As noted awhile back, Keith Champagne thinks that everyone should give Countdown: Arena a shot, and if they did not like it, he’ll buy the book back from them. So I think it only fair to give Arena its own review here.
If you parse Champagne’s position down a bit, his stance is basically accurate. Says Champagne, “I don’t think Arena is going to reinvent the entire form of comics but it’s so much more than fan wankery.” He’s definitely right, there. And honestly, if this is the kind of comic you are already predisposed to like (a lot of fight scenes), I think you would probably enjoy Countdown: Arena #1. Also, I can see where Champagne might feel that this is the best writing he has ever done, in the sense that the premise (Monarch kidnaps three versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Starman, and the Ray, then makes them fight each other to the death, with the winners – the first four of which are chosen by fan vote – becoming part of his super-special Multiverse army) is so bad that to get anything out of it takes a LOT of good writing. Ultimately, though, the best that I can say about this comic is that it is a good deal better than most of Marvel vs. DC was.
First off, Monarch as a character is just bizarre. What is the point of having him be Captain Atom if he basically does not contain a shred of Captain Atom’s characterization? Also, his power levels are strangely high – which makes this whole exercise seemingly kinda silly, doesn’t it? I mean, whoever “wins” this thing – if they go along with Monarch, aren’t they’re basically just going to be cannon fodder later on, no?
Secondly, the whole concept of Arena is just so darned noxious. “We have finally brought back the multiverse!! Now let’s kill them all for sport!!” Think about it – we JUST had a one-shot comic where they visit the “Gotham by Gaslight” Earth, and in Arena #1 – what happens? They kill off the star of Gotham by Gaslight!!!
With such an odious central idea to work with, writer Keith Champagne and artist Scott McDaniel were in a big hole before they even began, and it is a testament to each man’s abilities that the comic is pretty decent.
Champagne makes a clear effort to delve into the psyches of the various characters as much as he can in the space provided (which, for the most part, is not enough to get anything REAL done), and it is greatly appreciated, especially the nobility of the two non-vampire Batmans, but at the end of the day, it’s “you guys fight.” “Okay, now you guys fight.”
One of the oddest moments in the book is when three alternate reality Nightshades fight each other. It’s weird enough that there is a battle between three Nightshades, but we’re not even told where each of the Nightshades are from – mostly because, well, who cares, since we’ve never seen their worlds before, so their deaths really don’t MEAN much, do they? Although, admittedly, Champagne does a nice job of making us care for one of the Nightshades.
McDaniel’s art works well for action scenes, so he’s perfect for this book.
The one fly in the ointment is the Superman from Dark Knight Returns (yes, the Superman from Dark Knight Returns is a character in this comic book), who Champagne has fun with, as his simple-minded nobility runs counter to Monarch’s objectives.
Anyhow, Champagne does a good job making the comic flow pretty well (it flows a lot better than either Marvel vs. DC or either of the Contest of the Champions did), but all in all, it’s almost entirely a bunch of fight scenes made up of alternate reality characters who will most likely later serve to be cannon fodder in a series months from now (unless they revolt against Monarch, at which point they’ll serve to be cannon fodder on the GOOD GUYS side of the fight).
Still, it was a fun enough read, but not enough that I think it was a good comic.
So, not recommended.