Marvel NOW! Review: Avengers Arena #1 by Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker

Avengers Arena #1
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Kev Walker and Frank Martin

The short of it:

In twenty-nine days, Hazmat is stumbling around anticipating her impending demise as X-23 hunts her. Hazmat bleeds out, stabbed, as the flesh burns off of X’s bones as the two friends fight to the death.

Today, on the other hand, is Christmas Eve, and we’re at Avengers Academy (YAY!) where most everyone is gone on vacation or to a holiday party, but a few members remain. Juston is working on his Sentinel, X-23 and Reptil are playing games, and then Hazmat and Mettle…well, they spend a moment as a normal couple in bed. And then things go bright and shiny…and then everyone is geared up, joined by a handful of non-Academy members (a final count of sixteen for this debut issue). The lot of them are suspended in the air, unable to speak or move, above an active volcano. Who could do such a thing? Who could capture all of these teen heroes and Darkhawk?

The king of the elaborate death trap, obviously. Welcome back Arcade! He’s giving them thirty days to let only one survive, and he freely admits that he ripped the idea from some kids books he read in the pen. Our kids fight back when he starts the game, but come on, if they could run over the villain in five seconds this wouldn’t be an ongoing series, would it? In fact, just to start things off right, Arcade even promises a death to cap off the issue and show everyone how serious he is.

Welcome to Murder World.

What I liked:

  • I had never heard of Dennis Hopeless a few months ago and so far two of my favorite books this week are from him. I like discovering new talent.
  • Especially since he came in and wrote kids that sounded like kids, and a villain that’s actually scary. This book feels like it needs the age group of the characters to thrive, while I was partially expecting them to fit in just as a novelty.
  • I love Arcade, and I have nothing but love for a story that uses him like a legitimate threat. Too many writers would be quick to pass him off as a bad joke character, but he’s scary as it gets in this book. Stone cold killer who is putting this together just to amuse himself. Awesome.
  • Man, talk about a place to see a ton of my favorite characters all in one place. Hazmat, Mettle, X-23, Nico Minoru, Chase Stein…this is much better than limbo. Even if I can’t imagine that entire list living through the end.
  • I wasn’t a huge fan of Kev Walker’s work on Thunderbolts, but I really liked it here. Maybe it’s the rest of the art team, or maybe just the tone. I dunno, I dig it.

What I didn’t like:

  • Now, this isn’t a knock on this book at all, but the only book at Marvel featuring a lineup of purely teenage superheroes and the premise is that they all have to kill each other? Really Marvel? We can’t have a superhero team, they have to exclusively be trying to kill each other?
  • Thirty days from start to finish and we know that Hazmat and X-23 both survive to see that point. Now, I know that the cast is big enough that there’s tons of twists and turns, but that kind of reveal is going to go a long way towards neutering any real drama for those characters in the meantime.

Final thoughts:

I’m very torn about something, so much so that I neither liked nor didn’t like it. My favorite Avengers Academy character, by a country mile, was Finesse. I absolutely loved that character to no end. So one hand, I’m peeved that she’s in limbo while her teammates are here, but on the other, I could see her getting offed instantly if she was here. Curses, I need my Finesse fix.

I like that Arcade got the idea from reading Hunger Games while in jail. That one little line of dialog goes a long way.

Man, Arcade has really upped his game if he’s able to reach in and just kidnap gets out of their beds at an Avengers facility.

Speaking of, last time I saw him was actually an Avengers Academy thing where he captured a few members and some of the Young Allies, and that’s where Reptil met Arana-Girl and we got a teased relationship that went nowhere. Hell, even with my refusal to acknowledge her as anything other than Arana-Girl, I still would have been interested in that relationship. Or even Reptil and White Tiger.

I miss Avengers Academy.

This book ends with a serious ball kick to fans like me, and while I want to curse Dennis Hopeless’s name….I also need to thank him. I spent the last several pages on the edge of my seat with no clue who was going to eat it, or even if anyone would. Most writers would have telegraphed it more (I should have seen it coming), but my gut just said he was going to kill off a red shirt. Whoops.

Marvel needs more books featuring the kids. I mean, yes, there are X-Kids in Wolverine and the X-Men, and the Original X-Kids in All-New X-Men, but how about some New Warriors? The Marvel universe is filled to the brim with teenagers with superpowers, and certainly there’s more you can do with them then stick them on an island and have them kill each other. Have another book too! DC’s teen line might suck, but at least there are multiple books in it!

For as many books at Marvel have me pissed with their accelerated shipping schedule, this one I need the next issue of NOW. Make Iron Man once or twice a month and let this book hit my stack four weeks out of six!

Overall: 8/10

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