A group of teens may be the next generation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes… or the greatest threat to the Marvel Universe. They are; Mettle, a boy trapped in a body of living steel; Veil, a girl whose ability to transform into a gaseous state is slowly killing her; Hazmat, a girl who must lock herself away in a protective suit to keep the world safe from the toxic substances she emits; Finesse, a girl who can easily master most talents but is confounded by human behavior; Striker, a boy who can generate vast amounts of electricity but is haunted by both the specter of his treacherous, fame seeking, show-biz mother and the sexual abuse he suffered when he was younger; and Reptil a boy who can shape-shift into a variety of dinosaurs and is trying to come to grips with the torture he suffered at the hands of Norman Osborn. Together, these psychologically scarred adolescents make up the inaugural class of Marvel Comics ongoing “Avengers Academy” series by writer Christos Gage and artist Mike McKone.
Making life even more difficult for the “Avengers Academy” students is the recent revelation that the Avengers didn’t invite them to be trained at the Academy because they believed the kids were the next generation of great heroes. In fact it was the opposite; they feared that without some training and intervention the kids would become dangerous villains. Before he started drawing their monthly adventures, Mike McKone had to design the looks of the complex teen cast of “Avengers Academy.” CBR News spoke with McKone about the design process involved with each character as well as his thoughts on the new Giant-Man costume worn by one of their instructors, Hank Pym, which makes its debut in “Avengers Academy” #7, in stores now.
CBR News: Mike, let’s start with the basics what made you want to take on the “Avengers Academy” assignment and design these characters? What was it about these characters as a group that you found most appealing?
Mike McKone: Any opportunity to design my own characters is one I welcome and certainly, the chance to add to the history of the Avengers isn’t something that comes along very often. [Series writer] Christos [Gage] wanted a broad scope of characters, but was very open to ideas and suggestions as to the races and ethnicity of the students. I had a good deal of freedom to interpret his character outlines and design the students in a way that pleased me first of all and fortunately both Christos and Bill Rosemann, our editor, seemed to respond positively to the ideas I had.
Do you have a general philosophy and process when it comes to character designs? What do you take in to account? In your mind, what makes for a good character design?
In general, the personality of the character leads me. Comics are a visual shorthand and the way a character looks is more often than not indicative of their personality. A good design has to work well from every angle, which is trickier than it sounds. Most of the Avengers Academy students have costumes that are fairly demonstrative of their powers and that was a big consideration too. I tried to use a limited color pallet with the students, black and one other. This I thought would be reminiscent of the of the original black and yellow X-Men uniforms.
Now let’s get into the individual characters. Let’s start with Veil. When you first read about this character, what was it that really jumped out at you? Which of her characteristics did you really want to capture? Were there any elements of her that were especially hard to design?
Veil is the least confident of the group and also, in many ways, she’s the readers representative through the first issue. She was probably my favorite character, not just to draw but also, I like very much how Christos wrote her. She’s generally reticent and on the outside of events initially, but always seems drawn in to the center of the story. I like that element of her personality quite a bit. I knew her gaseous state was going to be tricky to draw so I wanted her costume to be able to convey a good deal of movement. At first I was playing around with sketches of her wearing very baggy clothing, so I’d be able to suggest movement, but it just wasn’t working and eventually the idea of binding her in cloth strips presented itself. With this I could show her powers working very easily and also, the very fact that the binding covers almost every inch of her, fits her personality quite nicely
With Mettle you’re dealing with a character who has no flesh, but is also experiencing some intense emotions. It seems like having this character emote would be incredibly difficult but you pull it off very well. How did you compensate for Mettle’s lack of flesh?
Simply by using his body language. His personality is very outgoing and ebullient so it’s really quite easy to have him express himself through gestures and posture.
Another character that doesn’t necessarily lend herself to full facial expressions is Hazmat. Why did you design her suit with the face plate the way it is?
I tried a lot of different helmet shapes and a simple sphere worked best. Hazmat has to be completely quarantined physically from the rest of the group so we rarely see her out of costume and isolating her eyes and hiding her nose and mouth would, I thought, distance her even more from the other students.
What were your thoughts when you first heard about the character of Finesse? How was the experience of creating her look? What sort of challenges did the character present you?
The first image I had was of a malevolent Audrey Hepburn. She really is the hardest character to read and giving her the most innocent face I could imagine helps to keep the ambiguity of her actions… ambiguous. She’s not a difficult character to draw at all, so no particular challenges although (for legal reasons) Bill did ask a couple of times that she not look quite so much like Ms. Hepburn.
Striker seems like a character who’s really concerned about appearance. It seemed like you wanted to create an iconic, handsome, reality TV style star with the character, is that correct?
Actually I didn’t really think of him in that way. His character is very abrasive and somewhat arrogant so it helps to present him as quite aloof and seemingly unconcerned about what’s going on around him. I suspect he is very much concerned about his appearance so I wanted his costume to be as simple as I could make it. His power defines and fuels his personality and his costume is simply a pure expression of that.
You didn’t create the character of Reptil, who made his first appearance in the “Avengers: The Initiative Featuring Reptil” special, but with his powers he seems like he’d be a heck of a lot of fun to draw. Is that correct? Which of his qualities do you really want to capture and bring out in your art?
I haven’t really gotten to draw him as a full Dino yet. He’s very decent, and often that can come across as a little boring, so his difficulty in controlling his emotions when he’s transformed is fun to play with.
Finally let’s talk a little bit about Giant-Man. What are your thoughts on Hank Pym’s previous Giant-Man uniform? Which elements of it do you think worked? Which elements of it do you think needed tweaking?
My favorite was the original red uniform, so when I began working on sketches, that was always what I had in mind. To me the antennae and the zig-zag gloves are the signature elements, but I also wanted to incorporate the black circle of Ant-Man into the new costume. Hank is a difficult character to pin down and his uniform had to be suggestive of a few different versions of his previous outfits. I think it works, it’s certainly the costume I enjoy drawing the most.
Hank has come a long way since his previous days as Giant-Man and his current Wasp costume is perhaps his most useful yet since it allows him, to grow, shrink, fly and store his toolbot gadget. Will his new Giant-Man uniform be just as useful?
That remains to be seen. I’m sure Christos and Bill have an interesting course charted for him.
Any final thoughts you would like to share about your designs for the characters of “Avengers Academy?”
It’s really challenging to design costumes that will stand the test of time. The temptation is to go with what’s looking good now and what works at this moment in time, but I tried to give a timeless feel to the Avenges Academy students. Some designs work better than others but as is sometimes the case, my favorites are not always the readers’ favorites. Over the past year I’ve had a lot of people tell me how much they like Hazmat’s costume and it’s easily my least favorite . They don’t seem to believe me, but I just don’t like it and I even asked Bill if we could kill her off so I wouldn’t have to draw it any more. He said no and that the readers dig her, so what do i know?