament to the work being done.
Another huge part of the success of Avengers Arena is obviously Kev Walker, who has thankfully landed safely after his wonderful work on Thunderbolts with Jeff Parker. It turns out that he’s been perfect for this book, partially because of it’s slightly imperfect nature. These characters are teenagers. Some are built like brawny adults. Others are more slight, and Walker runs the complete range in his character builds. Because there’s something slightly off center, something slightly cartoony about the way he draws, it emphasizes the awkwardness of that age. The big guys who have the big muscles, like Anchronism, with his massive, new bulk, aren’t quite in control of it, much like I wasn’t at 16 or 17. It goes further, if you look at the perpetual sneer of a character like Cullen, who has chosen that face to show the world, or wide-eyed “what am I doing here” look on the face of Death Locket. The words give the characters life, but the art gives them form, and both are syncing perfectly to bring us really wonderful and interesting fictional people. I’ve also got to give a nod to colorist Frank Martin Jr., who is really doing wonderful work, suited perfectly to the tone of the book.
Since another character bit the big one at the end of this issue, let’s just discuss the big problem people have with the book before we go. It seems to be that people are upset that this is being done to these fictional characters others have begun to love. It’s bothering people that Hopeless and team are taking these things that have been built up, and breaking them. I would respond that, yes, that is correct. I would further respond that that is exactly the correct thing to do in fiction. In most regular comics, you get constant status quo, but in other fiction, the point is very often to make things very hard on characters you’ve grown to care about in one form or another. If it bothers you that something happened to them, that means the creators have succeeded. A story where we get to watch characters succeed and move along with no real risk isn’t all that compelling to me. At least here, and I admit it’s extraordinary and a bit silly, it is compelling. To align yourself emotionally to a fictional character, and not think anything can happen to them is folly. If the story is any good, that is. If this isn’t your cup of tea, then the good news is, 99.5% of other mainstream comics will comfort you in their characters’ relative safety. But, if they’re going to let a creator go wild over in the corner for my entertainment? I say, let ‘em burn. They’re not real.
There wasn’t a single standout bit of Avengers Arena #6 that made it Pick of the Week, but rather the culmination of enjoyment that I’ve had with every preceding issue. By the sixth issue, I had a handle who everyone was, and felt that we understood the stakes. That is exactly the time to break things, and raise them even more. I don’t know where this is going to go. I don’t know how or if they’ll get out of it. I really wanted to know more about Chase and Darkhawk in this issue, and they didn’t even address it, and I didn’t notice until it was over. Hopeless is juggling a lot of balls in the air, and it’s so smooth we don’t even notice it. If they can keep up this quality, I’ll be here until they shove the last of these kids in the dirt.
Anachronism isn’t really the best name.