Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book Review: Avengers Arena vol. 1 Kill or Die by Dennis Hopeless(author) and Kev Walker (Illustrator) and Alessandro Vitti (Illustrator)

I picked this up because I wanted to find out what happened to Cammi post-Guardians of the Galaxy, which I loved and am rereading, not because I liked the premise, so you're fairly warned: Kill-or-be-killed is not my preferred genre, and Avengers Arena(1) only reinforced my non-preference.

I still don't really know about Cammi(2). She gets to show up at the beginning, right before she and a lot of other teens, some of whom I recognized, some of whom I did not, are captured by some bored villain to and stashed, his own private little cut-off pocket of space wherein he can manipulate stuff so they have to kill one another in order to amuse and entertain him. Hasn't this guy heard of TV?

In any event, he isn't much amused as the teens spend most of their time wandering around trying to figure out if there's a way off. (There isn't, yet, or we wouldn't have volume 2. I hadn't realized when I checked this out that there was a whole series planned(3)) and vaguely discussing how not to kill anyone, while someone or another is staging sneak attacks. I think one or two characters might actually have died in the attacks, but not only is this hard to be sure of for comic book reasons (people turn out not to be dead all of the time for various good and bad reasons), it's hard to keep track because I only recognize a few of the characters and only really know a couple, so it's hard to keep them straight. This combination drastically undercuts the "suspense": It's hard to care who's doing what to whom if you don't know why they are in the first place, and harder still of a drowned team mate isn't actually dead after all.

Mostly, everyone persists in wandering around talking and not fighting. This is an odd thing for me to complain about, since I don't actually want them to fight; I haven't even read Hunger Games, for crying out loud, and that's supposed to be really good. I just want them to do something, to have some sort of a story, and they don't--there's no option but to kill, and little desire to kill, so the plot options are severely limited.

There's not even much by way of character development, the sort of thing desert island scenarios are built for. Oh, they talk, and someone everyone thought was nice turns out to be a nasty, manipulative sort, but I didn't know her enough before to find this surprising, or even to know if I was meant to find it surprising, or how surprising anyone else on her "team" finds it, or even to remember her name, so it's a wash in terms of development or caring.

Not even the guy who assembled the bunch appears to have thought things through much. Arcade's teenage "contestants" include Cammi, who is entirely normal human in terms of strength, Darkhawk, who isn't actually a teen, and a cyborg girl, who has had no training at all--she's barely had time to realize she has implants. You'd think if the guy wanted excitement he'd have gone for the more explosive and trained sorts.

By the end of this volume Arcade, like the reader, decides not enough is happening. Rather than taking this as a cue to abort the experiment and take up crocheting or chess, he opts to up the stakes a bit by making survival-without-killing even harder. The abductees still stubbornly refuse to go Lord of the Flies, though there are ominous hints that Things are Only Going to Get Worse.

I'm not holding my breath.

(1) Named that because a small segment of the stolen teens are Avengers in training. Why their teachers haven't found them yet, I don't know.
(2) Except that she's doomed. She may have good survival skills, but they're the sort that mean forming strategic alliances and knowing when to run. There is no way for her to be the last one standing in a pure power fight. So, yeah. She's doomed, and Drax (if Bendis remembers to have him remember her) will have something more to angst about. Basically, Murder World is a giant refrigerator. No one is going to get a heroic death; the survivor(s) will get to mourn, and that will be that. Unless, that is, someone hits the reset button.

(3) It would work better as a six-issue miniseries, I think. That would actually open the door for more options: They could overcome Arcade, outwait Arcade, actually act like heroes....

Relevant Details
Paperback, 144 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by Marvel
ISBN 0785166572 (ISBN13: 9780785166573)

Author: Dennis Hopeless
Illustrations: Kev Walker & Alessandro Vitti

Links of Interest
Avengers Arena on Goodreads

Know of a review I should include? A link I should add? Drop me a line and let me know!

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