Countdown: Arena

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I should have known that buried within all of these exciting, action-filled trades, I’m come across one that was pretty underwhelming.  It’s not that it’s bad per se, it’s just that I don’t really understand why this story needed to be told.  It feels like a one-page summary that somehow got expanded into multiple issues, for no real reason. It left me feeling a bit puzzled and unsure as to what exactly the point was.

The comic’s whole plot is summed up quite well by the story’s main antagonist, Monarch:

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He too three versions of a bunch of different heroes, put them in an area, and makes them fight to the death. The winner gets to join his army.

…Yeah, it’s basically the plot of a really bad reality game show.  I don’t really understand why he decided on three of each hero, rather than just selecting whoever he thought was the strongest and uniting them.  I guess it’s supposed to heighten the drama of the story, with the whole “heroes forced to battle and kill one another” schtick, but given that most of these heroes are versions I’ve never heard of, I wasn’t too invested in the story.

One of the key characters is Superman, or rather Supermen, since there are three of them.  The main Superman (obvious because he’s the only one who fully looks like our own Superman) wants to figure out a way to break out of Monarch’s prison.  He butts heads repeatedly with one of his fellow Supermen, who seems to exist solely as a throwback to Superman: Red Son. While I liked the reference back to the character, I didn’t like the repeated exchanges between the two versions of Superman, with one calling the other a “Commie” more times that I can count.

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Honestly, with all of the overt “Anti-Communist” mentality shown by this Superman, I would have thought this comic was written in the 50s.  It was just way too overdone for my liking, especially because it added nothing to the overall story.

The heroes try to escape, and you almost think they might pull it off, but it turns out Monarch has planned for every contingency.  he foils their plot, and as the comic ends he’s seen with his victors, his army primed and ready to go into battle.

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Okay, so Monarch has an army of superheroes…great. Couldn’t this just have been summed up in one of the comics with a simple, “Monarch’s been going around to different universes and snatching up heroes to be in his army”?  Did this entire lengthy story really need to be told? I suppose you could argue that it was necessary to show how powerful and merciless Monarch really is, to help explain why the heroes don’t just fight back or fly off.  Still, the way it was handled in the comic felt odd and awkward, and certainly not up to the caliber of storytelling I’ve grown accustomed to with this recent batch of trades.

I’m certain this will play into the whole Final Crisis thing somehow, because it wouldn’t have been written if it didn’t, but I firmly believe this comic can easily be skipped. As it is, my recap is way longer than it needed to be; this comic could easily be summed up in a footnote in a much better trade.

Oh well. I read it, it wasn’t great. It happens sometimes. On to bigger and (hopefully) better comics now!

-Jess

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