by Dennis Hopeless (Writer), Kev Walker (Artist), Jean-François Beaulieu (Colorist)
The Story: I suppose life must be hard after you become a celebrity due to the fact that you almost killed people on an island and that everyone knows about it.
The Review: Taking chances can sometime be rewarding. When Avengers Arena had been announced in the first wave of Marvel Now!, I was particularly unimpressed, even a bit disgusted by the very idea of a book so incredibly obvious in its premise and what it promised. This was a title that offered teenagers fighting each other to the death while isolated on an island, with most of them being established and well-loved characters. With no intents to read that book, I simply skipped and dared not even interest myself on what it tried to tell.
However, when the book was over, one of the employees of the local comic shop I go through (the same that recommended I read this) convinced me to give it a try. Skeptical, I was nonetheless very much entertained by the book in the end, reading through all three trades to get the full story. With an ending that promised a lot of storytelling possibilities, I was anxious to see where this book and those characters could go. Now that the next step in this huge story is here, does Denis Hopeless match the tone of the previous story as well as offer a proper continuation?
The answer, unfortunately, is a bit of a mix with a penchant on a more negative side. While what is offered here is certainly making a good use of the very impressive ending to Avengers Arena, there isn’t much offered beside a continuation of what was previously established. The problem, however, lies in the way things are presented more than anything.
While Denis Hopeless does remember very well that this is a first issue and that some people certainly haven’t read the story preceding this current book, it’s more of a by-the-book approach that lacks a certain bite. Focusing on many of the characters that survived the Murder World catastrophe and how the public perceives them, the writer gives a good low-down on who they are and how their personality got affected by violence and the choices they had to make. While the re-introduction to most of them makes for a good presentation and a good introduction to the next chapter of their life, it doesn’t make for the best of introductions to the very concepts of this book.
One of the problems, in a way, lies to the fragmentation of the book, with most characters receiving their scenes, then getting put on the side save for the final scene in the book. With a heavy focus on bringing everyone up to speed, the very hook of the book is only hinted at in the final pages, leaving readers with a who’s who more than an opening to a series. Dealing more with the consequences of a previous series more than telling the beginning of a story, there are some interesting moments, yet it feels entirely too safe when compared to the brutality of the previous book’s premise.
Still as it may, one of the better aspect is in how Hopeless deals with some of the ramifications. The way some characters acts, reacts about the tragedy of life makes for some surprisingly entertaining moments, such as Bloodstone’s vendetta, Chase trying to move on, Hazmat’s anger and the confusion of Death Locket. While it may lack a certain forward momentum, it is clear that one of the strength on display, while not impressively so, is the characterization. With Hopeless continuing what he started, there are some moments fans of the previous book might enjoy.
What’s much less ambiguous in terms of appreciation, though, are the skills in which Kev Walker imbue the book. With a definitely more round approach to his lines, elements and characters, the book has a visual identity that is simply very good, with Walker adapting his style to each characters and their scenes. With a more claustrophobic and dark approach to Bloodstone, a more character centric scene with Death Locket and plenty of other switch in terms of focus, the artist makes the visual identity permeable, yet at the same time constant thanks to some of his techniques. Making the progress from one emotion to another good with a sense of movement and evolution that is quite good, the focus on the characters in many ways makes this book great visually.
Where it isn’t as impressive, though, is the manner in which Walker suggests a setting rather than use it effectively. With such a heavy focus on the characters themselves, the artist presents a background, with elements and precise details to convey a setting, yet forgets about it quite quickly in order to concentrate on other things. While it does not diminish some of the better panels and pages in the book, it comes as a bit weird in some scenes where the book could have benefited from a certain touch of precision.
Most of the use of setting and continuity of tone, as a result, is suggested by Jean François Beaulieu. With a color scheme presented by the colorist in order to keep a consistency in terms of tone and theme, Beaulieu uses a lot of neat techniques to complement Walker’s art in the best way possible. With a good presentation of shading, a great range in terms of diversity and an approach to brightness and darkness that accord itself very well with the characters and the script, there is a certain lack of restraint, but also a certain beauty to the approach with colors in this issue.
The Conclusion: While it doesn’t do the best of jobs at opening up a new series, this issue still manage to bring some enjoyable qualities thanks to the characters and the generally good art that compose it. Not great, but certainly acceptable.
Hugo Robberts Larivière