NYCC EXCLUSIVE: Hopeless is Seduced by Evil in "Avengers Undercover"

[SPOILER WARNING: The following interview contains minor spoilers for upcoming issues of "Avengers Arena."]

The direct approach is usually the best way to confront the villains of the Marvel Universe, but that's often easier said than done. Sometimes the villains are too powerful, too cunning, or too organized, and in rare cases all three. The latest incarnation of the Masters of Evil fits that description to a T -- a massive army of super criminals so large that they control their own nation, Bagalia. So how do you bring down an organized group of super villains when it grows so large? With a massive assault by S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Avengers? Or do you try something a little more covert, like placing agents inside the Masters of Evil's ranks to destroy the organization from within?

This March, a quintet of teenage heroes sets out to become villains in order to destroy them from the inside when writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kev Walker kick of their new ongoing series, "Avengers Undercover." The series was announced by Marvel today during their "Avengers" panel at New York Comic Con and CBR News spoke exclusively with Hopeless about the project, which features five survivors from his "Avengers Arena" series struggling against super villains, the seductive lure of evil and their own scarred psyches.

CBR News: Dennis, "Avengers Undercover" reunites you with Kev Walker and many of your cast from "Avengers Arena" which will have some readers wondering about this new series connection to "Arena." Does the end of "Avengers Arena" lay the groundwork for "Avengers Undercover?" How new reader friendly is "Undercover?" And what will it have to offer readers who followed the contest in "Avengers Arena?"

Dennis Hopeless: "Avengers Undercover" is a self-contained story. We're making absolutely sure everything new readers need to know to enjoy the story happens within. "Undercover" has a different tone, scope and concept from "Arena." This isn't a sequel or second season but the two series are definitely connected.

The characters who survived Murder World came out the other side much different than they went in. Those psychological scars from the "Arena" weigh heavily on all of the kids. They don't fit so well into their old lives. They no longer feel like they belong and they're all looking for a way to get back what they've lost. All of this leads them down the path of "Avengers Undercover."

Let's talk about your cast of characters: Hazmat, Bloodstone, Deathlocket, Cammi, and Anachronism. What made you want to include these characters in this series? What do you feel they add to the book?

"ARENA" SPOILERS!! Are you crazy, man! People HATE spoilers.

Actually, no, I think they secretly like them.

One of the big things that drew me to this project was the opportunity to tell a different kind of story with the surviving Murder World kids. "Avengers Arena" was an extremely rigid story in terms of tone, scope and even duration. The strict confines of the book let us delve deep into the kid's psyches and I'm extremely proud of the character work we got to do. But after 18 issues in one setting, you start to daydream about taking your characters out into the world. That's what "Undercover" is. We shattered these kids in "Avengers Arena" and now we get to take them on a PTSD tour of the Marvel Universe underworld.

We've covered the who, let's move into the how, what, and why of"Avengers Undercover," starting with the organization your cast is attempting to infiltrate, the Master of Evil. What can you tell us about this group? Is this the most recent incarnation that operates out of Bagalia and debuted during Rick Remender's "Secret Avengers" series? Why is this an organization that requires infiltration instead of direct confrontation?

We're using the Bagalia stuff Rick set up in "Secret Avengers" as our starting point. From there we'll be fleshing out this underground super villain nation. The Masters of Evil run this huge lawless community and we want to lean into that idea. We'll be showing the different boroughs of Bagalia and introducing the villainous factions who live there. Then we'll climb Baron Zemo's tower and introduce the man who runs whole place.

I wouldn't say the Masters of Evil "require" infiltration. That's just how things work out for the kids. This isn't a mission they were sent on by an adult Avenger who forgot these are emotionally unstable and recently traumatized teenagers. It's a situation they find themselves in. It's plan they create for themselves.

So the kids decide to do this on their own? They weren't asked by some individual or organization? They won't have a handler keeping tabs on them?

Yeah, no, there's no handler. No responsible adult would ask a bunch of PTSD-suffering 16 year-olds to go undercover in Bagalia. This is a decision the kids make. The world knows them as victims and they're desperate to change that perception. This mission is a (probably misguided) shot at redemption.

Will your cast be undercover as themselves? Or will they have new identities?

By the time "Undercover" starts, our cast would have a hard time going incognito. People know who they are and what they've been through.

Who are some of the initial supporting cast members of "Avengers Undercover?" Will the cast be interacting with some members of the Masters of Evil more than others?

Let's see -- Baron Zemo is the man pulling the strings. Madame Masque is Zemo's right hand woman. Constrictor runs the muscle. And then there's the guy they all want to kill.

We'll spend a fair amount of time in several different factions within the Masters of Evil. Each group has their own cast of characters. I don't want to give too much away but, yeah, some of the villains will be primary cast members.

What's your initial "Avengers Undercover" story all about? Will the story begin from any one character's point of view?

It's the story of a bunch of damaged teenagers who hatch a plan to get their super hero lives back only to find that maybe they fit in better with the villains.

We'll definitely be shifting POV to some degree. That was one of my favorite elements of "Arena." Our shifts won't work exactly the same way here. The "Undercover" cast is considerably smaller so we'll get more than a single issue from each perspective.

Let's start to wrap up by talking about the work being done by your artistic collaborator, Kev Walker. Kev is obviously familiar with your cast having drawn them in "Avengers Arena." What else does he bring to "Avengers Undercover?"

Kev brings everything. The man just nails every page. He elevates the game of everyone he's working with and makes the story better. We're so lucky to have Kev back. I absolutely couldn't be happier about that.

Finally, how would you describe the tone of "Avengers Undercover?" And how does it compare to that of "Avengers Arena?" To me, it sounds like a combination of the adolescent themes and ideas of "Arena" with the tense super villain under world setting of a book like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' "Sleeper." Is that an apt description?

Yes please. You can compare us to "Sleeper" all day long. I won't stop you.

This obviously isn't going to be an all-ages comedy book, but "Undercover" isn't quite so bleak as "Arena." We get to vary the tone a lot more here. I love showing serious characters cutting loose and being stupid. We showed a tiny bit of that in "Arena" but for the most part it wouldn't have been appropriate. "Undercover" is a different kind of story. We can get away with some serious goofy.

I hope people give us a shot. This is going to be a unique book about the gray area between good and evil and what it feels like to be stuck there. Not everyone was born to be a hero and some of the most interesting people are villains.

"Avengers Undercover" launches in March, 2014.

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