Avengers Arena #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dennis Hopeless & Kev Walker
When the concept for this series was announced, there was a swift, negative reaction, and I can understand. The notion of a random group of characters being brought together for a homicidal battle royale is an uninspired and rather derivative concept (which writer Dennis Hopeless acknowledges in the script with a reference to the book that inspires Arcade’s choice). Of course, the controversy was likely part of the plan for this book from the start; it’s why I decided to read the comic in the first place. I likely wouldn’t have given it a second look otherwise. Ultimately, the problem with the writing here doesn’t lie with the focus on killing characters. Instead, it’s the fact it just doesn’t make much sense given the context in which it’s set. The notion that 16 young heroes — including wards of the Avengers — could go missing and there’d be no chance of the elder heroes of the Marvel Universe to find them is too big a pill to swallow. I also have little idea who most of these young heroes are, and therefore, I don’t feel as invested in their fate.
Furthermore, the premise requires the established villain’s already ludicrous resources to be amped up exponentially. On top of that, Hopeless seems to ignore who the villain really is. While he’s clearly taken delight in tormenting and killing in the past, he’s always been motivated by greed. There’s no hint of that motive here, and if the bad guy has the kind of power he exhibits here, it’s not clear why he’s wasting his time on C- or D-list superhumans. I suppose it could arise in later issues, but the focus is on his sadism instead. It would have made more sense for Hopeless to use some cosmic-level villain instead of the oddball mercenary he chose; this plot was tailor-made for the Grandmaster, for example. I did enjoy Hazmat and Mettle’s plotline. Though predictable, it does bring a measure of humanity to an extreme and impossible scenario.
Despite the problems with the plot, it’s clear Marvel made the right choice when it tapped artist Kev Walker for this project. His style, tinged with rougher edges and sharp angles, suits the harsher tone of the storytelling here. The 16 young heroes all look young, and his portrayal of the more extreme powers at play here is effective. He offers some gruesome visuals — such as the effect of Hazmat’s powers on X-23 and the fate of one of the young heroes at the end of the issue — but such gore is clearly to be expected and is part of the pitch for this series. 5/10
Criminal Macabre: Final Night – The 30 Days Of Night Crossover #1 (Dark Horse Comics/IDW Publishing)
by Steve Niles & Christopher Mitten
It’s been a long time since I visited with either Cal McDonald or the vampires of 30 Days of Night, and Justin Erickson’s cover artwork caught my eye, so I thought I’d give it a look. Clearly, a lot has happened since I read stories from either property, but writer Steve Niles provides an accessible script for lapsed readers such as myself and new ones. It’s a little disappointing to learn that Eben Olemaun went from being the self-sacrificing hero of the original 30 Days of Night series to the apparent mastermind villain of the property today, but fortunately, this is probably my favorite portrayal of Cal McDonald. There’s a strong Hellboy vibe to him here now that he’s undergone something of a transformation. What made the brewing war between the undead and the living so interesting in this issue was how Niles involves Mo’loch and the friendly zombie ghouls of Los Angeles. There’s definitely a sense of the epic at play in the story, but Niles tempers it with the noir fun of the private-eye genre.
Christopher (Wasteland) Mitten’s style is a natural fit for this story of monsters and urban grit. His sketchy, inky style reflects the subject matter, characters and mood incredibly well, and it reminds me a bit of a cross between the works of Mike (Hellboy) Mignola and Kelly (Sandman, Batman) Jones. My one qualm about the art is how it’s hard to tell the undead ghouls apart from the vampires without cues in the dialogue. Michelle Madsen’s colors add a lot to the atmosphere of the story as well. She employs muted tones that enhance the darkness of the plot, but she shatters the darkness with bright splashes of red when the story calls for it. Those punches of color inject shocking but appropriate moments of horror in an already tense story. 7/10
Nowhere Men #1 (Image Comics)
by Eric Stephenson & Nate Bellegarde
The tone of the writing and some design elements in this comic book make it seem like it’s a project from writer Jonathan (The Manhattan Projects, Avengers) Hickman, but really, its vibe is more of a Hickman Lite one. The subject matter is topical, as writer (and Image publisher) Eric Stephenson delves into the ethics of science, the conflict of profit versus benefit and discovery as a violent undertaking that requires sacrifices. Appropriately, this story about four brilliant men is an intelligently written one, at least in terms of the ideas and themes the writer explores here. Unfortunately, Stephenson’s script falters in the latter part of the book, as it fails to lay a foundation for the new characters introduced. There’s not enough context for the reader to appreciate the glut of new, unknown characters. I realize the writer is trying to inject a good deal of mystery in the latter scene, building up to the big reveal at the end of the issue, but he creates some confusion in the process. Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing read, and while one of the four main characters is a bit over the top as the villain, I like how much thought Stephenson has put into their backgrounds and who they are.
Nate Bellegarde’s artwork boasts a strong Cully (The Shade, Red) Hamner influence here, and I like how effectively he ages the characters from the first to second scenes. Most notable about the art is how expansive all of the backdrops are, and they’re often cavernous and empty. They convey the large scope of the story quite well and the ambition of the main characters’ mission in life. 7/10
Thunderbolts #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Daniel Way & Steve Dillon
What drew me to this latest spin on the Thunderbolts concept — something Marvel just can’t seem to stop tinkering with in recent years — was the art of Steve Dillon. His work on such books as Hellblazer, Preacher and The Punisher made me a big fan of his work, but it’s been quite some time since I read one of his comics. His style is as crisp as ever, and his focused art always allows the violence in stories such as this one to really slap the reader in the face. Guru eFx’s bright but textured colors work quite well with Dillon’s linework. That being said, Dillon’s straightforward approach might not be the best fit for such exaggerated characters as Deadpool and the Red Hulk. In particular, his Red Hulk just doesn’t convey the same overwhelming, intimidating sense of power.
The script is incredibly disappointing because it offers no more than information than what’s already available to the reader on the cover. Taking the entire issue to show us Gen. Ross recruiting the anti-heroes of the Marvel Universe for a team that will attack evil in a brutal way was a waste of time. We know all of these characters are going to sign on. How they’re convinced, why they choose to participate… it’s all pointless. The premise requires it of the characters, so dwelling on it and trying to bring some kind of logic to it is an exercise in futility. Other than seeing Deadpool kill a gang of homicidal mimes, this issue wasn’t all that much fun to read, as the gathering-of-the-troops approach felt like Marvel was just going through the motions. 4/10
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