The problem with a really great idea with tons of potential for interesting character development with fantastic examples of characters pushed to extremes and thrown together into unexpected pairings, is that when the actual execution isn’t good, it gets judged even more harshly. Dennis Hopeless, Kev Walker and Alessandro Vitti’s “Avengers Arena” suffers from those harsh judgements. Though the idea for “Avengers Arena” is blatantly inspired by similar stories that have come before it, the potential still felt epic. At this point it is simply not delivering on any of that potential.
“Avengers Arena” started out reasonably, not great, but with room to grow, but hemmed in by character limitations and alternating artists, Hopeless’ story quickly stumbled and eventually fell. This issue, which deals with how Arcade came to his idea in the first place and how the arena was built, is utterly banal (and quite frankly, sketchy on details). It’s impossible to care about Arcade’s weird midlife crisis and since readers learn nothing except things already suspected (he got the idea from a book, and it’s not a dream or an alternate reality, but a simply a well-constructed and monitored arena full of special effects) it’s pointless as well as boring.
There’s something wonderful about a fantastically rendered villain and I appreciate that Hopeless surely endeavoured to present that in this issue wholly devoted to Arcade, but there’s nothing here but window dressing. Arcade is predicable and mundane, especially for a creative super villain. Even when full-blown evil, he’s impossible to take seriously. At least in his loser-like failures I hoped he might become more layered and complicated, but it’s just not here. I disliked him from page one and disliked him on the last page, caring nothing for his journey, and that — especially when a whole comic is built entirely around it — is a huge failure. I feel perhaps the creators knew there was nothing substantial for readers in the reveal of what the arena actually is and so realized they needed to not bank on it for the story. Regardless, it’s a disappointment. Arcade’s role in the unfortunately short-lived “Heroes For Hire” was far more interesting, so it’s a bummer to feel like this issue takes a step backward from a character standpoint.
For his part, Vitti does what he can with the story, but there’s just not much here. Sure Arcade is a charismatic villain full of great expressions and occasional cool effects (the giant hidden hammer was fun) and Vitti has a good time with what he can, but the story itself is so rote that it’s hard to stay engaged. There are some action scenes but they all feel predictably mediocre both in idea and execution. Vitti takes great care with some of the details — like Arcade’s banged up face after a brutal beating — but there is also carelessness, like some of the action on the second page which feels unfinished and ill-considered.
I consider myself a pretty devoted Hopeless fan, having thoroughly enjoyed everything of his I’ve read prior to “Avengers Arena,” but for whatever reason — flawed conception, editorial interference, poor execution, all of the above — this book is a miss. I gave it as many chances as I could and I’ll surely give Hopeless himself another chance as I know he can write a great comic, but “Avengers Arena,” seven issues in, has had ample time to prove itself, but all it’s outed itself repeatedly as not worth the time or money.