A Few Thoughts on Avengers Arena, Inspired by the Liu Podcast

I'd like to preface this by saying I don't have tunnel vision, and that I got a lot of good stuff out of the podcast (Even commented as such on the Podcast page). These were ancillary points onto which I've, unsurprisingly, latched, regarding Avengers Arena and its implications.

Given Liu's previous work on X-23 and Laura's current role in Hopeless' series, the subject of the book, and fan responses to it, came up. Liu and Tony agreed that it's best to just let the book play out and not to judge it prematurely. I appreciate why they and others say that; it's true, we don't know what the ultimate plan for the book or these characters is. But it seems to me that Hopeless has created a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario here. Fans of the characters will be upset if they die -- no matter how they die, and now matter how good the story gets. Fans of the book will be upset if they don't die, because the high stakes are the only thing keeping them interested.

Obviously there are a few exceptions on either side, but in general I think what I just said Is true. As a character fan, I'm judging the book because I believe Marvel cares more about the opinions of the people paying them for it than about the people who are not. Sure, I can't be positive the deaths are real, but I have plenty of reason to believe they will be. All the marketing, all the interviews, suggest this book means business. If it turns out to be one massive redirect, fine; as they say, "fool me once, shame on me." I'd rather be fooled into protesting than fooled into submission. So while I understand why they're saying to withhold judgment, I ultimately feel compelled to do otherwise.

Not much later in the podcast, when discussing Superior Spider-Man, a concept was brought up which I've seen said several times by various people, and prior to this by Arena's editor Bill Rosemann: that if people are having an emotional response to something, it must be doing something right. In an interview with CBR, Rosemann said "Art is supposed to push buttons and inspire an emotional response. If we're not striving to create true art each month, then why are we doing this?" He, and others, consider outrage like mine a badge of honor.

I honestly just don't understand how people come to such conclusions. They're indefensible. As this is an online forum, I'll go for the easiest example at hand: trolls. Trolls say things which get a rise out of people. They intentionally piss people off. They elicit an emotional response. And there are some people -- maybe even a lot of people -- who find trolling hilarious, and enjoy watching other people get trolled. You see them pull out the popcorn .gifs and say things like "this is going to be good." With Arena, the same people say "I'm just enjoying seeing these fanboys squirm."

The official stance on trolling, however, isn't that it's great, doing something right, or that it's an art worthy of praise. The official stance is prohibition, and the official punishment is, if the behavior isn't ended, banishment. We recognize that making people sad or angry isn't indicative of anything going right at all, even if others are deriving a very different, even pleasurable experience from it. It may well be that some great things produce negative emotions in people, but the emotions themselves are hardly a proof of good.

So I don't really understand why that line is tossed around so much (particularly as regards Arena) because it's simply not true.

A bit later on in the podcast the two discussed death in comics (obviously a rather relevant topic when it comes to Arena), and Liu, perhaps unknowingly, directly undermined the legitimacy of the entire book. She said she only really accepts death when it serves a greater purpose in the story -- and that it's cheap (Tony called it a stunt) when it's done just to galvanize another character or shape their behavior.

I think we can all agree that the latter is an exact description of what happened to Mettle in Issue #1. On a grander scheme, that's also true of any death in this book, because the only effect it can have is on the other participants in the book. I've said it before but I think Liu's comments really ground my point: beyond the isolated confines of Hopeless' book, these deaths have no impact on the rest of the Marvel universe at all. The only external effect they could hope to have is to piss off and galvanize S.H.I.E.L.D. or Wolverine or the like -- which still falls under the category of cheap death.

Liu talks a bit about what she'd love to have done with X-23 had her run continue -- pairing her up with Black Widow, among things. Whether you loved Liu's handling of Laura or not, I think it's rather infuriating that Marvel has writers actively interested in developing the character, and fans who really want to see that happen, and they are still considering killing that character off.

Liu's "rooting for her" to live, but let's face it: if it really is down to Hazmat and X-23, there's not a single person who believes that Hazmat wins that fight. From a storytelling perspective, it's once again a damned either way scenario: if Laura lives, it's too obvious; if Laura dies, it's cheap. About the only way around it is to say that Laura's victory is so obvious that making her lose would be too obvious, but at that point we're more convoluted than even I care to get.

Which, actually, makes it seem more likely that neither of the two dies, because then you'd be messing with both expectations. But I guess that's all besides the point: that Laura is in a death arena when there are creatives working at Marvel who want to be writing her. The idea that they are forced to sit around hoping for her survival like the rest of us, and that they may not get the opportunity to write her because Marvel decides to kill her off (even if only for a couple years) is just, well, as I said: infuriating.

15 Comments
15 Comments
Edited by Ravager4

@akbogert: *sigh* I'm with you, I don't understand nor will ever understand why this book exists. Instead of actually trying to develop characters for the long haul and do something more meaningful with them, Marvel is throwing them in a sick snuff book to kill most of them. Even worse, have them kill each other. Because that's exactly what fans of these characters want to see *eye roll*. This book's existence killed any interest I ever would have had in getting into Marvel.

