Avengers Arena's first season is coming to a close, and one of the most controversial books on the shelf isn't pulling any punches. The kids' psyches and resolve have been slowly whittled down over the last 29 days, and they're finally ready to break and go full-on Lord of the Flies, but it actually feels like a logical place for the book to get to after sixteen issues. We've seen all sorts of different reactions from the various factions that have formed and especially the kids within those factions and even the kids created for this very book feel like an organic part of the Marvel U. Dennis Hopeless has crafted a story about being pushed to the absolute limits, both mentally and physically, and that's an interesting place for superpowered individuals to be at. I remember when this book first came out and was being dismissed as a stunt, killing established characters for shock value, but actually very few characters (the recap page tells us only 6/16) have been killed. It certainly began with a bang, but that's called getting a reader's attention. This has been one of the most interesting books to continue reading, because everyone is expendable and no one has the golden halo of being a Main Character, so the reader doesn't know what's going to happen next. That very fact seems to put some people off. At the same time, the writing has been consistently strong and the characters (all sixteen, plus Arcade and more) have been written with a consistent logic and clear vision. One of the best things about this issue is how the interactions between the characters, some of which have built up over the previous fifteen issues, finally dissolve and it all feels very organic. We also reach the point that was alluded to in the first issue (Hazmat VS X-23), so now we truly have no idea what's going to happen next.
Karl Moline continues his duties as penciler with Mark Pennington and Rick Magyar, as well as himself, on inks and Jean-Francois Beaulieu on colors with admittedly mixed results. The characters all maintain their distinct look and the action continues to be as animated as it is hard-hitting, particularly during the action scenes, but it's when the book slows down and becomes, without spoiling too much, more about espionage and choosing the right moment than superpowers banging into one another that the art truly comes together and shines.
As good as the art is in general, a few individual panels fall victim to the "too many chefs spoil the broth" principle. Some pages look more busy than they need to, and a lot of characters look overly muddy and indistinct and it becomes clear that a whole lot of people were working on this project. It isn't that you can't tell one from the other, quite the contrary based on their designs, it's that you can't see the finer details in each panel. It's muddy to the point of being indistinct, and outside of a horror comic, that doesn't work.
Certain aspects of the dissolution of what could be called civility seem a little bit rushed as both Nico and Chase seem to rather suddenly decide that it's time to take things to another level and begin fighting for keeps rather than trying to keep everyone united and calm. It's not a terribly glaring moment, but it does seem just a bit forced.
It's funny that this book has taken so much flak for being a "stunt" or "killing so many characters" when really, over sixteen issues, Hopeless has killed fewer characters than Superboy Prime did back in a single issue of Infinite Crisis. None of the deaths, no, not even the ones that made everyone so very angry at the beginning, were done arbitrarily or without reason and that's the linchpin that holds the entire book together in the end. There's a certain suspense that holds the book together that is absent from a LOT of mainstream books, and it's what I mentioned before: you honestly don't know who's going to live and who's going to die.