Shared trauma has a way of binding people together, and that’s exactly what happened in Marvel’s “Avengers Arena.” Over the course of the series, writer Dennis Hopeless crafted a tale of 16 teenage heroes, abducted by the murderous gamesman known as Arcade and forced to fight to the death on a secret island the villain had transformed into his latest Murder World.
Only a handful of those teens made it out alive, and the horrors they saw — and in some cases, perpetrated — during their ordeal have bonded them together. So much so that when one their number, Cullen Bloodstone, embarks on a mission of revenge against Arcade, disappearing into the super villain-dominated city state of Bagalia, the remaining survivors charge after him. Hopeless, along with artists Kev Walker and Timothy Green, is chronicling the adventures of his Murder World survivors in “Avengers Undercover.” CBR spoke with him about his cast and what they’ll find in the dangerous, seductive and morally murky country that is Bagalia.
CBR News: In these first two issues, we saw the teen survivors of Murder World come together to help Bloodstone, except X-23, who is currently embroiled in the world of the “All-New X-Men.” Do the other kids know what happened to Laura? How do they feel about her not joining up with them to help rescue Bloodstone? Is there a chance that she could make appearances in the series further on down the road?
Dennis Hopeless: Yeah, Laura has moved on; she’s not part of our cast in “Undercover.” I was happy to see her PTSD addressed and handled extremely well in the pages of “All-New X-Men.” The other survivors have probably noticed X-23’s absence, but the last time they saw her, she was in pretty rough shape following a series of trigger-scent related incidents. Everyone has pretty complex emotions about all of that. No one has seen Laura since, and at the moment, they all have lots of other things to worry about.
These first two issues also showed the mental states and motivations of your cast, and I want to talk about some of them. Let’s start with Cammi and Chase, who appear to be dealing with what happened to them a little bit better than some of the others. Has Cammi’s mother helped her deal with her PTSD from Murder World? And has publicly talking about his ordeal actually helped Chase?
Cammi and Chase are dealing with the trauma differently than the others for sure. I don’t know that talking publicly has helped Chase much at all. Chase has sort of regressed to a more immature, self-righteous state of mind. “Runaways” fans will remember this version of Chase from back before Gert civilized him. In my mind, he’s embracing this newfound celebrity status as a way to avoid real life and real emotions. Trust me, Chase is hurting. Hurting just looks different on him.
Cammi, on the other hand, came back to a totally different reality. She thought her mother died years ago — as did anyone who read the “Drax” miniseries in which Cammi first appeared. I’ve read it too. I promise. Turns out Dex was talking to someone else’s body bag. Cammi’s natural instinct would be to disappear back into deep space, but now that her Mom is alive and working her way through AA, Cammi has a compelling reason to stay. She’s trying to be a good daughter. It’s a lot harder for her than it looks.
In issue #2, where Hazmat gets Anachronism out on the dance floor, it felt like she was saying she would stick by him to help him get back the man he loves. Is this Hazmat saying that Murder World may have robbed her of the person she loves, and she’s not going to let it break up another relationship? And how does Anachronism feel about Bloodstone going into issue #3?
Aiden and Cullen have a complicated relationship at this point. There’s a lot of regret and resentment there. Aiden never knew how Cullen felt about him. At this point, Cullen would probably prefer if it had stayed that way. Also, Aiden did attack Cullen with his axe in a bloodthirsty rage after Nara died. That’s a big mistake for a friendship to overcome. These two probably do still love each other, but it’s all very messy.
As for Hazmat, she understands what Aiden’s going through. From her perspective, mistakes she made in Murder World led to all sorts of death and misery. Hazmat lost several people she loved. She’ll be willing to do a lot to keep Aiden from feeling how she feels.
In issue #2, Bloodstone, Deathlocket and Nico sort of fall under the spell of Bagalia and feel accepted. Is that because those three characters fear their darker natures? Do they secretly feel or fear that they belong in a nation of super villains?
To one degree or another, the kids are all looking for acceptance. The whole world saw what they did in Murder World, and everyone seems eager to judge. Now, they’ve come to Bagalia expecting a fight, expecting to find their friend in chains. Instead they’ve found the only group of people in the world to whom they can relate. This isn’t going to be a story about heroes fighting villains; it’s a story about very damaged kids trying to find their place in the world. One of the first things they learn is that Bagalia isn’t filled with mustache-twirling punching bags. It’s full of people.
How much fun have you had fleshing out and building up Bagalia? Will we get to know the country better in upcoming issues?
It’s been an absolute blast. Bagalia is such a cool idea, and I love it as a setting. In the next few issues, we’ll be showing all the different boroughs within and the various villains who live in them. This city has a lot of personality, and we’ll be showing it off.
Two of Bagalia’s more prominent citizens, Daimon Hellstrom and Constrictor, have been both hero and villain. Why did you want to make them major characters in this book? And from what we’ve seen of them so far, they both appear to be in some kind of mentoring/teaching style position.
You got it. Moral ambiguity is obviously one of our major themes. With that in mind, we chose morally ambiguous characters for our Masters of Evil. And yeah, you can expect to see a few different mentor relationships begin to develop.
In recent years, Baron Zemo, the leader of the Masters of Evil, has also walked on the edge of good and evil, going so far as to reject his father’s legacy at one point. What can you tell us about Zemo’s larger motivations in “Avengers Undercover?” What’s your sense of his moral compass?
Zemo essentially answers this very question himself in the final scene of issue #4. I’ll let the man speak for himself, but Zemo definitely has ideas and won’t be shy about sharing them.
According to the solicits, Kev Walker and Timothy Green will be bringing to life the characters and action in the next few issues of “Avengers Undercover.” What has it been like, working with Kev on this after collaborating for so much of “Avengers Arena,” and what has Timothy brought to the series?
Kev will keep blowing your mind issue by issue. He just sent in some pencils for #7 and I told him every new action sequence becomes my new favorite scene. There’s some Nico action coming that’ll make your ears bleed.
Timothy is right there with him. He had to step in and draw one of the biggest scenes of the whole series in his very first issue. Spoiler: He blew the damned doors off. We’ve been really impressed with how Timothy just hit the ground running. Tim’s art has all of the power and emotion that a series like this needs and a style that really sets it apart from what Kev does. Fans are going to love Tim’s take on our cast.
Finally, what sorts of details can you give share about the next several issues?
It’s hard to say much, because everything changes in issue #3. After that, you’ll see the long game start to take shape. We’re telling a big story and it’s only just begun. I love this book and the team we have creating it. It’s an honor just having my name on the covers.