So a guy can change his mind.
It’s eight months since Avengers Arena launched and this being Marvel Now, that means we’re at the 12th issue. Obviously. I was not a fan of the first issue. Swore off any more. Would have been good with a speedy cancellation.
And then went back for issue 2. And 3 … I just meant to have a wee peek, see if the story by Dennis Hopeless was perhaps something other than a Marvel spin on Battle Royale. And I was grabbed. Grabbed by the respect for the existing characters, the strong portrayals of the new guys, a script with more twists and turns than Lombard Street. And relieved that the comic wasn’t simply a Death of the Issue exercise.
Yes, as the latest instalment begins, five of the original 16 kidnapped teens are dead. But the prospect of a speedy, stupid death, the awfulness of never knowing who to trust, the feeling that life really is out to get you … it’s all combined to make for a compelling read.
And as a show of good faith to readers who have trusted him, here Hopeless brings back the character whose demise brought perhaps the biggest outcry so far. And not because of said outcry – it’s just two issues since Nico of the Runaways looked to be finished. The story is obviously well-planned out, as Nico returns with a logic that makes absolute sense given how her spellcasting worked.
Now she’s back, and badder than ever, hunting down killer Katy, aka Apex, and the hapless heroes she’s controlling, Deathlocket and fellow Runaway Chase Stein, the new Darkhark. Battle royale is a fair description of the back and forth conflict as a slightly zoned-out Nico channels power with greater ease than ever. There are curses and reverses, ensuring you can’t predict the winner. Along the way we see Katy try to convince herself she’s not the bad guy, while Chase and Deathlocket are buffeted between the two main players. By the end of the book, one of the four gets closer to learning the true nature of their battleground, Arcade’s Murderworld.
The script from Hopeless is ‘just’ one more in a series of tight exercises in action and emotion. With half the cast absent, he has room to contrast quiet girl Nico with the strident Katy, even allowing the latter a late bid to squeeze sympathy out of the audience.
Penciller Kev Walker brings a dreamlike quality of horrific calm to the opening scene involving Katy’s self-justification/delusion, then shows how to build intensity with the gradual revival of Nico. And aided by inker Jason Gorder and colourist Jean-Francois Beaulieu, the good work continues through the book as we’re treated to the most intense fight scene yet. Picky-little thing-wise, Arcade’s hair looks very silly, as if he’s stuck a Spontex mop on his head.
There’s typically good work, too, from letterer Joe Caramagna, and Dave Johnson’s cover is terribly intriguing – and on completely the wrong issue, seeming like an alternate for last month’s Hazmat focus.
Still, Avengers Arena #12 is an excellent read, as has been the whole series. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how things have gone. Marvel initially marketed this series as nothing more than a slaughterfest, and so loudly that the pleadings of Hopeless that the book was more than a superhero penny dreadful were drowned out. Well, I’m listening now.