By: Dennis Hopeless (story), Kev Walker (art), Frank Martin (colors)

The Story: In these circumstances, I doubt anyone’s up for a snipe hunt.

The Review: It’s easy enough to say you’ll deliver an objective critique, but when you’re actually writing one, it’s amazing how many of your preferences influence whether you see something as successful or not.  My coping strategy tends toward self-brutality; I constantly question whether I think something doesn’t work because of its quality or just because I personally don’t like it.

So reviewing Avengers Arena has been something of a trial.  I abhor graphic violence in any kind of fiction, even when it has a point (which is why I steer clear of Kick-Ass), and I really hate to see anybody die.  In two successive issues, this title has engaged in both, and it’s been difficult suppressing my gut reaction of disgust and delivering a substantive review of the series’ merits.  From the comments, I see I’m not the only one.

Hopeless puts the brakes on the death rate in this issue—sort of, maybe (more on that later)—which seems a good idea to me, seeing as how he only has about a dozen teen heroes left and he probably plans to keep this series going for at least a couple years.  Instead, we get treated to the best parts of Hopeless’ talents and easily the best part of this title as a whole: exploring the characters’ backgrounds.  Just as he did with Hazmat and Deathlocket, he quickly gets you invested in Cammi’s history and personality.  It’s pretty hard not to take an interest in a tween girl, wanted by seven different star systems as one of the most notorious space pirate around.

Far less interesting is pretty much everything else having to do with Murder World.  Few of us cared for the Battle Royale aspect to begin with, and adding a mystery person making sneak attacks on each band of youngsters only seems to lay another tired plot device on top of the first.  So not only do we have to wonder which kid will die next, now we got a kid who’s decided to do the easy thing and just go completely villainous?  And if it’s someone else altogether, let’s hope the other kids are sensible enough to recognize it as a trick to incite suspicion among them.

As I earlier alluded, there’s a little confusion as to whether Hopeless actually slows down the parade of murder in this issue.  The mystery stalker pulls off a fairly serious attack on Juston, one that doesn’t seem like he has a good chance of surviving.  Then you have Darkhawk, one of the senior members of the group, whose attempt to set a responsible example is defeated by the same stalker.  Again, it’s unclear if he—spoiler alert—actually dies in the issue, but the odds don’t look good, and I’m not sure severe/fatal injury is any easier to stomach than actual death.

At least Walker’s art keeps things looking lively and action-packed.  He has a great way of putting detail into debris to show momentum and impact, giving battle sequences some real tension.  When Cammi hits the dirt, you can see snow and wood smoke and scatter around her, and you know before you even see it the kind of injuries she sustains in the landing.  Martin brings out the dark, chilly environment of the island, further adding to the sense of paranoia.  In sum, this is a very good-looking issue, whatever you might say about its substantive qualities.

Conclusion: The series vacillates between the truly enjoyable character bits and the largely dull and pointless murder scenes.  I might just end up dropping the series anyway, since I have no interest in seeing anyone else get killed off.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – With X-23 on the island, I’m going to be on her saving the day.  As the “daughter” of Wolverine, that comes with the territory.