NYCC: Gage Offers the Runaways Shelter at "Avengers Academy"

Trust is incredibly important for teenagers, especially the super powered ones inhabiting Marvel Universe. That's because the MU is home to both incredibly powerful and incredibly evil individuals who have no qualms about using adolescents to further their villainous agendas. Several of these individuals grouped in Los Angeles to form the super powered crime cartel known as The Pride. When The Pride's teenage children discovered their parents illicit activities they were horrified. Before their parents could use them as pawns in their villainous schemes the teens used their super abilities to fight back and destroyed the Pride's criminal empire. The teens continue to operate to this day as the super hero group known as the Runaways.

The super powered teens that make up the inaugural class of "Avengers Academy" weren't as lucky the Runaways. During his "Dark Reign," the charismatic villain Norman Osborn approached the teens and offered to help them deal with their emerging super abilities. What he actually ended up doing was torturing them to accelerate the growth of their powers. The Avengers freed the teens and took them under their wing to train them in the use of their powers -- not because they saw their potential as heroes, but because they believed that without their tutelage the physically and mentally scarred adolescents would become villains.

This March, these two teams will come face to face in a two-part tale that begins in "Avengers Academy" #27 by writer Christos Gage and artist Sean Chen. CBR News spoke with Gage about his plans for the book and the storyline, which was announced by Marvel yesterday at their "Avengers: Shattered Heroes" panel at New York Comic Con.

CBR News: Christos, it seems like the next several months of "Avengers Academy" will focus on membership. Veil quit the team in issue #19, in stores now. Then in issue #21 the new Avengers Academy Campus opens in Los Angeles to welcome some new students. We know the primary focus of the book will continue to be on the school's remaining initial students, but are you able to reveal or talk in general terms about some of the new students we'll see? Will the new students primarily be troubled super powered teens like the original group or will we be seeing a wider array of teen heroes?

Christos Gage: Basically, Hank Pym is relocating Avengers Academy to the old Palos Verdes compound that once housed the West Coast Avengers, and he's opening its doors to any super powered youth who want to learn from their elders. For the most part, those will be part time students as they continue to have their own adventures and live their own lives, but what will happen is we will have a lot more opportunities for our core cast to interact with other super human kids, which readers seemed to love when we did it in our Prom issue,#13. That issue was so popular it got a bump in sales with no variant covers, no crossovers -- nothing but the promise of a Super Hero Prom. And I had a blast writing it! So we're going to allow for more of that.

Some of the kids you'll see around campus have already been revealed in sneak peeks, so I can confirm that they'll include Spider-Girl, She-Hulk (Lyra), the new Power Man, Machine Teen, Batwing, Butterball (of course!), Wiz Kid, Juston Seyfert and his Sentinel (who I can't seem to resist writing as often as possible),Thunderstrike, Rocket Racer and members of the Loners, who apparently are not so set on being loners any more. So as you can see there's a pretty diverse group. There will also be new additions to the core class: the new White Tiger, who has ties to the original but also a dark secret she's struggling with; Julie Power, AKA Lightspeed, who is meant to function as a teacher's assistant and provide the voice of experience to the group -- whether that voice is welcome or not; and X-23 will also become a regular cast member.

Shortly after open enrollment begins the campus becomes the scene of a murder. I know you can't talk about the specifics of the crime, but can you talk about the impact of it? Will the students and teachers still be feeling the effects of the murder long after it's solved?

I really can't say much at all without risking spoilers, but the after effects will indeed be far-reaching -- probably in ways no one can conceive of at first.

You mentioned that X-23 will join the cast of "Avengers Academy. What made you want to include the character in the book? And what kind of involvement will she have in the series? Will she be a student? Or a teacher?

X-23 joins the student body in, appropriately enough, issue#23! Laura will be a part time student, interacting with the core class. Basically, Wolverine feels it's important for her to be around kids her own age, but she has some, uh, "baggage" with the X-students. So Hank Pym and Wolverine agree it would be beneficial to her to start fresh with Avengers Academy. Not just for her, but also for the Academy students, some of [whom] are struggling with issues X-23 has had to deal with, such as reconciling the side of her that's a killer with the side of her that wants to be something better.

I wanted her because I think she fits perfectly with the idea behind the story: that these are kids who could very well be villains as easily as heroes. X-23 was trained as an assassin and turned loose to kill innocent people while under the influence of a mind-altering "trigger scent." She has to live with that, and fight against her dark side, as well as the feeling that she's already damaged goods, so there's a lot of common ground. I really want to thank "X-23" editor (and my old "Initiative" editor!) Jeanine Schaefer and writer Marjorie Liu for being so cool about this -- I think it'll be a ton of fun!

Shortly after the initial X-23 story the Avengers Academy will deal with some more potential members in the form of the Runaways. What's it like writing these characters? How would you describe their initial dynamic with the core cast of Avengers Academy students? Do they have anything in common or are the Runaways and the core student cast perhaps too much alike?

I love the Runaways. To my mind that book just might be the best new concept in comics of the past ten years. I don't want to give away the nature of their interaction with Avengers Academy -- whether as friend or foe -- but yeah, they do have things in common -- as well as major differences, including their basic approach to their lives. The Academy kids are being mentored by adults, while the Runaways steadfastly choose to stand on their own. I think, inevitably, there's going to be a clash of cultures here.

Before they encounter the cast of "Avengers Academy," the Runaways will come face to face with another new LA resident, Daken, over in his solo title "Daken: Dark Wolverine." Will that encounter inform their interaction with the cast of "Avengers Academy?"

Definitely. "Daken" writer Rob Williams and I have been in touch, and worked together before on the "Iron Age" miniseries, so I anticipate we'll coordinate pretty well. But you don't need to read either story to follow the other.

What's the overall plot of the Runaways arc, and what themes will you be playing with?

The Runaways need help with something (no spoilers) and it brings them to Avengers Academy. One of our readers pointed out to us that since the Runaways' Victor Mancha was created (he's a sentient machine) by evil robot Ultron, and Ultron was created by Hank Pym, that means Hank is kind of Victor's grandfather! So there are family ties to be explored. Will Hank want Victor to stay with him? Will Victor want to? What about the other kids? We'll be exploring what makes these two groups similar and different. And there'll be plenty of high adventure as well.

What can you tell us about the obstacles and adversaries you'll be pitting your cast against in the Runaways two-parter?

I don't want to spill the beans on that, except to say that these two groups could easily end up at odds against each other! We may not need villains at all!

You mentioned Hank Pym would play a role in this story. What about the other Avengers Academy faculty members? Were there any other teachers that you really wanted to see interact with the Runaways cast?

I want to see Molly's reaction to Tigra. Beyond that, I actually was more interested in how the kids relate to each other.

Sounds like readers have lots of fun and exciting things to look forward to in March when this arc begins. Now that you've whetted their appetites for the story, any final thoughts you'd like to share about "Avengers Academy" or the upcoming two-part story with the Runaways?

I just want to extend a huge thanks to our readers and supporters, including many wonderful retailers, who have steadfastly spread the word about "Avengers Academy" to their friends, customers and people they don't even know! Thanks to them, our sales numbers have held steady for over a year now and even grown, which in this market is practically unheard of. Thanks for all your kind words and support, and please keep turning people on to the book, as I'd like to write it for a very, very long time! I also have to recognize the rest of our amazing creative team, including artists Sean Chen, Tom Raney, my co-creator Mike McKone and many more for their tireless work. This book is a labor of love for us all, and I hope it shows.

The two-part Runaways/Avengers Academy crosses begins in March with "Avengers Academy" #27 by Christos Gage and Sean Chen.

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