Gage Readies "Avengers Academy" for War

The members of Marvel Comics' various Avengers teams have come together to combat the foes that no single super hero could withstand, but a new type of Avengers team assembled in the introductory issue of the ongoing "Avengers Academy" whose purpose is keeping several troubled youths from becoming future Avengers' foes. Before they joined the Academy, super powered teens Mettle, Hazmat, Veil, Striker, Finesse and Reptil were in the custody of the villainous Norman Osborn during his Dark Reign. Osborn tortured and manipulated them in the hopes of turning the adolescents into living weapons.

Now "Avengers Academy" instructors Giant-Man, Tigra, Quicksilver, Justice and Speedball must make sure their charges stay on the straight and narrow path to super heroics and don't give in to the fear, anger and hatred that Osborn tried to instill in them. So far they've done an exemplary job and the troubled teens have even started to bond and come together as a team. However, that may all change when the epic "Fear Itself" event arrives in the pages of "Avengers Academy" and the kids face their toughest task yet -- standing on the front lines of the war against the fear god known as the Serpent. CBR News spoke with writer Christos Gage about his plans for the series and the "Fear Itself" tie-ins.

CBR News: Christos, it's springtime and love seems to be in the air for both the students and faculty of Avengers Academy. Let's talk about some of the relationships that we've seen blossoming over the last couple of issues. In Paul Tobin's "Avengers Academy Giant Size" special, Reptil and Spider-Girl met, and in issue #13 it appears they're becoming more than just friends. What do you think these two characters see in each other? And will their relationship continue to be a part of "Avengers Academy" moving forward?

Christos Gage: Hey, they're young; don't push the kids into anything! They're not boyfriend/girlfriend yet, but it'll be interesting to see how their relationship progresses. They definitely have some chemistry, but they also have their own lives. As for what they see in each other, I think they bonded over having lost their parents and a shared respect for the heroic legacy of others like Spider-Man. And they're nice kids, y'know? On each of their respective teams, they seem like the glue that holds it together in a lot of ways.

We've also seen some romantic sparks fly between some of the students of the Academy. It looks like Hazmat and Mettle are ready to try being more than comrades and friends, and it seems like there's a healthy bit of romantic tension between Striker and Veil as well...

Hazmat and Mettle are going to give it a try, but in their case it's more that they're not sure what else to do. They are the only ones who can really touch each other, and everyone seems to think they should be together. Is that a basis for a successful relationship? Not in our traditional notion of romantic love, but arranged marriages around the world succeed on less. And they have grown closer in recent months. It'll be interesting to watch.

As for Striker and Veil, I like their relationship because it actually seems they are becoming friends. Veil doesn't take Striker's in-your-face Romeo act seriously, so he doesn't bother trying it with her, which means they're connecting as people. Is that the basis for a romantic relationship? Who knows? But I do like the way they're evolving.

Giant-Man also seems ready to have a relationship with Tigra who has a child that was fathered by the Skrull that impersonated him during "Secret Invasion." So in a way Hank Pym has a shot at having a real family. Given how things ended with his wife and that his "son," Ultron, is one of the Marvel U's most dangerous villains, how does he feel about this? Is he terrified by it? Or does he desperately want his relationship with Tigra to work?

I don't think he's putting that much pressure on it. Hank has learned to take things one day at a time, and that's what he's doing with Tigra as well as their kind-of-son. I think he's finally in a place where he feels like he can handle a healthy relationship. Is that what he's got? Time will tell...

We've talked quite a bit about feelings and with most of the "Avengers Academy" characters you can get some inkling of how they feel right away, except for Finesse, who is very hard to read. It seems to me that from her conversation with Reptil in #13 she's wrestling with the concept of fitting in. Is this something she cares about? Does a part of Finesse want to be accepted or is there something else motivating her behavior these days?

Finesse is used to knowing everything and mastering it easily. Human interaction and emotion confuse her, and she doesn't like that. She herself isn't sure whether she wants to fit in with the others or not. But she definitely doesn't like being off balance, which she always is when dealing with people -- as well as her own emotions. She doesn't lack emotions, she has them, but she doesn't understand them or know how to deal with them. And for someone whose entire life has been about getting better, that's a tough thing.

In "Avengers Academy" #14, on sale now, you sent the team into battle against the Sinister Six and, despite being caught off guard by a much more experienced fighting force, I think the team did surprisingly well. At the end, though, the Sinister Six escaped and embarrassed the kids' headmaster, Hank Pym, which led to him giving them a frightening cautionary speech. So how would you describe the dynamic between the kids going into #14.1? And how is Hank feeling? He seemed to really be upset over his defeat at the hands of Doc Oc and the Sinister Six.

