Review: AVENGERS ARENA #14

AVENGERS ARENA #14
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Kev Walker, Jason Gorder, Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Release Date: August 28th, 2013

AVENARENA2012014_DC11_LRKidnapped and forced to fight each other for the right to live, the young heroes of Avengers Arena have spent three weeks trying to survive in Murder World together – and not all of them have lasted. From accidents to outright betrayal, five have been lost to Arcade’s lethal game, and the bloodshed is far from over.

Avengers Arena is a complicated title, particularly in how it’s been received by readers. Frequently pegged as a c-list bloodbath launched to cash in on Hunger Games buzz – or appeal to Marvel’s more vindictive fans – it’s true that Avengers Arena is a blood-flecked gimmick book… but what Avengers Arena is as a story isn’t limited to its tacky premise. Hopeless has plucked sixteen characters from the backburner and thrown them into the fire, forging unique relationships and fleshing out the cast with such potency that even the most jaded of readers are likely to become invested in their survival.

Hopeless continues that cycle in this issue, putting Bloodstone at the forefront of the story. Through various conversations, Bloodstone’s mindset is fleshed out, his affection for his former classmate is reestablished, and his backstory is presented through narrated flashback panels. Hopeless handles the presentation well, juggling this rehashing of facts between characters without fumbling into forced delivery. He gives the more suspenseful ongoings of Hazmat and her companion less attention, instead pulling tension built by Bloodstone’s unfolding backstory to give #14’s end the push it needs to draw readers into the fray. It’s a unique storytelling move and works out excellently.

But as engaging as Hopless’s storytelling is, the book’s art is its biggest draw. Walker’s distinctive style is a great fit for the young cast, and he makes panels work for him as opposed to working inside the panels. He has no struggle translating everything into his style, from wildly different costumes to glimpses of bizarre beasts, which gives the book an incredibly solid look from start to finish. His skill and consistency echo in his backgrounds work as well, beautiful beaches and foliage-thick forests — and even piles of rubble — all perfectly executed. Walker is also incredible with expressions and body language, poses kept natural and not a single set of wide eyes or soft frown out of place; his character art is so good, in fact, much of the story rests on its shoulders and could likely be carried without dialogue.

The inking is absolutely fantastic, with Walker and Gordor working together. The varied solid ink and cross hatching used for shadowing gives the book’s already unique look extra visual draw to set it even further apart, beautifully applied and well-contrasted by leaving color outlines to better draw the characters out against it. The inking keeps panels busy with countless emphasis and detail lines, lining out facial features and drawing attention to scuffs and details on costumes, and giving substantial weight and life to backgrounds, particularly in woodsy scenes. It is especially gorgeous on Cullen’s shirt, giving the material tangible texture.

Beaulieu manages to take already amazing art and enhance it even further. His own shading follows Walker and Gordor’s leads, branching out when something needs more weight such as a clump of leaves or the shadowing and highlights on a character’s face. He adds further texture to clothing like Anachronism’s kilt and surfaces like sand and smoke, and has no problem giving blank panel space color and form to keep it from feeling empty. And from the faded look of Bloodstone’s backstory sequence to using just the right amount of color work on X-23’s suit to make it gleam, Beaulieu doesn’t seem to make a single misstep, delivering truly gorgeous results.

Avengers Arena isn’t the kind of book that most look to for beautiful art, but just like with its character-driven story, readers who haven’t picked up the title will likely be surprised at what they find should they ever take a look. Questionable premise aside, Avengers Arena remains an engagingly written, masterfully drawn love letter to the characters it ensnares. And, perhaps, to is heartbroken audience.

Verdict: 10/10

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