The Runaways was one of my favorite comics ever, way before I even started pulling monthlies, and Nico was by far my favorite (making her by default my favorite Marvel character). Knowing that she's been thrown in this book to more than likely die and stay dead (let's be honest, if she dies, she's not 'popular' enough to come back in any sort of reasonable amount of time. A decade maybe, if at all, not to mention they'll have essentially killed any chance of The Runaways reviving in general. Let's be honest, it's just not The Runaways without Nico, she was the very core of that group, the glue that held them together), is beyond infuriating.

I have very little to no hope that she will survive this, and every new thing I read about the book makes me die a little more inside. I get physically nauseous when thinking about it, thinking about how Marvel was so creatively bankrupt that they couldn't figure out anything else to do with all these characters aside from having them kill each other. It sickens me to my very core.

Posted by akbogert

@Ravager4: Yeah, sounds like you and I are on a similar page, then. I lucked out when I visited Midtown Comics over the weekend and was able to buy all of Runaways, and I've just started the second volume (I think that's book 5/11). I fully understand why everyone kept telling me to read it, and the thought of Nico and Chase in this book makes me angrier the further I read. I wrote this before joining CV, and had I read Runaways, I'd have said the same things about Nico.

I've been writing a lot about my loathing for this book, but hearing Liu actually say she wanted to be writing Laura and had to "root for" her to survive? That really galled me. And the dimmer the chances become of a new Runaways volume, the worse my feelings about the book become. I'd love for this to all be a dream -- in the book too, for sure, but some days I feel like I need as much a reprieve as the characters.

Posted by Ravager4

@akbogert: It's even worse knowing that the best I can do is ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist. Which doesn't work so well when I frequent a comic news site...

*sigh* It just absolutely baffles me why anyone thought this was a good idea. I mean, why would you eliminate so many characters for the sake of one story? Any development that you give them over the course of the book is rendered utterly and completely moot when they're just going to die in it, making it impossible to tell new stories about them with that development. None of the deaths have any meaning, and they are all pointless, no matter how they're written, considering none of these deaths would even be happening if this book didn't exist.

As much as I love Nico, I would be okay with her dying say, in another Runaways volume, in some kind of epic battle or making a sacrifice for her friends, where she can at least be remembered for who she was, a caring loving character who would do anything for her friends. At least her death would have actual meaning in that context. But this? This is just pointless. No matter how it's written, if she dies, the end result is that she was brought into the book to die. End of story, and that pisses me off more than anything.

Posted by akbogert

@Ravager4: Yep. We're definitely on the same page. Dare I say, we're in the same echo chamber...

Posted by MatKrenz

The bit I liked the most of the interview is Liu saying that readers should be patient and see what happens. Nothing pissed me off more was when the official preview for issue 3 came out and people were already saying that Darkhawk was gonna kill Cammi and lo and behold she didn't. Impatience is one of my most hated human traits ever. I understand being livid if something happens but don't hate on something based on speculation.

But I do understand all the negative emotions towards the book, I don't wanna see my favorite characters die in there but at the same time Hopeless is one hell of a writer and he's damn good at making me care for the characters he's spotlighted at this point.

So here's to the next issue of Arena, who knows whats gonna happen.

Posted by akbogert

@MatKrenz: Yeah, like I said, I understand why people say don't judge it, and to wait. I'm not even sure what I'm doing is judging, per se. I'm simply taking all the evidence I've been given and trying to draw basic conclusions. And so far, absolutely everything, from the marketing to the interviews to Hopeless' twitter remarks/mockery of complainers to the solicits to what has actually happened in the books so far, suggests that these characters will actually die. As Ravager said, "Any development that you give them over the course of the book is rendered utterly and completely moot when they're just going to die in it, making it impossible to tell new stories about them with that development."

So I've been careful about criticizing the actual quality of the book. As much as I'm convinced it wouldn't be happening if not for the success of The Hunger Games, I won't go so far as to say it's "nothing more than a rip-off." And while he has given absolutely no reason for believing it, I'm even willing to concede that there may be a greater purpose to this book than killing off Marvel's undesirables. But so long as that purpose exists, no other purpose -- greater or otherwise -- will exonerate the book.

Posted by MatKrenz

@akbogert: The thing that sucks tho is that this story type has been done so much lately one of the ways it has to be done originally has to be with with established characters. Because it can only go so far with new characters but as we see with this comic people are pissed and it seems the only way to do it without anyone getting mad is fan fiction and those are extremely hit and miss.

Posted by lykopis

I had a hard time getting past Liu mentioning she has wanted to match up with Black Widow had her X-23 run been allowed to continue....

I can't even...that would have been...ugh. Just so beautiful.

Liu cheering for Laura? Mentioning deaths should mean something and G-Man saying they are stunts...

Again...I can't even....

:/

This whole series is too nonsensical to me. Arcade's power-set does not make sense -- this isn't some alternate universe, how the hamburger did he get so powerful? And thin?

