A Few Thoughts on Avengers Arena, Inspired by the Liu Podcast

I'd like to preface this by saying I don't have tunnel vision, and that I got a lot of good stuff out of the podcast (Even commented as such on the Podcast page). These were ancillary points onto which I've, unsurprisingly, latched, regarding Avengers Arena and its implications.

Given Liu's previous work on X-23 and Laura's current role in Hopeless' series, the subject of the book, and fan responses to it, came up. Liu and Tony agreed that it's best to just let the book play out and not to judge it prematurely. I appreciate why they and others say that; it's true, we don't know what the ultimate plan for the book or these characters is. But it seems to me that Hopeless has created a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario here. Fans of the characters will be upset if they die -- no matter how they die, and now matter how good the story gets. Fans of the book will be upset if they don't die, because the high stakes are the only thing keeping them interested.

Obviously there are a few exceptions on either side, but in general I think what I just said Is true. As a character fan, I'm judging the book because I believe Marvel cares more about the opinions of the people paying them for it than about the people who are not. Sure, I can't be positive the deaths are real, but I have plenty of reason to believe they will be. All the marketing, all the interviews, suggest this book means business. If it turns out to be one massive redirect, fine; as they say, "fool me once, shame on me." I'd rather be fooled into protesting than fooled into submission. So while I understand why they're saying to withhold judgment, I ultimately feel compelled to do otherwise.

Not much later in the podcast, when discussing Superior Spider-Man, a concept was brought up which I've seen said several times by various people, and prior to this by Arena's editor Bill Rosemann: that if people are having an emotional response to something, it must be doing something right. In an interview with CBR, Rosemann said "Art is supposed to push buttons and inspire an emotional response. If we're not striving to create true art each month, then why are we doing this?" He, and others, consider outrage like mine a badge of honor.

I honestly just don't understand how people come to such conclusions. They're indefensible. As this is an online forum, I'll go for the easiest example at hand: trolls. Trolls say things which get a rise out of people. They intentionally piss people off. They elicit an emotional response. And there are some people -- maybe even a lot of people -- who find trolling hilarious, and enjoy watching other people get trolled. You see them pull out the popcorn .gifs and say things like "this is going to be good." With Arena, the same people say "I'm just enjoying seeing these fanboys squirm."

The official stance on trolling, however, isn't that it's great, doing something right, or that it's an art worthy of praise. The official stance is prohibition, and the official punishment is, if the behavior isn't ended, banishment. We recognize that making people sad or angry isn't indicative of anything going right at all, even if others are deriving a very different, even pleasurable experience from it. It may well be that some great things produce negative emotions in people, but the emotions themselves are hardly a proof of good.

So I don't really understand why that line is tossed around so much (particularly as regards Arena) because it's simply not true.

A bit later on in the podcast the two discussed death in comics (obviously a rather relevant topic when it comes to Arena), and Liu, perhaps unknowingly, directly undermined the legitimacy of the entire book. She said she only really accepts death when it serves a greater purpose in the story -- and that it's cheap (Tony called it a stunt) when it's done just to galvanize another character or shape their behavior.

I think we can all agree that the latter is an exact description of what happened to Mettle in Issue #1. On a grander scheme, that's also true of any death in this book, because the only effect it can have is on the other participants in the book. I've said it before but I think Liu's comments really ground my point: beyond the isolated confines of Hopeless' book, these deaths have no impact on the rest of the Marvel universe at all. The only external effect they could hope to have is to piss off and galvanize S.H.I.E.L.D. or Wolverine or the like -- which still falls under the category of cheap death.

Liu talks a bit about what she'd love to have done with X-23 had her run continue -- pairing her up with Black Widow, among things. Whether you loved Liu's handling of Laura or not, I think it's rather infuriating that Marvel has writers actively interested in developing the character, and fans who really want to see that happen, and they are still considering killing that character off.

Liu's "rooting for her" to live, but let's face it: if it really is down to Hazmat and X-23, there's not a single person who believes that Hazmat wins that fight. From a storytelling perspective, it's once again a damned either way scenario: if Laura lives, it's too obvious; if Laura dies, it's cheap. About the only way around it is to say that Laura's victory is so obvious that making her lose would be too obvious, but at that point we're more convoluted than even I care to get.

Which, actually, makes it seem more likely that neither of the two dies, because then you'd be messing with both expectations. But I guess that's all besides the point: that Laura is in a death arena when there are creatives working at Marvel who want to be writing her. The idea that they are forced to sit around hoping for her survival like the rest of us, and that they may not get the opportunity to write her because Marvel decides to kill her off (even if only for a couple years) is just, well, as I said: infuriating.