First and foremost, I liked AVENGERS ARENA #1. It's by no means the most original concept around, but writer Dennis Hopeless is clearly aware of that (kids book remark in the first issue), Kev Walker's art is phenomenal, and to top it all off, it was surprisingly entertaining.
As someone who isn't familiar with most of these characters, I appreciate how Hopeless is (so far) taking an issue to spotlight a specific character. Issue 1 focused on Hazmat and this issue is all about the cutely named Deathlocket. After all, potentially killing off a character without giving the reader a strong emotional connection to them would feel utterly pointless. In this regard, Hopeless is absolutely succeeding. This is my first reading experience with Hazmat and "Deathlocket" is a brand new character and I can confidently say that I do now care about how they'll fare in this "game." The odds likely aren't in their favor, but damn it, I'm going to root for them.
There is yet another victim early on and there was literally nothing done to make me care about that character's demise. However, it's clear the death was put in place just to further emphasize the point that the group won't be able to escape Arcade's Murder World.
Kev Walker's art is exceptionally good. While Hopeless dives into the characters voices and their back stories, Walker's work speaks volumes without even needing the captions. You could read through this issue without the dialogue and I'd be willing to bet you would still understand what's going on most of the time. His work on facial expressions really is that good.
Last issue's ending was a real jaw dropper and this time around it's the polar opposite. It ends quite abruptly and on a rather anti-climatic note, too. Additionally, there was no real sense of danger in this issue. Arcade didn't push them to play his "game." The characters broke off into groups and they're all doing their own thing. There's no real feeling of "kill or be killed" at the moment and we need that if we're going to believe this scenario or make the deaths feel justified.
While I think Hopeless is doing an able job putting the spotlight on one character at a time, I imagine this strategy can potentially grow repetitive as the story progresses. The last thing I'd want is for every issue to follow the same format.
We've already seen who's standing on Day 29, and while that scene was intense and looked great, it definitely takes a bit away from the experience. We know that no matter how terrible things may look, those 2 are in it for the long run. That detracts from the experience a bit and also makes me wonder what Hopeless' long term plans for the title are. What comes after Murder World?
Those premature concerns aside, Hopeless and Walker are crafting an engaging story in spite of the premise being blatantly taken from the likes of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. There's a lot of heart behind these characters (even if it's being addressed one at a time) and I'm cautiously optimistic to see how this will play out.