Avengers Arena is possibly the most atypical Avengers title that has ever existed, as of this writing. As a part of the Marvel NOW! event written by Dennis Hopeless it featured a cast of sixteen super-powered young heroes being trapped on an Island version of Murder World by Arcade, and being told that they had 30 days to kill each other or face a horrible death themselves.
This goes against just about everything that has ever made the Avengers… the Avengers don’t kill, and yet these young Avengers are going to be forced to. Arcade is traditionally an X-Men villain of very limited strength, yet here he’s portrayed as a major threat to the Avengers with almost god-like levels of strength. and the cast of characters chosen… at first, I didn’t think any of them were Avengers at all.
I’ve discovered since that I’m wrong. This series is something of a sequel series to the Avengers Academy, which I still haven’t read, but plan to very soon. But here in lies this new trend of re-booting books with a new #1 with every shift of storyarc or creative direction: a #1 on the issue cover lends the impression that a reader can come in fresh without much prior knowledge, and that isn’t quite the case here. While Hopeless does a half-decent job of catching us up to speed, for the majority of this book I was scratching my head and wondering where the Avengers were in this Avengers book. I was left thinking that the book had nothing to do with the Avengers and that the name “Avengers Arena” was just to capitalize on the success of the Avengers film franchise. I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case, but still, I’m not the only one with that impression. The Avengers-connection could have been brought home a little more firmly.
The young heroes trapped on the island consist of: Hazmat, Mettle, Reptil, Juston Seyfert and his Sentinel, and X-23 from the aforementioned Avengers Academy, as well as Cammi from the Annihilation storyarc, reserve-Avenger Darkhawk, and new characters such as Nico Minoru, Chase Stein, Apex, Nara, Kid Briton, Red Raven III, Death Locket, Cullen Bloodstone, and Anachronism.
Now, you’d think that in a title where the death of main characters is inscribed into the very DNA of the premise, the introduction of several new characters would be for the purposes of cannon fodder, but at least in this first book of the three-book series, that’s not the case. Avengers Academy mainstay Mettle is the first to be killed, in a display of Arcade’s awesome new power and to provide the first death to let the kids know: this is serious.
The remainder of the Kill or Die arc is doing just that: teaching the young heroes that this isn’t a place for heroes, this is place where you have to either kill, or die. That they can either live by the codes ascribed to the Avengers and die with their morals intact: or they can live. This book is the story of at least one of their number finally coming to that conclusion.
Some of the deaths that take place during this arc are legitimately surprising. Juston was a fan-favorite, and Darkhawk… well, I’ve made clear my feelings for Darkhawk on this site. To see him killed, the amulet ripped from his chest, was a jaw-dropping moment of horror for me. But seeing the Darkhawk amulet pass to Chase from Runaways was something that was a long time coming: powers that can be held by anyone, like the Darkhawk amulet and the Venom symbiote, beg to be used in this fashion, yet only in the new millennium was Marvel brave enough to do so. In many of Chris Powell’s post-2000s appearances, like this and Loners, that happens.
But the big moment — when Arcade finally starts to win — is in the very last panel of the book. Faced with the brutish and bullish Kid Briton going over the edge and threatening to kill Nara, the pure and good hero Anachronism uses his axe and decapitates Kid Briton. The book ends with the smirking Arcade announcing: “game on.”
This book flips everything that it means to be an Avenger on its head, and in doing so is one of the most thrilling, impossible-to-predict page-turners in years.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“This goes against just about everything that has ever made the Avengers… the Avengers don’t kill, and yet these young Avengers are going to be forced to. Arcade is traditionally an X-Men villain of very limited strength, yet here he’s portrayed as a major threat to the Avengers with almost god-like levels of strength. and the cast of characters chosen… at first, I didn’t think any of them were Avengers at all.”