Avengers Arena #1 review

Sixteen young heroes, kidnapped by Arcade and taken to the new Murder World. In 30 days, just one will walk out alive. The rest will either have been killed by the villain’s traps – or one another.

Or so Arcade says. Any hero familiar with the man won’t be shaking in their boots, as in numerous encounters with Marvel heroes, he’s not managed to kill anyone.

He’s changed. Suddenly he has the powers of a god, and the will to use them. He kills one of the teenagers in this debut issue, after the kids’ pile-on fails to shake him. They refuse his demand to choose the ‘weak link’, the least powerful captive (that would be Sentinel-wrangler Juston, I guess), but Avengers Academy student Hazmat puts herself in the frame. Ever one to face down a bully, she blasts Arcade, and he turns on her. She’s going to be slaughtered …

… until her boyfriend Mettle steps forward, offering to die in her stead. And he does, his metal-framed body blasted apart. Welcome to Murder World.

On the cancellation of Avengers Academy, writer Christos Gage was sanguine, happy to have created and developed characters who could be used in the Marvel Universe in the years to come. One month later, Mettle – a character he’s enriched over numerous storylines – is dead. In this issue’s lettercol, Avengers Arena writer Dennis Hopeless says of Mettle: ‘He died a hero’s death and will be missed by all of his fans, me among them.’

Dennis Hopeless. Not a man to have in your corner.

I get it. To show this book means business, killing an established character is the way to go. Hopeless even gives Mettle and Hazmat a good scene pre-Murder World, and some battlefield characterisation, so that readers who don’t already know them can care. But blimey, it seems rude, grabbing a hero from a just-cancelled book and immediately offing him – in silhouette, but still on-panel, and horribly. Even if the ever-generous and professional Gage is fine with it, I’m not – Mettle is an interesting guy, and I looked forward to seeing him grow further. Will I care as much when Hopeless slays some of the new characters he’s come up with here, such as Anachronism or Kid Briton? Nope, cos I’ve not been following them for three years, and anyway, they’ve been created to be cannon fodder.

I’m not sure I’ll be here for future deaths, mind. The idea at the heart of this book is pretty vile, even while the execution is more than decent. The fires of war aren’t the only way to show what people are made of; let’s see the heroes in all kinds of situations, not just life and death ones. Everyday moral dilemmas can be just as interesting as ones taken in war zones. But given that Marvel isn’t going the rip-off route and charging $3.99, I’ll maybe give this comic an issue or two, see where it’s heading.

At the very least I’m guaranteed great-looking pages, with Kev Walker on art duties. Walker is as adapt at emotion as action scenes, knowing when to pull back, when to go close and when to let loose. And his pages just look exciting. Colourist Frank Martin also serves the script well, knowing when to go splashy and when to dial it down. And the Battle Royale homage cover by Dave Johnson references one of this book’s influences as honestly as does Arcade in the script (‘Got the idea from a couple kids’ books I read in the pen.’).

This isn’t really Arcade, of course. Not the one who’s been bugging Marvel heroes since his debut in Marvel UK’s Super-Spider-Man comic in 1977. Hopeless may tell us it is, but it isn’t. Arcade isn’t a god. He doesn’t kill if there’s no money involved. He gives heroes a slim chance of escape from his traps. And if, as he claims, he wants to rescue his reputation, he knows that murdering new heroes rather than name characters really isn’t the way to go. Nope, this guy is the Eeevil Dr Maguffin, there purely to get the story going. Hopeless would’ve been better off just inventing someone new rather than rewriting an existing favourite.

As for the kids, they capitulate far too easily, standing around like the mis-written Avengers in the Disassembled storyline, waiting to be picked off. Yes, this Arcade has immense power, but there are 16 heroes here. Would X-23 not hack at him until she dropped? Would Nico of the Runaways really not find some way to cast a spell with her staff?

Apparently not while there’s exposition to be given.

This all happens on Day One. The book actually opens on Day 29, when the last two standing, apparently –  Hazmat and X-23 – are having a brutal fight. It’s a well-written, intensely dramatic scene. Why Hopeless would give so much away, though, I have no idea; he could be kidding, but at the very least the tension around Hazmat’s fate at the end of this issue is well and truly scunnered.