I don't think Hank cares much about his own defeat; I think he is deeply bothered by the notion that he hasn't trained the kids to survive a battle against experienced enemies. Yes, the kids did well, but not well enough. If the Sinister Six had wanted to kill some of them, they probably would have. Hank knows the kids will have to go to war at some point soon. He feels he's failed to prepare them for that, which could cost their lives. As for the dynamic between the kids, they're definitely down on themselves, questioning the path they're on -- which plays heavily into the story in #14.1.

For "Avengers Academy" #14.1, on sale June 1st, you're giving readers a glimpse at some of the other super-powered characters that Norman Osborn tortured and tried to twist to his will. What can you tell us about these kids? It seems like they might be dark mirrors of the "Avengers Academy" students, but is that necessarily the case? And how important will these characters be to the series moving forward?

One in particular is very important, and there is certainly the potential for darkness among them. But the thing to keep in mind is that these kids didn't end up in Avengers Academy for a reason. Maybe in some cases it's because they're better able to function in society. Maybe these kids will cause the Avengers Academy students to wonder if they even belong where they are -- if they'd be better off elsewhere. Or they could reinforce the notion that the world outside the Academy is not for them. I think the Point One issue will really change things for a number of the kids.

You kick off the first "Avengers Academy" arc that ties into another Marvel event this June when the teachers and students of Avengers Academy become embroiled in "Fear Itself." How does it feel to have characters you created caught up in a major Marvel event?

That's always fun, but the important thing is to make the story matter. And it definitely will. The kids are going to war, and war changes everyone who experiences it. When planning this storyline I reflected on the fact that we have been sending teenagers to war throughout history -- fifteen and sixteen year-olds in the Civil War, for example, and eighteen and nineteen year-olds to this day. I wanted to use the "Fear Itself" issues of "Avengers Academy" to explore that. It's a cliche to say that "After [insert event name here] nothing will be the same!" But for the kids of "Avengers Academy," it's true.

What events set the "Fear Itself" arc in motion? How involved will the students be in the actual fighting, and which fronts will they be fighting on? Is this a full-on war story, or are you exploring some other ideas and themes with this arc?

The crux of the "Fear Itself" storyline is that the Avengers are stretched thin battling the forces of the Serpent throughout the world, so the kids must be summoned into the battle of Washington D.C. They are assigned to civilian rescue, but much in the same way women aren't supposed to be in combat in our military yet often end up under fire, the kids will be right in the thick of it.

Yes, I would say it's a full-on war story. Once I knew "Fear Itself" was coming and really thought about it, I realized that a war story is incredibly appropriate for a book about teen heroes. Of course, the ongoing character arcs will continue to play out.

How big of a role does the faculty play in the "Fear Itself" tie-in issues of "Avengers Academy?"

A substantial one, but the key thing about the "Fear Itself" issues is that, for the most part, the kids and the faculty are going to be separated. The crisis is so widespread and intense that the Avengers have to spread out throughout the world so the kids will not have the benefit of their mentors backing them up. They will succeed or fail on their own, which is difficult for the teachers as well...

What else can you tell us about the supporting players in this arc? Will the students have any extra allies in the story? And just how dangerous are their opponents?

We're pretty full already! As for their opponents, the Serpent's Hammer-Wielders are gods, like Thor, so they could not be more dangerous.

Event tie-ins are usually epic affairs featuring lots of characters, intense action and huge set pieces. I'd imagine your artists, Sean Chen and Tom Raney, will have their work cut out for them during the arc. What can readers expect from their visuals on this story?

You're absolutely right that both Sean and Tom are amazing at detail, action and explosive visuals, and there will be bucket loads of that! But they're also both incredible with character, which is key to this story. Anyone who saw what Tom did on the last two pages of #12, with Mettle and Hazmat sharing a moment of sorrow, or Sean's wonderful character work on the Prom issue, knows these guys nail it every time. That's why I think we have such a fantastic team, and why I feel comfortable taking chances with a story like this. If it falls flat, it's all on me!

How important will the "Fear Itself" tie-in arc be in the larger story of the "Avengers Academy" students? And can you give any hints about the direction of the series after the arc is over? Will the students that survive and stay on the path of good be any closer to "graduation" or do they still have much to learn?

The "Fear Itself" issues are very important. By the time "Fear Itself" is over, one student will no longer be part of Avengers Academy. Will they die? Turn evil? Quit? Get expelled? You know the drill -- keep reading! Also, significant things about how Avengers Academy operates will change. Issue #21 will see some definite shakeups, but the core things people love about "Avengers Academy" will remain. I couldn't be more excited about the future!

I really want to thank the readers and retailers for their support of what, in this market especially, is a book that should have had the odds against it. We all know new characters don't sell. Granted, we have the benefit of long-time Avengers in the faculty, but the kids are the stars of the book and the readership has embraced them, praising the book publicly and encouraging others to check it out. And it's worked! Our sales have been rock-solid for nine issues now, with even more readers jumping onboard our first "Fear Itself" issue, and I couldn't appreciate it more!

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