Teenagers often have a sense of immortality, a feeling that nothing can hurt them. For many of the super powered adolescents that inhabit the Marvel Universe it’s more than just a feeling. It’s a fact of life. While they are often thrust into life and death situations because of their fantastic abilities, more often than not all they have to do to survive is trust their nobler instincts, their powers, and whatever teammates they might have.
This December, that all changes for sixteen of the Marvel U’s super powered teens when writer Dennis Hopeless and artists Kev Walker and Frank Martin expand the Marvel NOW! initiative with “Avengers Arena.” The new ongoing series sends its protagonists to the villainous Arcade’s Murder World complex for a bloodthirsty kill-or-be-killed reality show-style competition. CBR News spoke with Hopeless about his plans for the series.
CBR News: Dennis, what was your initial reaction when Marvel came to you with the offer for “Avengers Arena?” How fully fleshed out was the concept? And ultimately what made it a project you wanted to do?
Dennis Hopeless: When [editor] Bill [Rosemann] first asked me to pitch, we were talking about a straight super hero school book. I think what I had in mind early on was doing something like the British show “Skins” but with teen superheroes. A lot of the Braddock Academy characters were created with that in mind.
At some point, the Murder World concept went from being an idea for an arc to the high concept of the series. It just made sense. All of the character work we were planning could still go down. We’d just be ramping the emotion and fear all the way up. What does bullying look like in Murder World? Depression? Relationships? “Kill or be killed” is pretty much the perfect allegory for high school.
I wanted to do it because it’s a teenager story with stakes and guts. The first challenge of any story is to make the reader care. Care about the characters. Care about the themes. Care what happens in the end. I took the job because I want to make readers care about these kids and what they’ve been through.
The man who sets the events of “Avengers Arena” into motion is the villainous gamesman Arcade. What’s it like writing a flamboyant and bloodthirsty character like the Master of Murder World? How big of a role will he play in this series?
It was really important for me to find Arcade’s voice. Who is this guy? Why has he spent his career building these crazy death traps? Does it bother him he always fails so miserably at killing? How badly does he want a win?
Our Arcade and this version of Murder World both came out of answering those questions. He’s an absolute blast to write.
Arcade’s presence is felt throughout the series but after Issue #1 he steps back into the shadows for a while. This is a book about the kids and for the most part he lets them have the stage.
Can you talk about Arcade’s inspirations and motivations for this latest scheme? Why has he chosen to pit super powered adolescents against each other in a battle to the death? And why these teens in particular? Do they share any common traits besides their relative ages and super abilities?
Arcade is done being a joke. He chose these kids for a reason but it isn’t one he’s going to be explaining. Let’s just say he has some experience putting together an entertaining death match.
The contestants Arcade has chosen are mostly heroes with a compunction against killing. Does he have a way to insure that the bulk of his contestants try to kill their opponents? Or is he content initially to kick back and let them try and make sense of the situation they find themselves in?
My instinct is to let the story explain this but…
Arcade doesn’t make anyone do anything. That’s not his game here. And within that, we’re going out of our way to make sure the characters have justifiable reasons for all of their actions. This is a story about what a person is willing to do to survive. It’s about how far they’ll go to keep themselves and their friends safe.
Let’s talk a little bit about some of the contestants chosen to participate in “Avengers Arena” starting with two characters associated with the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe, Darkhawk and Cammi. What do you find most interesting about these two characters? We know Darkhawk has a host of formidable abilities, but just how dangerous is Cammi, a character with no real powers, in a setting like this? How much has the character changed and grown since her last appearances in the “Annihilation” books?
I’m a big fan of “Annihilation” and all the DnA cosmic books that followed it. I was thrilled when Bill told me I could use these two. They’re great.
I think Cammi will surprise you. She survived an intergalactic war at 11 and has been on her own in space ever since. Cammi may not have superpowers but underestimating her would be a costly mistake.
On the other hand, Darkhawk is very powerful. He’s also the oldest and most experienced hero in the book. He’s likely going to have quite a bit more restraint. Look at it this way, a truck driver has the “power” to take his semi onto the sidewalk and start running people down. That doesn’t mean it would be easy to convince him to do it. Power isn’t the end all be all advantage in a death match.