The more I think about this comic, the less I want to read future issues. The characters I like in here, I don’t wish to see slain, or get killed because they refuse to kill or let someone die. The characters I don’t know, I can live without. And supporting this book sends Marvel the wrong message – I’d rather it were cancelled quickly and the talented creative team reassigned. Decision made – I’m leaving Murder World.

42 thoughts on “Avengers Arena #1 review

  1. Sounds depressing and sensationalist. I had heard some good things about Hopeless and X-Men Season One ( aside from the stupid tv-inspired branding) but now I'm not sure if I want to try it.


  2. I can see what you mean, Mart. But I absolutely loved this issue. Granted, yes, it *is* brutal, and I am a little gutted about Mettle, but this book ticked many boxes for me. I've been waiting for somebody to do something a bit darker with Arcade for years. The very concept of the character is a bit messed up. His remit is to kill people in elaborate over complicated ways.

    That's certainly the case here. The guy's positively psychotic. Though I do have to question, given how godlike he appears, as to whether he is a construct or hologram. Or indeed how real any of this scenario is. Those video game Health Meters above each character's head? A playful way of letting you know how beat up they are, or a hint of something else?

    All in all, this is one of only 3 Marvel NOW titles to have held my attention, and not disappointed, so far. I suspect that in the long run the series may not prove as bloodthirsty as suggested, but a means of creating a new team from the survivors. Either way I look forward to reading where this goes.


  3. I would maybe give X-Men Season (ugh!) One a try- a 2nd hand copy perhaps- but this sounds such a Hunger Games/ Battle Royale cash-in, I think I'll give it a miss. Would rather buy more Joe Kubert…


  4. Hi Mark, thanks for the response. I wondered if Arcade was a hologram too, he certainly has form. I didn't know those graphic things were 'health meters', how very modern!

    So, any theories as to who or what Kid Briton might be? One of the omniversal guys, but younger?


  5. Hard to say. In interviews announcing the series Hopeless mentioned that the new kids we *haven't* seen before are from Braddock Academy, a private school with ties to Brian 'Captain Britain' Braddock. And with Arcade as the big bad, that kind of makes sense.

    The kids were central to the original pitch for this book. Kid Briton is clearly from there, and likely this new 'Bloodstone' kind too (Ulysses' illegitimate son? Elsa's brother?). While I doubt he's directly attached to the Captain Britain Corps, you never know. It'll be interesting to see them fleshed out over coming issues.

    Or not.

    Depending on what occurs… 🙂


  6. I found the narrative of the book was flawed in that it was constructed not as a story, but as a reaction to internet comments that have followed the title around since it was announced. Everyone who comes to the book already knows the premise, so why does the book itself spend 21 pages with a character shouting “yeah, I got the idea from a kids' book!” and “Yeah I am acting completely differently to how you have seen me in the past but I will not explain why!” like it's trying to shout down criticism real or imagined instead of establish characters or tell a story. I'm no expert, but to me, writing a script with the purpose of second-guessing critics seems like a terrible way to make comics.

    It does look gorgeous, though. Kev Walker's art really sells the virtual reality world the kids find themselves trapped in. A trade wait, I think.


  7. I didn't think you had anything in common with the denizens of Tumblr until you spouted the same party line on this book. As over the past year you've done some of the best comics reviews online I'm trying to get my head through your thinking, but the book is already so good and extremely intense, and I'm excited to see the return of Cammi, which bugged me after my recent reading of Cosmic Marvel since Annihilation.

    Murderworld is usually a computer progammed hologram thing, and Arcade (thus far the only person to…) is harnessing its power within the world. Might also be magic and/or in another dimension, because the Avengers, X-Men, Captain Britain Corps, and half the Cosmic line lead by Drax is likely to want to find them.

    That Nico hasn't teleported everyone out may well not be a plot hole but a plot point. The rotating spotlight won't shine on her for a while, so it is a mystery for now.
    Judging by this and X-Force, Hopeless has a very particular way of writing first issues, and Arena was the better of the two and assumed you knew less. Which is great because I haven't read Academy, so only now I like Hazmat.


  8. Hi Anonymous, I don;t really know what you're referring to. I keep away from Tumblr – well, apart from Colin Smith's Too Busy Thinking About My Comics adjunct – because the lack of an E annoys me! But we're all just giving opinions, and I thank you for the compliment.

