AVENGERS ARENA #2

By: Dennis Hopeless (story), Kev Walker (art), Frank Martin & Jean-Francois Beaulieu (colors)

The Story: Anyone up for s’mores and a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya”?

The Review: My biggest concern for this title, and one that a lot of people share if the comments to last issue’s review are any indication, is that it will basically be a gore fest and little more.  Unlike quite a lot of folks, I have no pre-existing attachment to any of these characters, but I have really very little interest in seeing kids get killed.  As recent events have shown, we have too much of that kind of thing going on in the real world already to care for it in our fiction.

The signs are definitely not good if you’re hoping for any redeeming value to this series.  After Hopeless carelessly disposed of Mettle with the least fanfare possible last time, he almost immediately repeats the act in the first few pages of this issue, getting rid of another hapless youth in the same sudden and emotionless fashion.  Granted, there’s a twisted poetry in it, but you’re more likely to see the twistedness and none of the poetry.  In fact, it just seems mean on the part of the writer.

Also discouraging is the rapid wave of betrayal beginning to infect the cast.  I find it particularly disheartening how violent and harsh the responses are to both sincere gestures of sympathy (“Do you think I’m weak?! Do you think you can take me—now that you’ve seen me cry?! Well, bring it the $%#& on!”) and gratitude (“Shrapnel.  That’s the only reason I spoke up.  I didn’t want your shrapnel in my tree.  That’s about as friendly as I get.”).  Frankly, I just don’t want to see these kids gradually lose all the promise that made them heroes in the first place.

Of course, there’s a chance that Hopeless will preserve some of them if the Braddock Academy kids’ invitation to Ryker to join their campfire group means anything.  But already, I, too, have grown cynical and suspicious.  Most of the Braddock kids seem like good eggs*, but I don’t trust this Apex.  Her reaction to Ryker’s accidental assault on Hazmat is forebodingly ambiguous (“That’s a good girl.”), and she outright admits that she’s “quick as a whip and experience tells me I can talk people into just about anything.”  Sounds like a prime manipulator to me.

Hopeless obviously has a great handle on dialogue and storytelling, however, even if he makes some disagreeable narrative choices.  His telling of Ryker’s origins is effective and affecting, getting you quickly invested in this young girl (who’s clearly a Cyborg rip-off) who remains trusting and naïve despite her fearsome appearance.  It’s really a pity that Hopeless chooses to channel his talent into such a hopeless sort of tale.  The mysteries and details of Ryker’s background are the most interesting parts of the entire issue, but the context and setting of this title make it nearly impossible to explore them further.

Walker deals with the material he’s been given with remarkable aplomb and admirable professionalism.  He spares no detail or attention to even the most grisly visuals, but that also means you don’t get spared from the harsh edges of the senseless deaths and violence even in the art.  As with the script itself, I find Walker’s fantastic and dynamic visuals somewhat overshadowed by the grim subject matter.  Martin and Beaulieu employ a lot of bloody reds in the issue, always reminding you what kind of title you’re reading.

Conclusion: Even though the technical parts of the issue are sound, I just don’t think I can stomach seeing young heroes get killed off for so little reason and with so little meaning—twice a month.  It will take some work to convince me not to Drop this series in a couple issues.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I mean, can’t we at least trust Kid Briton?  Captain Britain is one of the noblest heroes in the Marvel U, after all, and this is his “alt universe teenage” self.  Let’s hope the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

– As a literary buff, I appreciate the reference to Lord of the Flies in Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend’s cover, but let’s be honest—that novel was a masterwork and this series is, at best, a cheap rip-off.

Grade

Conclusion