There is no reason for this --- so many non-sensical happenings and even NON-happenings. Why aren't there anyone looking for these individuals? Still don't the point of this at all. A culling of young mutants? Why? What for? Where's the purpose? Too many of them? Don't know what to do? (with the Academy kids and the Runaways). And that's another thing -- the Runaways series didn't even end properly. It just...stopped. Why? Why not restart/revamp it with the other MarvelNOW books? There has been nothing but praise for these kinds --- even Daken's last issue had this team front and centre.

More and more interviews with writers/artists/what have you are becoming more and more like actors appearing on late night talk shows. There is a script followed, loosely but still -- its there. A comic preview is the equivalent to that 20 second segment usually shown to hype and movie but at least on the Tonight Show, the actor has a tongue-in-cheek response to leading questions which would reveal the plot. That's at least somewhat honest.

This whole "rooting" for Laura shtick is annoying and insulting. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Liu's work but she just a mouth piece for marvel at this point and it's all part of the marketing initiative which in this instance, bombed badly.

Get this series done with, please. I don't even mind loose ends --- big ones. Let's just pretend Avenger's Arena never happened....

Posted by akbogert

@MatKrenz: I just don't think anyone can make a legitimate argument for why a hopeless-teens-forced-to-kill-each-other-in-a-deathmatch-arena using established characters has to exist. Even if that is the only original way to spin it, that wouldn't make it worth doing. It doesn't make it more interesting, really. The people who like it are people who didn't care about the characters to begin with, so I don't think there is really a huge difference for them between the known characters they don't know much of and totally new characters. Meanwhile, those who do like and know the characters? As you said. "People are pissed."

Posted by MatKrenz

@akbogert: At some point in the future im gonna bet people are going to start making those arguments. Im not one of those people but this is how stories go, usually when a concept is done to the death original material people will start wondering if it's done with established characters. Again not advocating it but it's gonna happen.

Posted by akbogert

@lykopis: Not that I believe Liu would be allowed to outright condemn the book if she hated it, but do you actually think she was lying/just talking out her rear about hoping Laura pulls through?

I do indeed wish it would simply go away.

@MatKrenz said:

@akbogert: At some point in the future im gonna bet people are going to start making those arguments. Im not one of those people but this is how stories go, usually when a concept is done to the death original material people will start wondering if it's done with established characters. Again not advocating it but it's gonna happen.

Well, unfortunately, they won't need to make the arguments because the book already exists as a test case. I just wish it could be deemed a failure and, as I said, simply go away.

I'm hoping to see a further tanking in sales from Issue 2 to Issue 3 (because there was a decent little dropoff between 1 and 2). Right now those numbers are the only thing keeping me sane about this. If the book starts to gain momentum...I don't know how I'll take that.

Posted by lykopis

@akbogert:

I do believe she was outright lying when expressing hope Laura will pull through. I am very confident in stating that. Not too long ago she approached the powers that be at Marvel if she could create a new team of superheros/villains comprised of popular Marvel characters and she was outright rejected. Granted, I suspected something was in the works because of the Marvel NOW initiative would was being marketed at the time, but now that we pretty much now what books are coming out, her idea would have rocked.

It's interesting to follow along and hear what people in the industry have to say but I find myself talking more and more salt to go along with it. There is gung ho and then there is flat out pushing a product. Which is fine -- to an extent. When you have writers saying things like generating emotions from fans are indicators of good sales, I get more than a little disappointed. That this is shared with the public I find bad in and of itself. Like, really? How easy is it to annoy/upset long time fans of certain characters? Clearly very easy. But patting yourself on the back as though that's evidence of writer prowess is only truly evidence of a disconnect with your audience.

It seems more and more that it's going to keep going in that direction. (Really hoping I am wrong)

Posted by akbogert

@lykopis: Well (obviously, based on my blog) I'm in complete agreement about the shoddiness of that line of logic.

But let me rephrase my question: do you think Liu wants Laura to die? It seems to me that even if she were upset with how things had gone for her, it'd be in her best interest for the character to make it through so she could have another shot. Or are you suggesting she's privy to information on Laura's ultimate fate?

And to clarify, she said that thing about generating emotions from fans about Slott's work, which, while equally infuriating, at least means it wasn't said as part of pushing Arena.

Posted by lykopis

@akbogert:

Ah! Sorry for misreading your last post.

I don't believe Liu wants X-23 killed, but clearly she wants to support what Hickman is doing and so will express ignorance but I do believe she knows. Just as a professional courtesy considering how long Liu had been reading the character. They are all sworn to secrecy anyway as part of their employment contacts.

Good to know she wasn't speaking in terms of Avenger's Arena. But oh boy --- this was put to what's happening over in Superior Spiderman? Ugh. I could have done without the reminder of that other nonsense floating in the Marvel world this week.

Posted by akbogert

@lykopis: Haha. I still haven't decided whether it makes me angrier because it's all so terrible, or makes things a little better because at least I'm not the only fan being screwed over by NOW. Misery loves company and all, right? Gah. It really is sad.