    I have no idea who this Cammi is – I do miss descriptive superhero names. As for Nico, there is always the chance she's been quietly plotting, when she was hanging out with the kids Arcade described as intelligent.

    Excellent theories on Murderworld (yeah, I'm going to ignore the comic now, it's always been a single word!).

    Was the beginning of X-Force any good? I don't DO X-Force comics.


  9. Read it! I'll post my thoughts here from CBR forums like I did with Avengers:

    “Oh boy, what to say? I’ll be quick and painless about this comic, this plot is completely flimsy. Outside of the villain bringing everyone together to kill one another and maybe some of them working together to survive, there’s nothing else to this story. That’s just so weak as well. We need something else here to chew on.

    But perhaps characters. Characters are important right? Well as a new reader, I don’t feel I got anything from this. Oh sure, I got an idea of what Hazmat is like, but that’s it. I don’t know any of these characters and I don’t know why I should care about them other than the fact they are in a bad situation. I need know something more about these people otherwise this all falls apart.

    The villain is just so boring. The whole crutch of his character from what I gathered is that he likes to do this just for kicks. Nothing else. There’s nothing else to this guy but the fact that he has some intelligence and seems invincible so far. For a story like this, I need more to him. We’ll probably get a better idea of him down the line, but this an incredibly weak start for his introduction.

    My ultimate problem comes from the premise itself. I’m not against character killing and I don’t really mind a story with lots of character death in it, but there’s a problem with the whole premise that irritates me. This is a fan fiction story turned into a professional comic book. Seriously, this is an idea a person on the Internet would come up with and turn it into a fan fiction story you would find on Fanfiction.net or similar. I feel like I’m paying for something I could read online for free (though with less typos) and the bugs the hell out of me.

    Now I do admit there is some good to be had here. I think this a good setup issue. The comic wastes no time getting to the point of the story, it introduces the cast (not very well but at least tells you who is in it) and the villain, sets up the premise nicely, and gets kind of leaves you curious to see what will happen next. Plus, I suspect, for people who are familiar with these characters already that they’ll need no introduction, so that’s perfectly fine (though as a new reader, I do need something). The art is perfectly fine, but that’s it. Nothing special about it and nothing bad either.”

    So in general, I'm probably not coming back to this book again unless I see an issue in the stores. This ultimately depressing for me. Of all the Marvel Now launches, there's like only three I really enjoy (Thor: God of Thunder, Indestructible Hulk, and Avengers Assemble). Everything else is alright to bleh. I'm a new reader Marvel to most of these number ones, you got to do better than this!


  10. It'll be interesting to see how active a part (If any) either character will actually play in this story.

    Brian and Betsy aren't quite on the best of terms right now, of course. What with the fratricide, and everything… But we'll see. 🙂


  11. I do kind of disagree with this. It felt like an effective enough narrative to me, introducing readers to the concept. Why explain everything in this issue? I suspect there's a lot more to what's going on here than it seems, but to reveal anything more in issue one of an ongoing series would really stunt the story. What's really going on will surely come out over time.

    Yes, people *do* post discussion on the internet. But to consider this to be some kind of treatise or response to such is probably a bit of a leap of logic too far. 🙂


  12. Oh it's *that* Cammi? Interesting! She was a kid (Can't have been older than 10 at the time) who tagged along with Drax back in the Annihilation cosmic event. Drax (Who was pretty out of it at the time) kept mistaking her for his daughter.

    We haven't really seen her since to my knowledge. Good inclusion. She was around for pretty much the whole of that event, and is kinda useful in a crisis. Doesn't have any powers, of course…


  13. So basically, as a fan of both Avengers Academy & Runaways & the old Sentinel series, this sounds like exactly what I'd feared it would be. Thank you for the advanced warning.


  14. Thanks for the thoughts, Information Geek. I'm a bit surprised you weren't more taken by Kev Walker's art, I find it head and shoulders above most Marvel Universe stuff. If it had my Marvel editor druthers (one day I must look that up) I'd be assigning Walker to one of the big titles, an Avengers or X-Men book, given that he's shown over at Thunderbolts that he can handle a monthly schedule.


  15. Start with Chris Sims' Comics Alliance article on why Arcade is such a great villain, and then check out the Avengers Arena articles on CA that follow it weeks and months later – then tell me Hopeless is not directly addressing criticism appearing in the CA comments section. He even makes a point of giving an interview specifically to Chris Sims on the Comics Alliance website to defend why his version of Arcade makes perfect sense and lines up with the character we've seen before.

