Avengers Arena’s Boss Level has almost come and gone and Dennis Hopeless’ tale of teen hero desperation isn’t letting up. Arcade seems cornered, but he’s already demonstrated a keen ability for evasion and contingencies, and while a few survivors try to find a way to save everyone, there might not be much of an everyone to save. Hopeless has given us a situation in which the darkest aspects of some of the most troubled characters in the Marvel U can seep through, and while he’s been criticized for not writing the characters faithfully, actually going back and looking at the histories of the Runaways and the Avengers Academy kids (to say nothing of the characters he created whole cloth), they’ve always had a lot of edge and they’ve often been teetering on the precipice, especially where other young heroes are concerned. Arcade didn’t so much nudge them off as he drove a semi-truck at them, forcing them to jump and that’s why I don’t think anything that goes on in this book is out of character.
Kev Walker hops onto pencils and joins Jason Gorder on inks with Jean-Francois Beaulieu supplying the alternately sterile, muted darkness of the underground base and the bright, messy palette of the island. This is a book full of grimacing faces, but everyone grimaces a little differently and no one (but Arcade) has much reason to smile anyway. But Arcade’s face is rendered in all of its smarmy, punchable glory and I can’t wait to see how this winds up for him.
There’s very little not to like about this book if you’re alright seeing characters you love in impossibly difficult, painful situations and not always handling them as well as they could. But that’s all part of crafting psychologically realistic characters: they don’t always make the right choices. If I had a real complaint, it would be about the pacing of the issue. There’s a very intense battle raging on the surface, but it seems to be put on hold every time we focus on things underground.
Now that we know where this book is headed, I’m excited to see how we get there. I’m still not entirely sure who lives and who dies, and that’s part of the fun. We seem to complain about how predictable and samey everything is and this book absolutely blows that notion out of the water by being unpredictable, but never untrue. The art matches the desperate, messed-up tone of the writing to a tee and there's even a little time for a quip or two to make sure it's not ALL doom and gloom ALL the time.