Interesting Tidbit That Goes On For Too Long: You may already know this, but there is a sad and frustrating backstory leading up to the publication of this giant-sized annual. Originally, this book was going to be published in three parts, as the Young Allies Annual, Spider-Girl Annual, and Avengers Academy Annual, with a story that would tie into all three books, much in the manner of the Spider-Man/Deadpool/Hulk annuals or the X-Men/Steve Rogers/Namor annuals (the latter set of which I’ve heard very good things).
Of course, with the cancelation of both Young Allies and Spider-Girl, Marvel instead repackaged the annuals and decided to solicit them as a three-part miniseries titled Arcade: Death Game. This is actually when I originally learned of this mini’s existence and was eargerly anticipating it, since it features my two favorite Marvel teen teams at the moment. Of course, plans for this mini got scrapped as well.
FINALLY, this story showed up again in the May solicits, now as one giant-sized issue (80 pages) with all three parts combined. Now that I finally have my hands on it and had a chance to read it several times, it’s time to see if the wait was worth it.
Writer: Paul Tobin
Penciler: David Baldeon
Inker: Jordi Tarragona
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover Artists: McGuiness & Sotomayor
Variant Cover Arists: Samnee & Wilson
The Avengers Academy cadets: Reptil (Humberto Lopez), Veil (Madeline Berry), Striker (Brandon Sharpe), Finesse (Jeanne Foucalt).
The Young Allies: Spider-Girl (Anya Corazon), Firestar (Angelica Jones), Toro (Benito Serrano).
***WARNING: HALL PASS REQUIRED TO SEE SPOILERS***
The Plot: Since this tale was originally meant to be three parts, I will split the plot into three segments as well, to make it more visually appealing:
ACT ONE – YOUNG ALLIES
The Avengers Academy cadets (minus Mettle and Hazmat) are enjoying a day off in Bryant Park, NYC without the supervision of their teachers. After Veil and Reptil get separated from Striker and Finesse, they proceed to track them down when they are ambushed by robots, which have also captured their two friends. As this is happening, Spider-Girl and Firestar arrive at a location where Toro said he’d meet them, but they are attacked and captured by robots as well. Striker and Finesse regain consciousness and find themselves in their uniforms and trapped in an underwater glass chamber surrounded by sharks. Reptil awakes in a warehouse and finds Spider-Girl. After a brief misunderstanding, the two try to battle their way out but are confronted by their captor, Arcade.
ACT TWO – SPIDER-GIRL
Arcade introduces Murderworld, his “game”complex, to Spider-Girl and Reptil. Their teammates are located there in various traps, and Arcade decides to pit the two young heroes in a competition. Finding themselves unable to carry out Arcade’s tasks, Reptil and Spider-Girl decide to find Murderworld itself and rescue their friends. Meanwhile, while Toro, Firestar, Striker, and Finesse are struggling to escape, Veil puts to use what she learned from Norman Osborn to escape her trap.
ACT THREE – AVENGERS ACADEMY
The Academy students use their wits to escape their traps. Before Striker, Finesse, and Veil are crushed by killer robots, Reptil and Spider-Girl infiltrate Murderworld and help them out. Meanwhile, Firestar and Toro seemingly fail their games. When the rest of the teen heroes are taken down, Arcade comes out of his control room, only to find that he’s been tricked (after Striker knocked out the cameras, the teens switched themselves out with Arcade’s robots). Arcade creates diversions in an attempt to escape back to the control room, but Reptil has beat him there and swiftly knocks him out in front of his employers (who have been watching the whole thing via live feed). The Academy cadets take Arcade into custody, and Spider-Girl gives Reptil her phone number.
The Good: Just look at the plot section above. This is not a short read at all. I was concerned before I bought this issue that I was gonna get done quickly with it, but it must have taken me somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes. You can be sure that this story is definitely worth your money.
Onto the issue itself, I definitely enjoyed David Baldeon’s art. His designs are exactly what I like seeing in comic book art. Of course, he’s greatly helped by one of my favorite colorists, Chris Sotomayor. He has a way of making everything lively and vibrant, and it sets the tone for the story overall. This is not a dark, gritty tale, but just great comic book fun.
