The latest offering in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).
This week, I am going to look at Dennis Hopeless’ Avengers Arena and Avengers Undercover. But, before I do, some background on me. A couple weeks ago, I was discussing a certain award nominated film I saw in theaters, and I was complaining about it, how I thought the last ⅓ really fell apart. My coworker pointed out that I frequently criticize everything, and asked me if I could name 7 movies that I do not have an issue with. I gave her a list much longer than 7, but as I was coming up with my list, I did have to cross some out, because, as much as I liked a movie, I did have some issues with it.
Of course, I am free to criticize whatever I want, just as you are. The reason I bring this all up, is that I would like you to consider my opinion on Hopeless’ 2 title, mini-saga of YA superheroic angst under the auspices that I really appreciate what he was trying to do and some of the decisions he made. I tend to appreciate when an artist tries something new, even if it is flawed, this is more daring than rehashing some of the same old ideas.
So, what then, is my take on what Hopeless was trying to do? Avengers Arena is Battle Royale, with Marvel Characters. Or is it Hunger Games? Wait, you might point out, how is that original? Because, in Big Two comicbooks, characters rarely die. Certainly, even more rare is a series flat out telling the reader that characters will die. And Avengers Arena delivered. 6 out of the 16 characters competing for their lives died. There were a couple false positives, characters shown to be dead, who were later revealed to not have died, or were returned from death. But at the conclusion of the series ⅜ of the characters were dead!
Putting on my critical hat, the main issue I had was that of the 16 characters fighting for survival, 6 were created just for the series (mind you, I love the idea of Braddock Academy), and 3 were hardly used (of late) minor characters, thus leaving 7 characters that had been relevant in the recent Marvel U. It is hard to get attached to a character when it is likely they will die. During the publication of the series, AoG Editor Mike and I would often discuss this series, and wonder if the whole thing was going to be a dream, or some other type of cop-out.
Kudos to Mr. Hopeless for not copping out.
But, I know that I would have been far more invested in the series had it used more recently used younger characters: They pulled several from Avengers Academy, a series I enjoyed; some of the Runaways were present, characters I had a connection to; no Young Avengers; no X-Academy students; not even any Young Allies. To play pundit, I would have offered up a formula of 10 recent characters, 3 characters who had not been used much (New Warriors was a roster full of these characters, and was a title relaunched during the run of Avengers Undercover), and 3 new characters. With the new characters, give us a reason to care about them. Give them personalities, let us love or loathe them. And, anyone who knows me, knows I love new characters, and to be fair, many of the new characters were sort of legacy characters. But none of them had the charm of Shamrock.
Onto the Villain: Arcade
Arcade is a classic Marvel villain. He has been a Fantastic Foe, an X-Foe, a Spidey-Foe, and even had the gall to pit himself against Doctor Doom!
If you don’t know Arcade, you are probably saying, wow, he must be really powerful.
He is a genius with a penchant for creating death traps.
In my game designer alter-ego, he is a character who, in most superhero rpgs, is a foe easily beaten by the lowliest of heroes. To say he is an inspiration is not entirely true, but villains like him certainly are. Yes, he sometimes has tech gadgets to aid him, but at the end of the day, he is a themed villain, and that is pretty awesome.
Additionally, he had an iconic look: white suit, colorful bowtie, bad font selection.
When it was revealed that Arcade was the foe behind Avengers Arena, I started believing it wasn’t all a dream or some such nonsense. Arcade played for keeps. Unfortunately, his attire and styling changed in unfortunate ways.
And then Avengers Arena ended. I know there were petitions going around the interwebs asking it to be cancelled. Some research indicates it was only meant to be 18 issues, whether that is party-line rhetoric or the truth is inconsequential to me.
This led us to the second chapter in what I am calling the Hopeless Saga: Avengers Undercover.
“The characters who survived Murderworld came out the other side much different than they went in. Those psychological scars from the “Arena” weigh heavily on all of the kids. They don’t fit so well into their old lives. They no longer feel like they belong and they’re all looking for a way to get back what they’ve lost. All of this leads them down the path of Avengers Undercover.”
And, what an interesting premise it was, these fragile young heroes now had to deal with life after Murder World, all the while plotting and scheming and trying to figure out what their next steps will be.
There were some really cool ideas here, and I loved seeing all the villains in Bagalia and at The Hole (hidden supercriminal bar). The choices these characters make are interesting and compelling and a very logical outgrowth from their time in the Arena.
And it was cancelled. Hopeless had planned for 15 or more issues and had to wrap up his story after 10 issues.
But, the story ended.
That was two years ago.
Hellstrom, who was written as a very dark grey member of the Masters of Evil has now popped up in Dr. Strange, his look much worse than Arcade’s in Arena. And Nico is a member of A-Force.
Where is everyone else?
Or, bringing the whole discussion back to the basis for this article, is there any fallout? Is this an idea that should be explored again. Whatever the current iteration Marvel is called now has many young heroes: Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Nova, Nightmask, Starbrand, Moon Girl, Miles Morales, and they are headlining some books of their own and starring in others, their youth being a not insignificant part of their story lines. But what about all the young adult emotional angst of Cammi, Death Locket, and Hazmat?
The case for:
Marvel’s current slate of titles covers many corners of the universe, with youth oriented books, and some books having a more global feel.
The two titles covered 28 issues over a span of more than two years. There have been significant, important runs of comics that were significantly shorter.
Revisiting this idea would cement the fact that when Arcade is involved, people die.
The case against:
Neither title sold particularly well.
Marvel has plenty of other young heroes.
Nico is a member of A-Force, so, it is possible some of this history is still present, and could be revisited.
X-23 is the new Wolverine, and even has her own title.
Arcade is (in theory) still out there, so perhaps he is working on his next great plan. Although there is no official sequel to Lord of the Flies; Hunger Games, and Battle Royale both did have follow-up works.
There very well could be something to be said for letting this dark corner of the Marvel U lay dormant for awhile, and then revisiting it.