    You also have to remember that the Battle Royale cover was the very first AA promo image released – from the absolute start of this book's marketing life the intention was to head off criticism by playing up the “homage” angle, and even now in interviews the creative teams are reinforcing at every opportunity that “it isn't a new story” and that stories about people killing each other for the amusement of an audience predates Hunger Games and Battle Royale, yet it was their idea and not mine, their audience or their critics' idea to start off by comparing their book to something else. AA was defensive out of the gate and it continues to be so.

    Kev Walker is definately a trooper, though. He's talking about the book's precedents being Theseus and the Minotaur while Hopeless is still making references to Scaramanga.


  16. Count me as another regular on Christos Gage's Avengers Academy who put this back on the shelf. Honestly, the only way this wouldn't make me angry is if Arcade isn't actually killing these kids, and instead has some other trick or goal going on. I suppose that's possible, but really, if it takes too long to get there, it will already be too late.

    I'm not about to pick up a title where the selling point is “See your favorite obscure character… DIE!” Why would I read that? I love Darkhawk. I like Cammi. I'm intrigued by these other characters. But honestly, sometimes comic book limbo is better than actually appearing in a comic.

    It's a bummer. I always buy Marvel books with obscure casts. I always enjoy Kev Walker's art. But the concept is so abhorrent to me, there is no way I'll buy this book.


  17. Honestly, I only got Avengers Arena because I absolutely love X-23, while having only mild knowledge of the other characters. While I know little of Mettle and Hazmat, the beginning scene with them piqued my interest. I actually felt sad and disgusted at Mettle's gruesome demise.

    Despite what Hopeless says, I don't believe the point of this book isn't just to kill off these characters. There are other ways to show parts of a character besides torturing them emotionally or killing them off. I plan on getting the second issue to see if anything improves, but my hopes aren't high.

    On top of that, no matter how good the book ends up being, if X-23 dies I'm putting this down instantly.


  18. Hopeless mentioned Cammi fairly often in hyping the book. Annihilation > Arcade. She was last seen in space with only Thanos' pet Skreet years ago. She's quite ruthless and selfish. Most the heroes aren't likely to kill, otherwise Darkhawk would kill everyone in the first minute. Cammi is going to survive, I think. And at any cost. She was hanging with the smart kids, and managed to find a place doing butch lesbian haircuts in space. Anything is easy after that.

    To defend the premise, I'm going to link to TV Tropes. First bullet point is the important one. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AnthropicPrinciple
    People can't enjoy Arena if they can't accept this, but those who do are largely positive. Those who don't hate the premise but don't buy into it give poor reviews. Those who do hate it post incoherently, much to everyone's genuine astonishment.
    I like the premise partially because I don't mind characters dying too much, but it needs to be a good death. Disappearing characters, like Cammi post Annihilation, and stupid, meaningless deaths that don't contribute to the story at hand are far more infuriating to me. If only DC would kill Stephanie Brown off, it'd release me.

    X-Force was good, in a 'reward to all the good little Gillen fans'. They're fighting the Uncanny Avengers, so it is set to appeal manly to the hardcore X-fans who populate CBR and hate Wolverine, the Avengers and speak quite scarily about race traitors needing to be cleansed.


  19. Mettle is supposed to be normal teenage boy size. So I was already put off by the first pages of this comic where Hazmat is small enough to be his daughter.

    The premise has potential, I suppose, as long as it shifts quickly. Seeing children kill each other is not entertaining, but watching them break Arcade's system could be. Oh, and I'm in the camp that thinks they are all in digital avatars anyway.


  20. “This isn't really Arcade, of course.”

    His power set, presentation, and attitude made me think that he could be Mephisto in disguise.

    He's really very much a cosmic-level villain from the original Star Trek series, who would use godlike powers to make people fight each other. There were a good half dozen or more of those.


  21. Thanks very much! I'll track down those Chris Sims pieces (not that he ever comes here, bah!). It should make for interesting reading in conjunction with the comic.

    I do think Marvel is missing a trick by not putting the talented, reliable Kev Walker on a big book.


  22. Thanks very much for the info on Cammi, she sounds a firecracker. Mind, my favourite spunky Marvel teen is Jolt, I wish Marvel would bring her back.