Paul Tobin is an interesting choice for this story. While Christos Gage is the writer for Avengers Academy and Sean McKeever for Young Allies, Tobin was behind the Spider-Girl ongoing. Surprisingly, he’s got a good grasp of the Avengers Academy students (Gage has built them up to be rather complex characters, so this is good news to me, someone who followed those early issues), and most of the annual is devoted to them. Of course, being Spider-Girl’s writer, he also has her take a very prominent role. Sadly, he only uses Firestar and Toro from the Young Allies (besides Anya, of course), and they are kinda only there. Toro practically has no lines, and he and Firestar perform poorly in their Murderworld traps. Gravity and Nomad are nowhere to be found, but I chalk that up to the Onslaught Unleashed mini not being finished yet.
Tobin’s tale is actually really fun. Our main antagonist is Arcade (an X-villain who was recently in a FF issue), who has built a facility full of traps for the teen heroes. Visually, he’s like a deranged—sorry, MORE deranged Conan O’Brien. His schtick here reminds me a lot of the Saw films in that he has placed our heroes in “games” that they have to beat, but unlike Jigsaw in those movies, Arcade has every intention of killing them. Granted, the games are very ridiculous, but in a good way, and they never get visceral or involve any mutilating whatsoever, but they provide appropriate danger for our heroes. Besides, we have a Conan O’Brien/Jigsaw pastiche in a comic book. How can you say no to that?!
I already mentioned the Young Allies, but the AA students get enough face time that does them justice and is true to Gage’s book. In particular, I liked Veil a lot in this issue. We’ve discussed over on the boards the possibility of Veil being the most likely to become the next Marvel villain (for those of you not in the know, the AA students are those that Norman Osborn himself chose to train, so Hank Pym and the other teachers put them in the Academy to keep them from becoming villains). The greatest panels, in my opinion, are those where she knocks out a guard and arms herself with a rifle. But just the fact that she’s using Osborn’s tactics makes her someone to watch out for. Finesse, usually proud in her ability to get out of any situation, begins to crumble under pressure. Reptil, normally very shy with girls, becomes closer to Anya during their ordeal. I am a sucker for this kind of subplots, so I liked it very much here. Spider-Girl of course comes off as very capable, using her S.H.I.E.L.D. training to locate the Murderworld facility. I wouldn’t expect nothing less from her. Striker is hot-headed as usual, and it’s very subtle, but you can also detect a slight rivalry between him and Reptil. All in all, it’s fantastic character work.
The Bad: There are a few hiccups but, honestly, they are more of a fault from the publishing side of things. For instance, since these were originally separate tales, you can tell where Act One ends and Act Two starts, because Arcade starts repeating himself about the nature of Murderworld. This line is not as easily seen between Act Two and Act Three; the transition there is practically seamless. It was a little weird, but not too bad.
The cover is what really bugs me. The variant cover is the cover that was going to be used for all three parts separately, but the regular cover is the one with Steve Rogers, Spider-Man, and Iron Man. Ugh, why are they on there? None of them are in the story AT ALL, so I fail to see the reason for putting them on the cover. I guess it MAY have something to do with what one of the solicitations said about their proteges taking center stage or something, but that’s too far-fetched to me.
The Ugly: Perhaps the initial obstacle that may hold readers from buying this issue (other than Spider-Girl being on the cover, of course) is the price. The book has a lot of things going for it, so I gave it a chance, and I didn’t regret it one bit.
Let’s look at it both ways: AAGS #1 has a page count of 80 with a price of $7.99. Word has it that DC has put out books with the same page count for $5.99. That bugged me.
However, when you consider that $7.99 is actually less than what you end up paying for three issues at $2.99, then it’s actually a pretty good deal, but I suppose it’s still off-putting because readers don’t usually want to shell out that much money AT ONCE.
Verdict: Buy this book. I don’t know how else to tell you guys that. You won’t regret. In my best Men’s Warehouse voiceover guy impersonation, I guarantee it. 5 Credits out of 5
~My Two Cents