Thursday, June 6, 2013

365 Comics...157: Avengers Arena #10 (2013)


Oh boy, I honestly didn't feel bad for the backlash Dennis Hopeless was receiving when he started this Avengers Arena gig, back when I though it was *just* a cheap-thrills book/excuse for making dead teenagers, but now that I see that there's more to the series than just that, now that I can see much of the craft Hopeless is putting into the book, I feel a little bad for the backlash he's now receiving and going to continue to get, except that I shouldn't, because this is what the reaction should be.

Many of the characters in Avengers Arena were created by Hopeless for the series with ties to Marvel-at-large (Kid Briton, Bloodstone, Death Locket), others cam from minor parts throughout the Marvel universe (Cammi, Juston, Darkhawn), others from the Avengers Academy (this series' direct predecessor) and of course the female Wolverine clone X-23.  Oh yeah, and the Runaways Nico and Chase.

I stopped reading the Runaways after Brian K. Vaughn and Joss Whedon finished their runs, and to me their story kind of stopped there.  I know they were pushed around a bit and integration into the Marvel U was forced a bit more, but they seemed like a true clan of outsiders, and Hopeless has sustained them as such in this series, having Nico and Chase keep to themselves for the most part.  They're not superheroes, really, they're not trained ones at least, and their school-of-hard-knocks experience doesn't count for much against a likeminded group of scared and/or duplicitous teenagers, nor their homicidal warden, Arcade, the proprietor of the deathmatch they found themselves in.

Nico was apparently killed this issue by the villain of the piece, the one teenager who has made it known that she's fully accepting the terms of Arcade's game and she intends to win. Apex is able to control technology, and as such, she killed Juston last issue to steal his Sentinel, she's hijacked Death Locket, and she's also taken over Chase's inherited Darkhawk armor.  It's through controlling Chase that she got the jump on Nico, slicing her arm off, severing her from her staff.  Cold brutality, yes, and oh, for fans of Nico (as I am) a harsh blow.  This is not quite Red Wedding level of shock and awe but the result is kind of the same.  Much of the AV Club's essay Why the Red Wedding Has Such An Emotional Impact can carry over to what Hopeless has done here.

Bleeding Cool has assembled some Tumblr reactions to Nico's death, and the results are knee jerk and hysterical, because of course they are. My favourite is this one :


I did not, until just now, really look at the last pages preceding Nico’s death.

She sees Chase show up. She is relieved. She goes to apologize, and has her arm blown off, the staff (which should not break) broken, and is then dropkicked off a cliff.

By her best friend.

Hopeless didn’t just kill Nico.

He used Chase to do it.

If I sounded angry over the last few days, that was nothing compared to how I feel right now.
This is my favourite reaction because it's spelling out exactly what makes this death so well orchestrated.  There's the duplicity as Nico thinks she faces a friend, only to find out too late that it's not really her friend at all.  But at the same time, Chase is not performing the action, and he's helpless to stop it.  So if he actually does murder his best friend, he's going to have that hanging on him... Chase, the perpetual fuckup, the one without powers, the one who couldn't save the day, again.  It's unfortunate, truly, that Nico was the victim of this and that it wouldn't work as well (or at all) the other way around... and given that Nico's final word to her staff was "HELP", a spell I'm not sure she's ever cast before, perhaps it's not her final word afterall (I hope Hopeless has indeed gone through all of Nico's appearances to catalog her spells, or at least ensure she hasn't said this one before...also "help" might not necessarily mean Nico still lives, but it may alert the outside world to this seemingly hidden Murderworld).

It's all rather sharp writing from Hopeless, who wants this kind of visceral, emotional outpouring from readers.  It's a brave (not in like fireman/policeman/soldier brave, but like challenging the establishment brave, shaking up the status quo brave) move, particularly because it may wind up alienating readers (as so many are reacting that they're quitting Marvel or comics for good), but at the same time it's captivating storytelling and I'm sure most of these people will be back again to see how it all plays out.  Afterall, if their favourite character dies, and they don't find out what it was all for, then didn't their favourite character die in vain?  And if it turns out that what it's all for is just some stupid crap like an Avengers VR training simulation and everyone's still alive, all used to root out which trainees are not capable of being truly
heroic, then sure, it's worthwhile to get upset.  Actually wait, that's actually perfectly acceptable, if quite a cheat ending to all this, although you'd have a lot of really PO'd teenaged heroes (those Avengers Academy kids were already deceived once before).

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