    Who Re you quoting with regard to Gillen? I didn't know he'd written X-Force.


  23. I've never read a Darkhawk comic, I must get to Wikipedia at once. And I love the obscure ensembles too, so much more refreshing than yet another team featuring Wolverine and Captain America.


  24. It really does seem as if the book arose from someone's kids loving The Hunger Games. Tom Brevoort talks a lot about how Marvel doesn't commission team books unless the team has a definite niche – I guess this one is cash-in … which doesn't mean it couldn't flip in issue two and go off in wild, surprising directions. But if so, why push just the one aspect.


  25. I wonder who might be testing them, if that were the case, Mac. Maybe Avengers Academy teacher Jocasta, with a bit of Bride of Ultron programming in there. A digital scenario might explain why the Avengers won't come running the minute they get back to the West Coast Avengers compound and find the kids missing.


  26. Mephisto makes some sense, Kreniigh, and the Star Trek villain is a great call – when Arcade made the chair rise from the ground I did think of Q in the Next Generation pilot.


  27. I was quoting myself, really. I'd had a post a night earlier that my connection chewed up and spat out. X-Force is a direct sequel to Gillen's Consequences, continuing a fair few threads from his X-Men books.

    Jolt? Had to Google her. Though, on principle, I can't ever read Thunderbolts. Maybe because its now the Avengers version of X-Force.


  28. This is just another senseless slaughter book. I read the first issue and all I could think of is this is Marvel saying. “Hey we don't know what to do with these characters, we don't care.. so SLAUGHTER THEM! Make them relevant by KILLING THEM!” They've done it countless times before especially with teen books and it's abhorrent. It's utter crap. I'm over the senseless slaughter of characters just to make them “interesting” or give them “character”. This whole comic just reeks of horrible ideas.


  29. This whole thing just screams “blatant Hunger Games cashcow” to me, it’s not even trying to hide that. And even ignoring that it’s a rather unoriginal premise to begin with(I mean atleast Secret Wars had characters who were evil so someone killing someone was plausible). I wouldn’t trust Arcade to be able to microwave popcorn with 2 timers and a gaggle of robotic goons to help. And suddenly he’s God almighty? I mean heck I wouldn’t believe he could successfully set foot into the Avengers Academy, much less kidnap someone like X-23 PLUS all the others and get away with it. Not to mention even if it IS the real arcade with shiny new god powers, I find it hard to believe all the young heroes would sit down once he’s smacked them once or twice.It’s not like some of these characters haven’t faced odds that were worse before. It just comes off as some kind of fan fiction to me “I liked Battle Royale so I'm gonna write that with characters I can use!”

    Ultimately there’s just nothing to make me WANT to keep reading till the end. Even if I wanted to see all these characters die, the ending scenarios are most likely going to be A) It was real and the characters that we spent time getting to like and who finally were finding their place in the pantheon are dead(and I can kiss my Runaways series goodbye, good luck coming out of hiatus with Nico and Chase dead). And in Marvel death is alot more permanent when you’re to young to file your own taxes. Or B) It was all some VR nightmare, Arcade loses again and maybe one or two characters will reference this trauma in a later storyline.


  30. Hi Ome Quicksilver, you're a very wise person! I've annoyed myself by reading subsequent issues and while it's competent for what it is, Avengers Arena is hobbled by the questions of Arcade and the deaths; I can't care much knowing that people have been put in there to die and/or die/be resurrected. And yeah, Arcane … sheesh


  31. To be fair to the makers, they've been eager from the very start to avoid looking like they're claiming it's an original idea. They were quite forthright in the very first interview they gave with Newsarama after the announcement of the book that not only was the concept, cast and storyline not Hopeless' idea, it was seemingly offered in jest by a creator who – despite a reputation for being forthright and knowing when he's entitled to a name check – has not had his name appear in connection with the book:

    “the series concept was sparked by an idea that Mark Waid was generous enough to offer up during a recent Marvel creative retreat. We were kicking around options for our younger heroes when Mark asked why — hitting on (Hunger Games/Battle Royale) — we didn’t just put them on an island and let them fight it out.”

    The full interview is here: http://www.newsarama.com/comics/avengers-arena-dennis-hopeless-marvel-now.html and you will note that Hopeless contributes little compared to editor Bill Rosemann, presumably because he wasn't up to speed on the book at the time.


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