I’ve harbored a secret since May of 2013. It’s nothing to be ashamed of—more like a guilty pleasure—but I didn’t advertise it to my comics reading friends. I’m ready to come clean: I read both Avengers Arena and Young Avengers (and I’m in my mid-30s).
Avengers Arena is The Hunger Games meets Avengers sidekicks (note the Battle Royale homage cover pictured at right), an infectious, jump-in-and-read soap opera where the stakes are life or death—and sometimes both. The premise is thin, and yet this comic is more readable, funny, clever, and addictive than most marquee books.
Writer Dennis Hopeless (don’t let the ominous name dissuade you) smartly assigns visible life meters to each character, and they deplete with each act of aggression. It’s a great way for readers to keep powers and character fights in check amidst the explosions, shape-changers, and killer tidal waves. Hopeless doles out the love triangles, and artist Kev Walker supplies jagged, frenetic lines to everyone and everything—giving it all page-turning momentum. All three volumes are now available and tell one heck of a complete and satisfying story.
No less addictive but much headier, the restart to Young Avengers introduces a young Loki to the team along with Ms. America (I didn’t know her, either). The former addition proves to be writer Kieron Gillen’s winning formula, as Loki’s mischievous, know-it-all attitude gives the book its funny backbone. Rejoining the team are series stalwarts Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, who’s also co-starring in Matt Fraction’s sublime Hawkeye), Wiccan and his boyfriend Hulkling, and Marvel Boy. The longtime romance between Wiccan and Hulking has always been the lynchpin of the team, and here it is tested thanks to Loki’s boss-level scheming.
The villain of the first two arcs (a monster mom!) could have quickly run aground, but Gillen keeps the narrative upright by dropping meta-sized plot bombs onto the team, resulting in a book that is full of young adults but reads like a crossover drama. Jamie McKelvie’s art is a pleasure, all clean lines, distinctive character designs, and believable expressions.
My secret’s out, and it seems silly to have kept it so. These are great books that deserve wider recognition. Join me on the rooftop. I’ll be the one shouting.