When “Avengers Arena” first kicked off, it felt like Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker turned out a couple of quick, early character deaths to catch their readers’ attention, and then things settled down. With the “Game On” storyline, though, “Avengers Arena” appears to be trying to remind everyone that this is supposed to be a duel to the death, and as a result the body count has started to climb. And with “Avengers Arena” #10, Hopeless and guest artist Riccardo Burchielli continue that trend.
Most of “Avengers Arena” #10 is a massive fight, one that spans multiple characters as everyone reacts to the previous issue’s return of the homicidal half of Apex, and whose power to take over machinery is finally taken to its logical conclusion. Hopeless has created a nearly-impossible to defeat character (with one obvious Achilles heel that had already temporarily stopped Apex last month), and here Hopeless lets that rampage forward to a dangerous conclusion.
On the one hand, it’s actually a little refreshing to see that Hopeless isn’t afraid for this series to get particularly down and dirty. It’s part of the series’ premise, after all, and with each new face getting an X through it on the recap page, Hopeless is doing what he’d promised all along. On the other hand, Hopeless is going to start running into a certain numbness with his readers if the deaths continue to come fast and furious; we haven’t hit that saturation point yet, and I suspect that when we do it’ll be just in time for “Game On” to conclude with issue #12, but it is starting to get dangerously close.
There’s also a certain gruesomeness to this issue that I suspect will be an instant turn-off for some readers. I think that’s a real risk that Hopeless and Burchielli are running in “Avengers Arena” #10. A severed body part is something that will always be a bit questionable in taste, but when you add in multiple bones sticking out, you’re switching from, “This is a bad series of injuries” to something that feels like it’s deliberately trying to gross readers out. Burchielli serves up what the script tells him, and he’s not a bad substitute for Walker. Some bodies feel especially lanky here, though, and there’s an early scene where the placement of snow makes it look for an instant like one character’s feet have also been chopped off. (Thankfully, no.) But on the whole, Burchielli’s squat characters are on model for Walker’s designs, and everything’s easy to follow.
With the death of a well-loved character this issue, “Avengers Arena” #10 is hitting the point where I think readers will need to decide if they’re sticking around or not. If teenagers fighting to death is your sort of thing (and with the success of properties like “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale” it clearly is for a lot of people), “Avengers Arena” is probably hitting its stride quite nicely right now. For those who are reading “Avengers Arena” because they were big fans of books like “Avengers Academy” and “The Runaways,” on the other hand… I can’t help but think that this storyline might be changing their minds.