One of the more enjoyable aspects of serial fiction is the opportunity to develop a rivalry between protagonists and antagonists as you build to a huge emotional payoff. In Marvel’s “Avengers Arena,” Dennis Hopeless has been traveling that exact road, crafting a rivalry of epic proportions between his cast of teenage heroes and their captor, the villainous gamesman known as Arcade.
The battle for survival began Arcade abducted the teen heroes to his island Murder World, forcing them to fight for their lives in a series of death matches. The tension escalated in subsequent issues as more teen heroes died, and this August, the pot comes to a full boil in “Avengers Arena” #14, the kick off of “Boss Level,” which is billed as the finale of the first season of the title, giving the teen cast a shot at taking down Arcade and escaping Murder World.
We spoke with Hopeless and his Editor Bill Rosemann about the arc, which was announced yesterday at Marvel’s “From NOW! to Infinity” panel at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.
CBR News: Dennis, before they get to the “Boss Level,” the kids of “Avengers Arena” still have to survive the upcoming “Game On” arc. How does it set the stage for “Boss Level?”
Dennis Hopeless: If you thought these kids had a rough go in the first arc, just wait. “Game On” is about pushing these characters to their limits and seeing who breaks first. Only the strongest will survive to play out the end game that is “Boss Level.” Most of them won’t make it, and those who do will be fundamentally changed. I can’t wait for fans to see where we’re going.
In issue #7, you showed us how Arcade came up with his current scheme and what the source of his powers is, revealing that outside of his latest Murder World, Arcade is just a normal human being, but inside he’s basically a god.
Yep. Arcade controls every atom inside Murder World. As long as he’s wearing his suit, he’s jacked in and powered-up. We saw in issue #1 that a straight on fight with Arcade in Murder World is a losing proposition. Outside the game, he’s just a man with a snazzy fashion sense. Unfortunately for our kids, getting out of Murder World is the hard part.
The title “Boss Level” suggests a face to face confrontation between the kids and Arcade, but after seeing how complete Arcade’s control over Murder World is, is that really what readers should expect to see?
Hopeless: “Boss Level” follows the kids through to the end of Arcade’s game. We catch up with that Day 29 battle from issue #1 and show what happens next. This arc is about what it’s going to take to win this thing. Who has what it takes? Will there really only be one survivor? All of that. And yeah, it’s safe to say in one form or another; some of these kids are going to get another crack at Arcade.
Portions of the story do take place outside Murder World but probably not like you think. The majority of the fighting goes on in the four quadrants we’ve already seen. The idea of a “Boss Level” is more thematic than literal. Arcade doesn’t turn into a giant monkey or anything; it’s more about coming to the end of the game.
Bill Rosemann: Everything that Dennis and artists Kev Walker and Alessandro Vitti have been building since issue #1 — the bitter feuds, the repressed attractions, the hidden secrets, the desperate alliances — everything that has been simmering away comes to a full boil in “Boss Level.” The contestants brought and created pounds of emotional energy — here’s where Murder World makes it explode. Who will rise to the path of the hero? Who will give in to darkness? The final test is coming.
I know you’re wary of spoilers but can you hint, tease or talk about any of the characters you’ll be focusing on in “Boss Level?” Will we get the perspective of one character in particular? A small group? Or many?
Hopeless: There are three small groups left at the start of the arc. Those groups converge by the end, and we get what amounts to the final battle. The perspective shifts continue into the second and third arcs, but we change the structure up some as the plot picks up speed. We’re in the kids’ heads, but don’t spend quite as much time looking at their pasts.
We also start to flesh out the larger implications of Arcade’s plan. He’s not just killing kids because they’re easier than adults. There are machinations at work, here.
The “Avengers Arena” cast is so large, you generally don’t have room for supporting characters, but the role Arcade’s assistant Miss Coriander played in issue #7 suggests to me that she still has a part to play in “Avengers Arena.” Will we see her in “Game On” or “Boss Level” at all? Are there any other notable supporting players in “Boss Level” that you can talk about?
Hopeless: Miss Coriander may play a role going forward. I love writing the character and her relationship with Arcade is obviously interesting. Just don’t expect some big plot twist switcheroo in the end. Arcade is the villain of this story and everything is pretty much as it seems.
As for other notable supporting players — keep your eyes open for issue #13. A lot like our issue #7 Arcade story, 13 is a very special “Avenger Arena” issue that takes place outside Murder World. It has some surprising guest stars and answers a few questions fans have had since the beginning.
Kev Walker is back on board for “Boss Level,” correct? Which of Kev’s particular strengths do you think will be on display in his work on this story?
Hopeless: ACTION! The man draws a mean fight sequence. There will still be plenty of the character moments and facial expressions, which Kev does equally well, but the second and third arcs give him a lot more action to draw. I can’t wait to see how he tackles some of the stuff we have planned for the last few issues of the “Boss Level” arc.
Rosemann: Yes, the amazing Kev Walker will be delivering his trademark blend of vicious action, gritty detailing and visceral characterization. If Dennis is the rocket fuel, Kev is the mighty engine driving the story towards the cliff.
“Boss Level” is billed as the epic finale of the First Season of “Avengers Arena.” Can you talk a little bit more about what this means? Will Arcade’s initial contest come to a conclusion one way or another before the story is out? Or will the story continue into Season Two?
Hopeless: The “Boss Level” arc brings the story we set up with issue #1 to a close. We told you from the start that this was a 30-day competition. “Boss Level” takes us all the way to day 30 and beyond. After this, everything changes.
Rosemann: Confrontations — both physical and emotional — will take center stage in “Boss Level.” The seeds that have been planted will bear their bloody fruit, which will then be hurled into a fire pit! As for who or what will arise from the ashes — well, you know how we like to say “Stay tuned, True Believers!”
Hopeless: This is the most fun I’ve ever had writing. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done and are continuing to do on this first season of “AA.” We really appreciate all of the fans who have reached out to tell us they get what we’re doing and want to be along for the ride. I can’t wait for those fans to read what’s coming up.