Thursday, 11 July 2013

Avengers Arena #12 review

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.

14 comments:

  1. OK, reading this review jarred my memory about you noting this series a while back, and then it also made me remember that DC is doing the same kind of series, Threshold, right? Sheesh.

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    1. This is lots better. And uncancelled.

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    2. No, it's not the same series. Not at all. And if AA is better, then it has to be one hell of a book. Threshold is way cool, quirky and something different. Heavy price tag and subpar marketing sunk that one, among other things. If you actually read it, I'm sure you'll find something to love. Another underappreciated gem will be gone too soon from the New 52. :(

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    3. I 'actually' did read it.

      http://dangermart.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/threshold-presents-hunted-1.html

      And I bought #2 and #3. Didn't like the second instalment of The Hunted, couldn't even be bothered to read #3. I gave it a shot, OK?

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    4. Sorry, didn't mean to sound rude. More my personal disappointment speaking, I guess. Also, this is my second language...and harsher than my first, I guess. Thanks for the response - sorry Threshold didn't work for you. I liked it...but then again, I liked Sword Of Sorcery and Resurrection Man and lots of other stuff that no one else buys and that's not long for this world. I guess it's all on me. ;)

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  2. Try Deathmatch from Boom Comics - has the same core idea and it's been absolutely gripping. Quite probably the comic I most look forward to each month.

    Trade paperback of the first few issues is now available here:
    Deathmatch at amazon.co.uk

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    1. Thank you very much, it's now on my wish list!

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  3. The covers for this series have been of a high standard, though as you mention, a lot of them seem to be moved around so they're based on content appearing in earlier or later issues, so possibly Marvel are just spreading the variants out across the series to keep retailer orders high.

    Arena hasn't been the most original of setups - based as it is on jokingly dismissive comments made by Mark Waid who then declined to have his name attached - but I've admired that Dennis Hopeless has been both upfront about that, and adamant in the face of online whining - erm, I mean fans second-guessing the story - that what we're seeing is what we're getting and it isn't a virtual reality simulation or anything like that - so the first real death with any kind of cache* being undone in the next issue is sort of disheartening.**
    They'll have to work hard to regain the sense that even characters that are editorial darlings can die in this series after this, as readers were barely buying the idea before. Killing off Nico would have cemented the concept and dispelled persisting doubts, so now I think they're back to square one just to keep a small minority of vocal online fans happy that a supporting character from an ensemble cast in a book that hasn't published an issue in the last three years hasn't been Comic Book Killed (a state that lasts about as long as the average nap), which is exactly the kind of defensive writing Hopeless did well to get away from as the series progressed and he introduced some of his own characters and ideas to the mix rather than just cruise on the concept of it being the schlock kill-off suggested by Marvel's marketing (and a great deal of the first issue).

    Still think it should be a Braddock Academy ongoing series, all the same. Those characters have been the most objectively interesting parts of the series so far.

    * I laugh at Mettle fans. I LAUGH AT THEIR PAIN. And also at the idea that there are Mettle fans.
    ** Although Invincible #100 topped it by promising for months beforehand to kill off a major character and did so only to bring them back on page 8.

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    1. I do see your point about the undoing of Nico's demise; I suppose we'll have to wait until series end to come to a conclusion about promise, potential and delivery. You never know, Hopeless may yet kill Nico 'properly in that/Comic Book Killed way.

      A Braddock Academy book, I'd buy that, definitely. I'm a sucker for school stories (do you know The Four Marys from Bunty?). Maybe that's somewhere I could actually get to see Meggan.

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    2. I think the problem for me stemmed from when Arcade explained at length how Nico's powers worked just so we knew the resurrection was legit continuity for how the made-up rules of magic worked in a 10 year old comic book. There seems to be some pandering to Runaways fans going on there.

      I never read Bunty as, like a great many of the classic lost UK comics sitting in an IP folder somewhere, it was before my time, but I do love a good school story. As someone once pointed out, it's a great setting for stories because disparate characters have no choice but to be in each others' company, so you have a built-in engine for drama among a cast with enough of a lack of life experience to seem plausible if/when they make poor decisions.

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  4. This is one of those series you just hate to love.
    I have to admit that this latest issue was gripping and the cliffhanger is... Extremely intriguing (mostly seeing that there may be more to what happened in issue one).
    Great writing, great art.
    The basis for the story may not be original, but it's been a fun rollercoaster ride so far... Wondering how they'll go from season 1 to season 2 now. New characters, new premise?

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    1. A new premise would be intriguing, but what? We've had the Initiative, Academy and are on Arena. Avengers JobCentre?

      And I wonder who could keep up the excellent work we've seen from writers Slott, Gage and Hopeless.

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  5. Couldn't agree with you more Martin. Now I love a good deaathmatch, but when I read about this book on announcement I hated the idea of using some great characters in that concept. But I've loved it. I've loved the fact that Hopeless has fleshed out existing characters and created some absolute crackers too. The writing has been great, the art amazing and what started out as me buying the series out of morbid curiosity has developed into this being one of the books I'm most excited about each month. But I still hope it's virtual reality and they're ALL still alive at the end of it.
    Oh, and KlownKrusty is right about Deathmatch from Boom. Great series.

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    1. It's as if we're twins, Mr Oddly! And on the recommendation of yourself and Krusty I've downloaded Deathmatch #1 at the bargain price of 69p! Thanks.

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