Avengers Arena was a polarizing series from the moment it was announced. It’s supposed to be kind of like Battle Royale or Hunger Games, but with super powered teenagers – at least half of them are pre-existing. For the sake of this review, I’m going to pretend that I don’t care about any of the characters in this series.
Half of the original Avengers Academy kids are in this book, as are Juston and my personal favourite Marvel character, X-23. Two of the Runnaways are in this book, and there’s also Darkhawk and Cammie. Each of these characters have their own fan following, and several have even supported solo titles and/or minis. X-23 is even playable in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and will be soon in Avengers Alliance, not to mention all her alternate universe counterparts and other non-comic appearances. That’s enough with the introductions though; on with the review.
This is actually a very good issue. It mostly focuses on Arcade and how he’s grown tired of his own failure. While he’s built many Murderworlds before, his kill count is insanely low and he intends to change that. He’s created a new Murderworld in an unknown dimension where he is basically a god. There’s also some focus on two pre-existing characters, one of which is killed at the end of the issue (spoilers later).
This really is how you set up a first issue, by immediately giving the series a threatening villain, fully explaining its premise, and already throwing in character drama. There’s also a decent amount of action as some of the teenagers pointlessly attack Arcade while the smarter ones observe. Throw in a few cleaver references and jokes and you have a first issue that feels complete.
The art is fairly good too. The environmental detail is impressive throughout, as is the character detail. The flash forward to day 29 is especially good, with Hazmat’s damaged suit and X-23’s charred flesh. There are sixteen teenagers in the book, and they each have a unique look that easily sets them apart. It’s not perfect, and the later pages don’t look quite as good as the preview pages, but this is a good looking comic.
Spoilers – Other than Arcade, this issue focuses on Hazmat and Mettle’s relationship. At the end of Avengers Academy, their relationship became much more serious – that continues here. Later on, Arcade decides to kill one of the kids just to prove that he’s serious. Hazmat attacks him again, so he decides to kill Hazmat. Mettle tells Arcade to kill him instead, so he does. Mettle’s sacrifice feels perfectly in character – not only would he rather die than allow Hazmat to be killed, but in Academy he didn’t like the idea of killing anyone (especially after Fear Itself). It’s respectful to his character, and it seems that his legacy will last through Hazmat. Her characterization felt a little off though – she seemed a bit more aggressive than usual – End Spoilers.
It’s still too early to tell whether this will give these characters justice, or if this will be as character focused as Dennis Hopeless has said in interviews, but it’s clear that the potential is there. It’s also too early to say whether this will be an actual Battle Royale/Hunger Games rip-off or not – it depends on the presentation. Will I stick with this series after Issue 2? I haven’t decided yet.
If you hate the idea of this series, this issue likely won’t change your opinion. If you care about these characters, then you’ve probably already decided whether you’re picking this up or not. As much as the quality is generally good, it will be hard to see characters you love fighting for the death, knowing that they will likely die by the end of this series; I wasn’t happy with this issue’s death, but admittedly it was dramatically effective.
If you can handle the drama, this is at least worth checking out. If you like the villain Arcade, or have no attachment to these characters, you should give this series a chance. If the idea of a Hunger Games/Battle Royale like story with super-powered teenagers interests you, this is an easy recommendation.