“Avengers Arena” #14 picks up more or less where #12 left off (after the issue #13 circled around to show how the rest of the world is reacting to the disappearances of the players in Arcade’s deadly game), with the one truly dangerous villain off the playing field. And in doing so, Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker have to tackle a new problem: how to get the remaining characters to start attacking one another.
With Katy out of the picture for now, there’s no central figure for the remaining kids to rally against, no main villain for everyone to fight and get killed by. What readers end up with, though, is a series of arbitrary events that both split off the large cluster of characters into smaller groups once more, and then bring back some old and familiar methods to have them start going at one another.
At this point, X-23’s presence in “Avengers Arena” seems to be little more than a killing machine that Hopeless can point at other characters and let loose, stripping all self-control from the character whenever it’s convenient. The first time he pulled this trick out of his sleeve it was a little surprising and nasty. To use the same trick again feels old hat and tired. Considering that the majority of the characters in “Avengers Arena” are Hopeless’ own creations, surely it would have been easier to simply devise some of them in a way to create more conflict and attacks if that’s what “Avengers Arena” is all about. X-23’s forced attacks would work better if the overall tone of “Avengers Arena” was that of a tragedy, but that never really comes across as such to the reader. It’s much more of a popcorn flick with the occasional moment of personal sadness, and X-23’s reactions in general are hard to grab onto by the readers to gain sympathy.
Where “Avengers Arena” #14 does work, is in the side story about Bloodstone’s hidden past. It’s engaging in a nasty sort of way, as readers finally start to see what makes him tick and why this seemingly powerless teenager was attending Braddock Academy. His relationship with Anachronism is delved into a bit, even as Nara starts to disrupt things, and the big reveal at the end of the comic works in no small part because of the visual contrast between his other form and the one we’ve seen up until now. Walker draws it pretty perfectly, with talons the size of a person and strange proportions that couldn’t exist through natural evolution. It’s a deliberately-crafted appearance to feel wrong and dangerous, and it plays well to Walker’s strengths. Add in the rough-hewn panel borders whenever things go crazy, and the truly sad look in Bloodstone’s eyes when the car is pulling through the gates of Braddock Academy, and it’s a reminder that Walker’s an excellent artist whose work should put him in great demand.
“Avengers Arena” #14 in many ways sums up the series in general: there are little bits that fire off perfectly, but then larger issues that are harder to ignore pull the overall feel down a bit. Of course, if you’re wondering why there’s no mention of the surprise final page from “Avengers Arena” #12, that’s because it isn’t. Hopefully, there won’t be long to wait until the final issue to see that resolved. In the meantime, “Avengers Arena” trudges on, full of good intentions, but never quite where it promises to be in terms of quality.