In “Avengers Arena,” writer Dennis Hopeless thrust Marvel Comics’ super-powered teenagers into a nightmarish Murder World controlled by the psychopathic gamesman Arcade, where they were forced to participate in a no-holds-barred death match. The teens dreamed of escaping the island arena where they were imprisoned, but when they finally achieved their goal and returned home, the survivors discovered that the horrors they endured, terrible and personal experiences which were broadcast online for the entire world to watch, travelled with them.
In the opening arc of “Avengers Undercover,” Hopeless and his “Arena” collaborator, artist Kev Walker, showed how the post-traumatic stress the teens were suffering from, combined a desire for revenge against Arcade, sent them to a dark and dangerous place — the supervillain-dominated nation of Bagalia, overseen by its ruler, the master manipulator Baron Zemo. The kids accepted Zemo’s invitation to join his Masters of Evil, secretly agreeing amongst themselves to try and destroy that group from within.
Will the teen heroes be successful, or will they find themselves ultimately corrupted by Zemo’s influence? And what role will their tormentor Arcade — who they thought they killed in the series’ third issue, but was recently revealed to be alive — play in the their undercover operations against the Masters of Evil? Hopeless and artists Timothy Green and Tigh Walker answer those questions and more in “Avengers Undercover” #7-10, the final three issues of the series. CBR News spoke with Hopeless about his plans for the endgame of the story he began in “Avengers Arena” and what it’s like to say goodbye to his cast of characters.
CBR News: Dennis, it’s been revealed that “Avengers Undercover” comes to a conclusion in September with Issue #10. Was it always your intention to end the series with that issue? Were you able to bring your various plot threads to what you felt was a satisfying conclusion?
Dennis Hopeless: [Editor] Bill Rosemann and I originally had plans for 12 issues, with big ideas how to expand if sales were awesome. Turns out sales weren’t awesome, and we had to end it at 10. Fortunately, I was far enough ahead of the artists when we got the news to spend some time restructuring the plot. What we ended up with was a truncated second act that ends with a 3-month time jump.
It was a tough thing to do, but we get to keep our third act pretty much as plotted, and I think it absolutely comes to a satisfying conclusion. I couldn’t be more proud of our ending.
Issue #10 is on the horizon, which means you’ll be saying goodbye to protagonists you’ve been writing for a while now. How does it feel to be saying goodbye to these characters? Do you have a favorite? Did you have a character you were surprised by how much you liked writing them?
Finishing a series always feels like a kick to the gut. You get about five seconds of glorious accomplishment afterglow, and then the loss sets in. These are voices that live in your head. As soon as that final script is written, you realize you won’t be hearing from them again. It’s emotionally draining to lose so many imaginary friends all at once.
Add to that the fact that — counting “Arena” — this is by far my longest stint writing a group of characters. Yeah, I was a mess.
There wasn’t a character in this book I didn’t love writing. It was a dream job, start to finish.
While I’m sure the teens of “Avengers Undercover” will experience many more twists and turns before September’s Issue #10, a particularly big one occurred in #7, where it was revealed that Arcade is still alive and a prisoner of the Masters of Evil, along with Cammi. To me, this reinforces that while both “Arena” and “Undercover” can be read separately, they are really one big story. What can you tell us about Arcade’s larger role in this series?
Oh, definitely. In my mind, “Undercover” was always “Arena: Season Two.” “Arena” was the worst-case scenario survival story; “Undercover” is the aftermath story. Together, they make up one big narrative that comes to a close with “AU” #10.
Zemo is the villain of “Avengers Undercover,” but Arcade is the ever-present boogieman. He’s what haunts these kids when they close their eyes. I don’t want to risk spoiling anything, so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, you can definitely expect Arcade to play a part in our finale.
Issue #7 also showed Nico’s reaction to her resurrected boyfriend Alex Wilder, but we didn’t get to see much of Alex’s reaction to being resurrected and the situation he finds himself in. It was clear from the way Kev Walker chose to draw Alex that he felt very concerned about the fate of his old teammate, Chase, but what else can you tell us about Alex’s perspective? Is he evil, or is he like the other kids in that he too has a decision to make about what side he’s on? How big a role will Alex play in the remaining issues of the series?
Alex is in a different headspace than the “Arena” survivors. He spent a lot more than thirty days in Hell, and his was literal. This isn’t the same kid we saw die in “Runaways.” He has a unique perspective on life, death and villainy. That POV colors everything Alex says and does. The kid fully appreciates that he’s playing with house money. He was dead, and Hellstrom brought him back. Not only that, but his job is doing battle strategy with the love of his (short) life. What’s not to enjoy?
Sadly, I had much bigger plans for Alex than what we had the room to do. A lot of his big moments are still there, and he figures into the final arc, but there are whole Alex pages of my notebook that got nixed. Maybe someday I’ll get another crack at him.
For the final arc, the action of the series jumps ahead three months in time, and the presence of Mystique and Sabretooth on the cover suggests that we’ll see how the Masters of Evil relate to and interact with other villain dominated countries like Madripoor —
Issues 8-10 are all about Zemo’s plans coming to fruition and all the various ways that affects our cast. As I mentioned before, the time jump was done to get us to this point faster. This arc is the culmination of the whole series and while I can’t talk much about it without spoiling, I can’t wait for everyone to read it.
How big are these final issues of “Avengers Undercover?” What’s at stake?
They’re massive. All of these different character arcs we’ve been on since “Arena” are converging at the same time that Zemo’s master plan hits home. We have a lot of ground to cover between now and the end, and these issues are chock full.
Souls are at stake. It’s time to pick sides and the all the kids have to decide where their allegiances really lie. Hero or villain. Now or never.
Now, the final issues are being brought to life by two different artists: Tigh Walker, an “AU” newcomer, and Timothy Green, who you’ve worked with before on this series. What do they bring to these final few issues?
Yep. Tim has been with us since Issue #3. He brings so much energy and emotion to his issues. The iconic shot of Hazmat roasting Arcade’s skin off his skull at the end of Issue #3 was all Tim. He just nails that furious violence, every time. There’s a knock down, drag out fight in Issue #9 that’s absolutely brutal and exemplifies everything I love about Tim’s art. I can’t wait for readers to see it.
Tigh is coming in to take over for Kev Walker who is moving on to “New Avengers.” I could write a whole dissertation on the ways we will miss Kev, but I’ll spare you. The simple fact is, Kev Walker is a tough act to follow.
Amazingly, Tigh stepped straight up to the plate with Issue #8 and crushed it. We gave him two of the craziest issues in the whole series, and he didn’t miss a single beat. His art is dense and kinetic. His storytelling is superb, and he draws the hell out of those small quiet character moments. He’s perfect for this story.
Finally, with the end of “Avengers Undercover” in sight, fans are wondering what’s next for you and the surviving characters. Are you able to answer that question or offer up any hints or clues about it?
We’ll be going our separate ways. Like I said before, “AU” #10 is the end of the story we started in “Arena” #1. These are beloved characters, and I’m sure Marvel has plans for them going forward but I won’t be writing it. I’m moving on to something completely different. My new Marvel ongoing launches in November. They’re announcing at SDCC, and I can’t wait to talk about it.
More than anything, I want to thank everyone for reading. Books like “Arena” and “Undercover” are a tough sell, and we never would have gotten 28 issues without fan support. The team and I really appreciate you letting us tell our story.