This week, Marvel Comics continues its push for Marvel NOW! in a series of press conference calls with the publisher’s top creators responsible for the upcoming major relaunches and new titles for the initiative. Yesterday, Kieron Gillen discussed his second arc of “Iron Man” entitled “The God Killer.” Today, the publisher transitions to one of the many new series that Marvel NOW! has in store for the launch window, “Avengers Arena” written by Dennis Hopeless with art by Kev Walker. Featuring teenage characters from across the Marvel Universe like X-23 and cast members of “Avengers Academy” and “Runaways,” “Arena” pits the super powered teens against each other in a “Battle Royale”/”Hunger Games”-style deathmatch as master manipulator Arcade pulls the strings.
Hopeless spoke to reporters about his plans for the series and what readers can expect to see from their favorite characters — and if they survive the experience.
Sales and Communications Coordinator James Viscardi began the call by asking Hopeless why he wants to kill everybody — more seriously, what the premise of “Avengers Arena” is.
“Basically, 15 of your favorite Marvel Teenage Superheroes and Darkhawk wake up on an island and they’re told ‘Only one of you is going to come out of it alive,” said Hopeless, who said Arcade has constructed a new Murderworld where heroes will actually get murdered and only one person will get out alive. “Issue #1 is going to sell the readers and the kids on the island that they’re going to have to do this.”
Hopeless stated it was important to find a character reason for Arcade to take this approach. “It was important to give Arcade a reason why it had to go differently this time and why it’s important to change things up,” he said. “We want the readers to respect Arcade and the players to respect Arcade. When we were first talking about the series, Arcade was the first person who popped into my mind … but how are we going to make people respect Arcade? It was truly a challenge … and I’m really proud about how we’ve been able to keep the core of Arcade but make him scary and respected.” There will be an issue after “Avengers Arena” #1 that explores how Arcade got to this point.
The writer stated Hazmat is the first P.O.V. character from the first issue and he had a fun time writing them. There will also be characters from Captain Britain’s “posh, superhero academy,” who are primarily new characters.
For the new Murderworld, Hopeless stated he was very lucky in that Kev Walker drew a map of Murderworld. “It’s split off into four different climate zones,” said Hopeless. “There’s a snowy, arctic section, there’s a beach section, there’s a forest and there’s a desert. Once things get going, they start splitting off into different areas. There are a lot of different challenges they’ll face depending on [where they are.]” For the most part, the challenge of this Murderworld will be survive all the people around you.
The writer stated the series is an ongoing due to getting the characters to the point where they might actually kill each other. “Primarily, it’s because we need the space to get you to believe these kids would do these stuff,” said Hopeless. “We need to get them to a place where they distrust and fear each other enough to let it play out. The first few issues have a different POV … it’s a long game. It’s not the one-person POV, it’s the characters all dealing with this in their own way. What would drive them to go through this and save themselves and save their friends. Once we get to a place where the core concept changes, the book changes, but the Murderworld thing is a long story.”
One of the characters in the preview pages is a 14-year-old Deathlok. “She’s one of my favorite characters I got to create,” he said. “Giving you a sweet, 14-year-old Deathlok was really fun.”
In terms of the overall tone of the book, Hopeless states the creative team play the emotion and fears of the characters straight. “It’s almost a character study of all these kids and how they deal with this worst-case scenario,” he said. “At least Arcade can appreciate where this is satirical and amusing, but it’s definitely a character study.”
Hopeless said he had seen some of the advance fan reaction to the book and he appreciates the passion the fans have. “At the same time, death is a big emotional part of life and I’m not the type of person who thinks death as a story device is cheap,” he said. “Death close to you, very close to you, is the most powerful thing someone can go through. … I am really proud of the book, I think we’re telling a really good story within this. None of the people responding to the concept and the marketing have seen the book, so I don’t take it too personally because they haven’t seen it yet.”
When creating the cast, Hopeless said there were characters he wanted from “Wolverine & the X-Men,” but it was easier to take characters that weren’t in a book or whose book was coming to an end. “I was going to use Molly from the Runaways, but decided that having a character that young would be tonally problematic, but I turned off the part of my brain that was concerned with the well-being of the characters when it comes to the cast.”
The writer also spoke about the differences between “Arena” and books like “Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale.” “Partially, just the fact that they’re teenage superheroes. Their histories are very different,” said Hopeless. “These characters come from different places, but they’re all Marvel Superheroes. This gives it a different perspective. We do a POV shift where you see the situation from all the characters over the course. By the time we get to the second arc, you [get the perspectives of all the characters.]” Hopeless made the comparison to “Hunger Games” if you got the chance to see the story from all the tributes. “For me, it’s as influenced by the ‘Running Man’ as anything. It comes from gladiatorial games and everything just as much. The perspective of teenage superheroes changes it enough.”
Hopeless said Marvel EiC Axel Alonso had the ideas for the homage covers — and Viscardi said, “We’ll go as far as we can take it. As of right now, we’ve got up through #5, so stay tuned.”
The cast have disparate power levels, but that’s something Hopeless deals with during the series. “We deal with the fact that their power levels are varied,” said Hopeless, but noted that none of the cast “buy in” immediately to the concept, which helps to balance the scales. “There’s definitely a variety of power sets, but the personalities of the characters all come into play.”
For new characters from the Braddock Academy, Hopeless stated Kev Walker’s designs have added a lot to his initial suggestions. “They grew into something bigger and better than they were. I couldn’t ask for a better or more creative artist who’s passionate about the process of collaboration.”
Darkhawk is not a teenager, but Hopeless chose to include him partially because of his love of “Annihilation” and the Marvel Cosmic books from a few years back. “I also liked the idea of someone who was initially a teenage super hero but has grown beyond that,” he said. “If Darkhawk wanted to, he would be able to win this day one.” Hopeless said he hopes to explore how Darkhawk deals with the situation as a mature adult — the writer also wanted to use Kenji from “Generation Hope” in the book, but then the character died.
Wrapping up, Hopeless stated the darkness in a lot of these characters played a factor in their selection for the book. “These characters all have at least an element in their past if not an element in their personalities that’s walking that line or over that line,” he said. “You can believe they can be pushed to different limits than a character that had a normal transition from teenager into superhero.”
“Avengers Arena” #1 by Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker hits in December.