[Contains spoilers for Countdown: Arena]
Countdown: Arena is so gratuitous, so remarkably incorrect and out of bounds, that even though there's very little that's redeeming to this book, I find myself recommending it if only in admiration for how gleefully twisted and just plain wrong writer Keith Champagne and artist Scott McDaniel are in this book.
Make no mistake -- Countdown: Arena is a horror title. I know, I know, it's about a bevy of Multi-verse heroes fighting under Monarch's auspices, but mark my words, this is a horror title. Like the Saw movie series, Arena finds the heroes having to bump each other off one by one in increasingly bloody ways for a rapidly fading chance at survival. This is not a case of pitting your favorite action heroes against one another, as perhaps it should have been; this is nightmare where your action figures rip off one another's arms to survive.
Given this, however, I have to admire Champagne. He has Monarch slaughter the L.E.G.I.O.N. completely in the first couple pages, and follows it up with an alternate Nightshade murdering our own; that Nightshade subsequently gets her head ripped off. With seeming glee, Champagne "goes there"; Blue Beetle fans can watch as a swarm of insects consume Jaime Reyes alive, and then bloodily bore through the head of an animal Blue Beetle for seconds. Champagne stops at nothing, and though there's no real intrinsic value to the story in Arena, sometimes watching a writer's imagination zoom around no holds barred is value in and of itself.
Arena, one quickly learns, is not about the story. Champagne's portrayal of many of the characters is questionable; I'm not sure if we're meant to believe that our New Earth Nightshade and Blue Beetle die here, or whether no one took the time to consider where to place these analogues. Champagne has the Tangent Flash Lia take a surprising turn here, one that I tend to doubt another writer will pick up on. And I have to admit, while I liked Scott McDaniel's art when Karl Story inked it on Nightwing, I haven't been much of a fan since, and there's plenty of times in Arena where actions feel out of sequence and it's hard to tell who's hit who and with what appendage.
There's some surprise and a little story here, but mostly Arena is just about letting the carnage wash over you, akin to a bloody video game. In each issue, a couple characters fight; in each issue, the heroes threaten Monarch and then get rebuffed. Monarch claims at the beginning that he's closed every avenue of escape, and -- no surprise -- he's right. Heck, someone even made the questionable choice of putting an image of the winners of each of the Arena fights right. on the cover. of the book.
I recommend reading Countdown: Arena in one sitting. If you can, read it with your feet up and a cold drink in your hand. This book is not to be taken seriously; it defies, perhaps, all attempts to do so. It won't be the best comic book you ever read, but there's something to be found in the sheer ridiculousness of it.
[Contains full covers.]
We continue our reading of Countdown tie-ins, with some trepidation, with JLA: Salvation Run, coming up next.