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Avengers Arena #4 – Review

AVENGERS ARENA #4

By: Dennis Hopeless (story), Alessandro Vitti (art), Frank Martin (colors)

The Story: The kids reap the fruit of their actions.

The Review: The more I read this series, the more I appreciate what Hopeless is trying to do, but the less interested I become in wanting to read it.  It’s a strange conflict, for sure.  Look—given that Hopeless wants to write a story about kids trained to be superheroes and pitting their survival instincts against their ethics, you can hardly complain that there are casualties involved.  But you do have a right to protest how those casualties come about and their overall value.

I particularly hated the deaths of Mettle and Red Raven because I found them casual and pointless.  And while Juston and Darkhawk aren’t necessarily dead (as Hopeless points out on the recap page with some glaring question marks on their faces), you didn’t get to know both of them very well before they got taken down either.  Hopeless continues the pattern of attacking the less prominent characters first, which makes this series a bit of a sordid popularity contest.

Not only do I find that strategy disagreeable, I also don’t like that a lot of these attacks seem to be coming from parties outside the teens involved.  Of course, there’s every possibility that one of them will reveal himself as the big manipulator (my bet would be on Apex in that case), but either way, I find it annoying that most of the violence thus far hasn’t originated from the cast.  Here they are, trying to forge alliances and avoid conflict, and someone interferes, rousing the rabble and sowing distrust.  It’s a loser’s game, so why even bother watching them play?

Take Chase and Nico relying on their Runaways know-how (Chase: “Yeah, turns out I’m the idiot kung fu master of surviving horrible, terrifying #$%*.”) simply to survive.  To that end, they work out a deal with the Young X-Men, only to have someone else (whether Arcade, his agent, or one of the other kids) break it all up.  So what’s the point of even trying?

And if that wasn’t desperate enough, all this outside manipulation succeeds in revealing the first signs of the characters’ worst traits.  Hazmat, pissed upon seeing Reptil severely burned (apparently by Chase’s hands), destroys Nico’s magical fruit-bearing tree, the last dependable source of food now that Arcade has cut off their supply.  It’s an extreme act of malice that is so incredibly stupid (given how Hazmat, X-23, and Reptil had earlier just gorged on the tree’s fruits) that you can’t help thinking less of Hazmat for it.  Frankly, I don’t want to have that same experience of increasing disrespect for all the other young superheroes.

Nor do I really want to see relationships and old friendships break down.  At least, not on a month-to-month basis.  And that is why I have to Drop this series.  Not because it’s bad—in fact, I think it’s actually pretty solid in some respects—but because having a title where all you can expect is for things to get progressively worse every issue is just a drag.  That kind of story is legitimately worth trade-waiting for; at least you can just go through all that grimness in one sitting and hopefully get some good moments out of it.

Vitti plays up the youth of the cast pretty well, although their pronounced baby faces do become a bit distracting and downright garish at some points.  Chase’s head on that final page looks less like a human cranium and more like an inflated balloon with a freaky face painted on.  Otherwise, Vitti is like most Marvel artists in his knack for balancing the cartoony and the credible sides of his work, resulting in some punchy action scenes, especially with Martin’s slick, vibrant colors.

Conclusion: For what it is, Hopeless does a fine job.  The only question is whether you really want to accept what he’s offering.  I, for one, do not.  Dropped.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - Man.  Runaways.  Those were the good ol’ days, alright.  I have to say, if I have to root for anyone to survive this, it’d be Chase and Nico.

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6 Responses

  1. Still enjoying this, but I have to admit that the second-rate art and constant bickering drag this issue down. The first issue established Hazmat as a character, but her “development” since Mettle’s death seems to be limited to trying to kill everyone who comes near her. At this rate, Hopeless is going to have us rooting for X-23 to finish her off.

    Also, still not sure how I feel about the “Lost” vibe that issues 3 and 4 are rocking.

    • Yeah, I think if I had a different frame of mind, I’d enjoy this more, but I just don’t like the tone of it. I still think it’s a pretty well-done series, though.

      • You might want to reconsider. Issue 5 was very strong – great art, fun plotting and a focus on story and character without resorting to shocking deaths.

        • I’ll check it out, but like I said, it’s not about how good the title is, because I actually think it’s good. I just don’t really want to read this kind of story, you know?

  2. You lasted one issue longer than I did. Found the whole thing boring, gratuitous and derivative.

    • I didn’t think it was necessarily boring. Gratuitous, in some respects, yes. Derivative–obviously. But I still felt that for what it was, Hopless did a fine job, especially with pretty solid art backing him up, but I just wasn’t interested in the story.

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