Next we have Chase and Nico of the Runaways. What can you tell us about their initial reactions to being forced to participate in “Avengers Arena?”
It’s hard to shock Nico and Chase at this point. Their world has been disappointing for a while now. The idea that an adult would try to make a bunch of kids kill each other is almost par for the Runaways’ course.
The scary part for Chase and Nico is that it’s just the two of them now. They’re obviously glad the other Runaways are safe at home, but they don’t have their foundation here. They’re incomplete.
One of the largest groupings of characters comes from the student body of “Avengers Academy.” Some of these characters have killed in the past, but I’m specifically interested in the character with the most experience in killing, X-23. What’s it like for her to suddenly be forced into an environment where it’s kill or be killed after spending so much time trying to come to terms with her past as young assassin?
Laura isn’t a mindless killing machine anymore. In fact, she goes out of her way to avoid killing. Being tossed into Murder World won’t change who Laura is.
That said, she’s still a badass and fiercely loyal. Threaten the Avengers Academy kids and you’re likely to have a big X-23 problem.
As you mentioned earlier, a number of the characters in “Avengers Arena” hail from a new institution called the Braddock Academy. What can you tell us about these kids and their school? Does the Braddock Academy have a connection to the family of Captain Britain and Psylocke?
Yes. The Braddock Academy is the expensive British version of Avengers Academy or The Jean Grey School. The Braddock in the name is Captain Britain.
Most of the new characters we’ve created for the book are BA students. Some of them tie into existing Marvel Universe characters/families and some of them are whole cloth new.
â€¨For the record, we didn’t create these kids just to kill them. They’re no more or less safe than anyone else. We created them because it’s fun to create new Marvel U characters.
With such a large and diverse cast of characters how do you plan on balancing things? Will some of the contestants get more page time than others? Or do you eventually plan on giving everybody time to shine?
Most of the characters will get a good deal of page time. We’re doing a sort of “Lost”-style story structure in the initial arc to help readers get to know all of the kids.
Obviously the characters who survive longer will get more of the spotlight, but none of them are cannon fodder. They all matter to the story in a real way.
Of course, after a few issues you might not have to worry about over crowding because some characters may be dead. Can you comment on how dangerous things will be for your characters in “Avengers Arena?” Are any of the youthful contestants truly safe?
Nobody is safe. Also, if you think about it, surviving Murder World would be almost as awful as not surviving it.
In terms of plot and themes what is you initial arc of “Avengers Arena” about? And what kinds of stories can we expect moving forward?
The first arc is about who these kids are down deep. Who are they back in the world? Who are they now that they’ll be fighting for their lives? Is there a difference?
From there we explore a lot of different things. Alliances. Betrayals. Trust and mistrust. Sex and love and sacrifice. Like I said, this is pretty much high school except here they get to kill their rivals.
Kev Walker is bringing your murderous high school tales to life. What do you feel he brings to this book as an artist?
Kev is incredible. He draws teenagers who look like teenagers. They have young faces and all different body types and they emote in devastating ways. But at the same time, he brings a visceral reality to the action and violence that really sells how terrifying life in Murder World can be.
He’s the perfect artist for this book.
Finally, the premise of “Avengers Arena” begs a number of questions about your larger plans for the series. Like how long will this contest go on? And will someone come looking for the teen heroes that have been abducted? I understand if you can’t answer those questions for fear of spoilers, but are you able to reveal if “Avengers Arena” is a long form story with a beginning, middle, and end? Or is it a more open ended?
Like all games, this one will end. But we’re telling a long-form story within that. These characters are going to be trapped for a while.
Yes, they’ll be missed. Yes, people will come looking. But looking for someone and finding them are two very different things.
I’m as proud of this book as anything I’ve ever written. There’s more to it than the premise implies, but we’re not shying away from the scary parts of that premise. It’s a gut punch and I think people are going to love that about it.
“Avengers Arena” debuts in December as part of Marvel NOW!