CCI: Gage Opens the Doors to a New "Avengers Academy"

We've all had that semester from hell where our classes seemed impossible, social interactions were awkward and difficult, and nothing seemed to go right. But when you're a student at a school for superpowered youngsters, that experience is a lot more difficult and dangerous, as the students of writer Christos Gage's ongoing "Avenger Academy" series from Marvel Comics are discovering.

The students -- Mettle, Hazmat, Reptil, Finesse, Veil and Striker -- began their time at "Avengers Academy" with an embarrassing and shocking discovery: They're attending classes because the Avengers believe that if they didn't receive proper guidance, they'd become villains. As their training progressed, they dealt with their fellow students' physical and mental scars as well the assaults of powerful villains like the Absorbing Man and Korvac. Currently the students and teachers of "Avengers Academy" are facing their toughest challenge yet as they strive to protect civilians and stay alive on the front lines of the current event storyline, "Fear Itself."

This fall, "Avengers Academy" headmaster Hank Pym (Giant-Man) will look to give his students some relief by relocating the school to the West Coast and opening up enrollment to other superpowered youth. This new direction begins in November in "Avengers Academy" #21 and was announced yesterday at Marvel's "Next Big Thing" panel at Comic Con International in San Diego. Comic Book Resources spoke with Gage and his editor Bill Rosemann about the changes to the book and the murder mystery that comes about during their introduction.

CBR News: Christos, the student body of "Avengers Academy" is about to become a lot bigger. About how many students will the Academy have starting with issue #21, and are you able to hint or tease the identities of some of the new students?

Christos Gage: I do love the story possibilities you get with a "cast of thousands," but just to be clear -- and hopefully reassure our longtime readers -- the focus of the book will remain with our core team (minus the student we lost at the end of "Fear Itself"), along with a couple new faces. Yes, Avengers Academy as a whole has opened its doors to any teen hero in the Marvel Universe, but for most of them it's like someone who has a job while taking a couple of classes at the local university. Our core team is full-time students, and they'll be our focus.

Really, what we're doing is opening the door to more of the same types of fun and occasional interactions with other Marvel characters we had in issue #13, the Super Hero Prom, which I'd say was probably the best-received issue of the series to date -- even getting a sales bump without any variant covers or event tie-ins! We had a blast doing it, so when we saw the opportunity to make it easier to do more of that sort of thing, we jumped at it. As for the identities of the new members, I can't spill yet, except to say that one is a longstanding Marvel Universe character, while the other is part of a strong heroic legacy, but a new person using the name.

Bill Rosemann: Part of what's so cool about expanding our student body is it allows Christos and our artists many more storytelling possibilities, especially when it comes to real-world, coming-of-age themes such as bullying, cliques, peer pressure, sexuality and addiction. But fear not, while the story options will multiply, Christos will keep a laser-like focus on our smaller group of core characters as he continues to display his impressive talent for delivering compelling insight into their surprising inner lives.

Since one member of the initial student body will no longer be part of the Academy because of events in "Fear Itself," how are the remaining members coping with that loss when issue #21 begins?

CG: They're shaken up, more uncertain than ever -- and we'll see them continuing to struggle with that.

Let's talk a bit about the faculty. Hank Pym is still headmaster, but will the events of "Fear Itself" affect his views when "Avengers Academy" #21 hits stores?

CG: Hank being Hank, he is always a little unsure of himself, but yes, he is still in charge and he is still dedicated to the ideals of Avengers Academy -- more than ever, which is why he expanded the school. But given what happened during "Fear Itself," he is looking at how to learn from the experience and get stronger. Like Hank always has, he is making bold decisions -- reaching for the stars, dreaming big and knowing that could just mean you are going to fail big.

With the Academy deciding taking in more students, it seems like its staff of permanent faculty members has to grow. So are the same heroes that started teaching in issue #1 still teaching when issue #21 begins? Who are some of the new permanent teachers we might see?

CG: Actually, a couple of our original faculty members have moved on, for reasons that will become clear in issue #20 -- but in their place we have a new full-time teacher, who to me makes a ton of sense in the role. And as always, any Avenger, past or present, can serve as a guest instructor -- I want to play with that more. So you never know when, say, Luke Cage or the Thing might show up.

BR: Not only is the new full-time teacher a cult fave -- and has one of the best personalities from throughout all of Avengers history -- but he (or she) is also quite familiar with the school's new campus. Begin your guesses, interweb!

That's a great segue way into my next question: The new campus of "Avengers Academy" is the old West Coast Avengers compound in Los Angeles. Why is the Academy moving, and what's it like writing within such an historic setting? Any local superhumans planning to show up unannounced?

CG: There are several reasons for the move, some of which will be revealed in the "Fear Itself" issues, but also Hank (and we) wanted to ground Avengers Academy more in a physical location within Marvel Earth rather than a pocket dimension. As you point out, the West Coast Avengers compound was just sitting there, unused, and it has a rich history, which I love to draw on. As for the superhuman population of L.A., it's a lot more likely that they'll be part of things now, when it makes sense for a story.

You'll be making great use of your new setting in the series' first arc as it provides a backdrop for a murder. Does issue #21 actually kick off a murder mystery? If so, what can you tell us about the crime?

CG: Yes, issue #21 presents the mysterious murder of a prominent character and sets up the question of who is responsible. I have a history of writing crime shows like "Law & Order: SVU," but this being comics, you throw a lot of other possibilities into the mix -- magic, clones, time travel, you name it -- which makes things that much more complicated!

BR: Wait until you see who is murdered -- it'll blow your mind. It's a true Marvel mystery, richly steeped in Avengers lore. We dare you to try and guess who the killer is!

Sounds like lessons in detection are about to become part of the school's curriculum. What does completing courses actually entail? Will "Avengers Academy" become like the Initiative in that we'll eventually see students graduate?

CG: Unlike the Initiative, which was a "boot camp," and unlike a traditional school with freshman through senior years, Avengers Academy's purpose is to train these students to be Avengers. So their education lasts as long as that takes, which is nice for me, because I can pretty much make it last as long the readers want!

Speaking of long-term plans, are you able to hint, comment or tease about your plans for "Avengers Academy" following the first arc of its new status quo?

CG: As big as our story arc kicking off in #21 is going to be, what comes after that is bigger -- and has a huge involvement with the larger Marvel Universe. The world will be rocked. As a Marvel fan for 35 years, I can't wait for this. You have been warned.

Any final thoughts you'd like to share?

CG: If you've heard about the wonderful critical and word-of-mouth response we've been getting but haven't yet tried the book for one reason or another, now is the perfect jumping-on point! If #21 sounds intriguing, wait until you see who joins the team in issue #22! And if you're a longtime fan, fear not; we're still going to be giving you what you love about the book. Part of that is the feeling that anything can happen -- and you never know when it will!

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