I’ve had three different people single me out to make sure I saw something today. Comic Book Resources released the previews of Avengers Arena #12 today, and they are three full pages of major “wtf” for anyone who has been paying attention to the Internet for the past week and a half.
Why? Well, because in Avengers Arena #10, this happened:
And a lot of people absolutely lost it. Myself included. Of course, it wasn’t enough to see Nico bloodily killed. With her final word being an ostensible spell for “help,” many immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was a ruse, and that we would see her back up and alive in the next issue. That was the thread of hope this death left fans holding onto. But then Dennis Hopeless came along and snipped it:
I was willing to take the man at his word. Ironic, since I’ve said several times that his actions and words don’t align. Maybe ironic isn’t the right word. I’ll be blunt. I believed the man only when it made him look bad to be telling the truth: he says Nico’s dead, he must be honest; he says he loves the characters, he must be lying. I acknowledge that was hasty.
Of course, the funny thing is, pointing to Hopeless’ word as some sort of absolute truth regarding Arena led to some pretty choice actions, like repeatedly dismissing people who wondered if she might survive by pointing back to tweets like the above as evidence that no, she wouldn’t. In another series of tweets Hopeless basically said that her fate was out of his hands, and that resurrecting her was up to Marvel:
It certainly sounded like a permanent thing. Hopeless was actively responding to people who were questioning it and intentionally making them believe it was a real and permanent thing insomuch as his writing was concerned.
But Dennis Hopeless is a writer, and no stranger to semantics. He reiterated time and again that the deaths were permanent and even noted that lasting death isn’t up to him — but he never actually specifically denied the idea that after being “Dead” Nico might stop being dead. So if in the next issue she is up and walking around, he still told the truth: at that moment, when everyone asked, she was dead. It just didn’t take, you know?
So then the question becomes, when you look at these pages from issue 12, what do you do:
Well, for any fan of the character, I suppose the gut reaction is to say “Ha! Hopeless lied. She’s back!” And I won’t lie, the pages do feel good to look at. They’re three more pages of Nico Minoru than I expected to be seeing for quite some time.
But this series has made me cautious, if not downright cynical. So I think it bears pointing out that Hopeless may not have lied, or even been messing with semantics. The purple aura surrounding our beloved Sister Grimm may not be what it seems on this panel. Is she still dead, but fighting through some weird limbo/magic hell? Possessed by some weird spirit and/or some new horror of Murder World to which we’re not yet privy? I think it’s fair to say those could all be possibilities. Meanwhile, I’ll look at this with a measured optimism. Like Thomas, I will continue to doubt until I’ve touched the holes in the hands for myself; or, in this case, until I see a non-empty health bar under “Nico” and hear her talking to other people the way a living Nico ought to talk.
Of course, if Nico is indeed alive in some way, the lesson learned is that you really can’t take Dennis Hopeless at his word. Maybe he’s intentionally messing with words (she is dead, not she’ll stay dead). Or maybe he has said some things which someone higher up has since forced him to make untrue.
The truth is, the chance of seeing Nico back isn’t quite so exciting to me as the fact that I can now take something like this…
…with more salt than I previously was.
That said, I think there are probably some people I pissed off last week who are going to point to these preview pages (and especially if they turn out to be what they look like, and Nico is truly resurrected) who are going to accuse me of complete overreaction and/or being outright wrong. And I’d like to address that now, rather than trying to add it as an addendum after it happens. Because reading over what I said after my exchange with Hopeless last week, I find that I am actually very comfortable with my words.
Nico’s resurrection actually has little, if any, bearing on what I said about her death — particularly since she did, indeed, die. The fact that the death may not last does not undermine the fact that, crawling towards the Staff of One, she believed she was probably going to die. She still should have given thought to her life beyond Arena, just as I’d expect a dying Peter Parker to think of his Aunt or MJ even though neither of them were in Murder World. A character as deeply devoted to her surrogate family as Nico is (she’s a self-defined den mother, and caring for her “children” is one of the biggest things about her) would not have passed thinking only of herself and her loneliness. The speech Nico gives in her dying breaths in AA #10 would be a great speech in the mouths of most other characters, but it just didn’t fit with her; and her coming back won’t change that, or any of the other points I made about inconsistent characterization.
Likewise, the emotional impact that characters can have, and that Nico has demonstrably had, are not to be trifled with. While we’re all going to be happy to see Nico live, it doesn’t actually make the pain we’ve felt for the last couple weeks any less — we still had to go through that. At the end of the day gratefulness for her survival (if she has indeed made it back to this side of death) and hatred of this past issue will not be mutually exclusive, much in the same way a really cruel prank, while not “real,” will still be seen as extremely unfunny by the person who is pranked. I’m not, to be clear, accusing Hopeless of intentionally toying with fan emotions in a malicious way — I think it was definitely done to be impactful, emotional storytelling — but at the end of the day it won’t make having gone through it any more appreciated by most people. That’s just how emotions work.
It will be interesting to see how these pages work contextually. It will be particularly interesting to see whether Nico’s return from the great beyond was achieved by her “help” or whether the staff acted of its own accord; moreover, whether the previous stipulation that “help” served as a beacon to the outside world will prove correct or a red herring. I actually hope for the latter, supposing that her revival is the result of her final breath, because that would kill two of my chief complaints about her death — that she didn’t try to heal herself first, and that she shouldn’t be able to cast an effective SOS beacon now since she would have tried it earlier.
But in a book where I have plenty of options regarding seemingly plot-induced stupidity, I’ll take the kind that gets me a living Nico and a rescue any day of the week. Just like I can’t really be sore over Katy not killing Laura — it’s stupid, but I care more about Laura than about Hopeless being an ironclad writer.
So we’ll see. The implications of this preview are a bit earth-shattering, to the point where one almost assumes it’s misleading because they’d otherwise have wanted to save this as a surprise for readers. Sentinel fans rejoiced when Juston turned out not to be dead — only to watch his neck snapped two issues later. Even if Nico is really alive with no strings attached, she may still prove a source of heartache for Runaways fans before this run is over. But my spirits are lifted despite my cynicism, and that’s worth a bit, I think. I said that Avengers Arena #10 was a turning point. We’ll see whether AA #12 is another — or just a small detour on the road along which most of us don’t want to be traveling anymore.