Sixteen teenagers are brought to an arena to fight to the death...sound familiar? Well, you haven't seen it like this before. In Avengers Arena: Kill or Die, local author Dennis Hopeless puts a superhero spin on this twenty-first century trope, pitting a group of young superheroes-in-training against one another. The puppet master in Kill or Die is a supervillain named Arcade, who apparently favors overly elaborate ways to kill his victims, but has perfected an environment designed to coerce these teens into killing one another. Despite valiant attempts at alliance and nobility, Arcade's plan is too good, and many creatively violent deaths ensue.
While there's admittedly some similarities to young adult powerhouses like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, Hopeless winkingly acknowledges this in the opening act, having Arcade admit that he "got the idea from a couple of kids' books I read in the pen." That kind of self-aware style pervades the comic book, creating a constant awareness of the medium, which I found playful and inventive. But that's not to say Hopeless is a lightweight when it comes to content—aside from the violence and dark themes that accompany such a brutal premise, he also takes the time to give us glimpses into his characters' thoughts, their memories and even their origin stories. We learn that the unstoppable cyborg is a devastated orphan, that the boy with flamethrowers for arms is in an existential struggle to find his own capacity for goodness. It's these small, deft touches that truly invest you in the characters and make you gasp when the volume reaches its gripping conclusion. The first in a series, Avengers Arena: Kill or Die is sure to please any fan of the superhero genre—especially those looking for the Marvel sparkle outside of the usual characters.