After 14 issues, it seems Hopeless has finally learned the narrative structure needed to kill a character. He employs this, primarily, for his own darlings, which can be good or bad depending on your opinion, but it is not a good sign. That said, it's not particularly gripping or interesting. The featured death has some impact, but that is almost despite itself. The character has been extremely shallow before this and only now that she gets some depth, that character dies. At least it's some depth, and it looks like it hits all my big ticks for a character death: it focuses on the one to die and gives us reasons to care about them; the death is brought about by the character's own initiative and the agency is entirely theirs. And from the look of things, it seems as though it will not be forgotten and tossed aside like so many others were.
Again, playing favorites, which can be distasteful to some. Everyone is someone's favorite character, so seeing them be treated so badly earlier is intolerable to me.
Sadly, the character who died has been so shallow that the development received feels almost tacked on and does not do enough to change the superficial impressions I got from her as an extremely shallow character. Heck, some of that shallowness is confirmed. The issue from that character's perspective can almost be summed up as the realization that she's gaining depth. Not much depth, but at least some. Whether that's enough or too little too late is up to each individual reader. For me, it's flat and dull.
Speaking of playing favorites, Reptil, X-23, Chase and Nico get really poor showings. Reptil continues his character trait of "Utter Useless", X-23's nature while under Trigger Scent continues to make little sense and both she, Chase and Nico are nerfed once again after doing full issues focusing on just how powerful they became. Finally, "Chasehawk" appearing in this book as his name annoys me severely. It's like the worst of 30-something-men-trying-to-be-hip encapsulated in a single phrase. A common problem with Hopeless' overall writing style. It tries to hard but doesn't do enough to earn itself.
Dennis Hopeless really has no idea on how to use the Staff of One effectively as a narrative tool. Here, we see her use the staff primarily to blast things once again, and rather blandly at that. There's a lot of action here, but the monster design is just so poor and the action itself is relatively generic that not even the funky fun layouts can help elevate it. Blast, boom, bite, claw stab. With the Staff of "do Anything" around, it's really inexcusable to be so limited. The tactics are akin to the Japanese Military's on Godzilla's: Repetitive, and without the flash and with far lackluster monster design.
Bloodstone's monster form looks like a rejected muppet. All torso and arms, no back or substance. All I can think of while looking at it is a hand inside it operating the mouth and another holding a wire for one of the claws. It's all forward momentum and doesn't have a sense of size or presence. It's like a bad CGI monster in a SyFy movie of the week.
Kev Walker's art has, honestly, been getting not as good of late. I love his work normally, but the expressions here verge on the cartoonish. I can't really connect to the heartbreak, inevitable and obvious as it was, because the faces are just too distorted for me to take seriously. This is purely a personal problem, so I'm sure others disagree.
This is still one of the best issues Arena has done, but it's too little, to late, and it can't save itself from the vast problems it has built up over its run.
On the plus side: Katy Bashir isn't in this issue, granting it a bonus to the final score.
I give it a 3/5. For all the complaining I've done, it actually starts to follow the formula of a type book. Too little, too late, but even this tiny spark of what it should have been since the beginning comes like a breath of fresh air in this. Amongst the series, this is a 9/10. Easily one of the best issues of Arena so far. If you've suspended your disbelief this far, it can easily be suspended over the complaints I've had with it and really does get to what this series should have been about in the first place.