Avengers Arena #1-18 by Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker – Comic Review [Bellarius]


With the bastard spawn of this series being spewed out by Marvel, Bellarius returns to one of the worst series of the last several years: Dennis Hopeless’ Avengers Arena.

“A monument to Marvel’s attitude of “All publicity is good publicity!” and just how damaging it can be.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

Longtime readers may remember that we looked at the first issue of this series some time ago. That ended with one of the lowest scores ever given to a work of fiction on this website. Unfortunately it turned out that first issue was the high point of quality for this series. Everything proceeded to drop like a stone from there.

The series follows the story of the villain Arcade as he kidnaps multiple teenage and young characters of the Marvel universe to pit against one another in Murderworld. Determined to get the highest ratings possible, and even citing the Hunger Games/Battle Royale as a direct influence, he somehow overpowers them all at once and starts killing off people at random. Pain, misery and very lazy writing ensue.

Let us make this clear right from the very start: This is badly written. Hopeless can certainly turn out a good story when it puts his mind to it, but this? Not only does it feature some of the worst understandings of characters ever written, but the explanations to anything are poor hand-waving at best and little to no comprehension is shown of the very series they come from. Here’s just a few examples from quite early on in the series:

For example, Mettle’s personality is dumbed down from a complex, well developed character in a loving relationship to “I’m in love with Hazmat!” and little else. He also engages in actions which completely go against his character arc from Avengers Academy’s Final Exam story.

Hazmat herself has her entire acidic and snarky personality turned from a coping mechanism which arose with her powers to “I’ve always been a hater” Not to mention the fact she relentlessly jumps at the chance to kill people and is turned into a poor cardboard cutout of an excuse to create strife.

Chase is suddenly reset to square one, with Hopeless’ ignoring the character development and maturity she underwent with Joss Whedon’s writing.

Then we get Juston, whose character is utterly destroyed so he can be defined purely by depression and revenge. Little else is ever actually given to him beyond being used as a punching bag.

Every character in this is written following the Brian Bendis mentality of “I didn’t write it, so it doesn’t matter” with characterisation, development and history sacrificed for cheap shock ploys. It only gets progressively worse as the series goes on. These are also just the problems which arise with the characterisation within other series as well. Take for example X-23, who is soon established to be constantly calculating ways and methods to best kill everyone around her if need be. She is then shown repeatedly using Leeroy Jenkins charges without any strategy or even basic caution against whoever she fights, repeatedly getting punched into oblivion. This is not to mention the fact we occasionally have characters turning up with clothing items and equipment they never arrived with, despite having no way to have possibly attained them in this survival story.

No only does the story not work when ignoring basic established continuity of the characters, it doesn’t even work with basic established continuity from issue to issue!

So what about the story itself though? Beyond the characters what substance is there? None. There is nothing here which is of genuine substance which does not ultimately come down to extremely poorly handled efforts to generate rage about the comic. Everything here simply boils down to having someone die each issue. This is not only a very cheap ploy to draw drama which has not only been parodied relentlessly over the years, but proves Marvel learned nothing from Avengers Disassembled and the like. Deaths only matter when there is genuine meaning behind them, not because the contrived plot demands that they be killed.

Just to show how poorly handled this is: We have one character unintentionally commit suicide by flying into an invisible ceiling, killing herself before she can utter a single word in the comic. We also not only have the only black character die first, but character spouting lines like “My boyfriend exploded all over me!” without the slightest hint of self awareness, even as the comic demands you take it seriously. Even if, if, you could somehow take it all seriously Hopeless then includes something which completely destroys all drama in these fights: Health bars. No, that’s not a joke, as fights go on we actually have bars of health appear above character’s heads showing their remaining life. Not only is this like something out of a bad parody but it destroys any semblance of drama within the story’s fights.

Admittedly, said fights are hardly helped as the majority of characters are used as fodder to beef up one new figure invented by Hopeless himself who serves as the villain. She constantly wins only because the characters repeatedly forget how their powers work or even how to operate as a team,

The pacing and focus is all over the place, unable to latch onto a single character and suddenly advancing in jerks of blinding activity after long pauses of nothing. Breaks in a constant pace work, but only when there is a constant momentum. Here there’s nothing of the sort within this story and it feels as if Hopeless was making things up as he went along. It’s without a single direction so much as a series of spasmodic moments of lucidity followed by a sudden change in direction or effort to make the audience are by pointlessly killing someone.

The brief moments of self awareness Avengers Arena does display do not result in anything good. If anything the attempts to solve problems by just highlighting them but never go that extra mile of doing anything to solve the problems. Merely showing awareness of Arcade’s sudden jump in power or the fact he has made himself a target for the Avengers, Excalibur and just about every superhero on the planet does not mean you have closed the gaping plot hole of the comic’s premise!

Perhaps the only thing which might merit some praise is the art of Kev Walker. As a genuinely talented artist he has a great ability to depict events, and handles textures, characters and varied environments extremely well. However, it’s a little hard to praise that when he is constantly drawing borderline gore porn with characters having their flesh burned off, being run through with blades and the like.

Don’t get this one. Don’t even waste your time looking into it for the controversy surrounding this comic. It’s bad, pure and simple, without a single redeeming quality to be found among its pages. Don’t reward Marvel with money for churning out such a lazy, poorly produced and wasteful idea for a series. Remember it only as a mistake and a sign of just how far this company has fallen when it comes to treating its characters with respect.

Verdict: 0.5/10


Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
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