The Dark Secret of "Avengers Academy"

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains numerous spoilers for "Avengers Academy" #1, in stores now.

The Avengers are one of the most celebrated and respected super teams in the Marvel Universe, and it's a dream come true for a super powered teen to be invited to join their ranks. Recently, six new teenage heroes: Reptil, Striker, Finesse, Fortress, Veil and Hazmat, were approached by representatives of the Avengers and offered the chance to become the inaugural class of the newly opened Avengers Academy. They thought they were offered the chance because they were destined to become the Marvel U's next generation of heroes. It turns out, they were wrong...

In "Avengers Academy" #1, by writer Christos Gage and artist Mike McKone, the teen heroes discovered that their instructors, Hank Pym, Tigra, Justice, Quicksilver and Speedball, have been lying to them. The Avengers learned the kids existence by poring over some of the files left over from when Norman Osborn had control of the Avengers and all superhuman matters in the Marvel Universe. The instructors told the kids that the files said they had the potential to be the greatest of heroes, but in the final pages of the series' debut issue, the kids discovered what the files really said; that if something wasn't done soon, they could grow up to become some of the vilest villains the Marvel Universe will ever know. What does this revelation mean for the series and how will the students of "Avengers Academy" react now that they know their true potential? For the answers to these questions and more we spoke with Gage and his editor Bill Rosemann.

CBR News: Where did the idea for the reveal about the potential for these kids come from? Was this going to be part of Avengers Academy from it's earliest pitch, or was it something that you guys came up with over time?

Bill Rosemann: The extra twist came - as many cool ideas do - from one of our Marvel creator summits. Christos was presenting his ideas to the group, and then Joe Quesada and Brian Michael Bendis and Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker started batting around suggestions...and from that free flowing brainstorming came the killer concept that Christos happily grabbed and ran with.

Christos Gage: Yeah, this is the perfect example of why we hold these summits. I had always wanted "Avengers Academy" to be a book about young superhumans figuring out whether they're going to be heroes or villains, with the deck stacked in favor of the villain side. But the way I originally planned to set it up was very sort of sci-fi cliche...they were going to travel to the future and see that they had become criminals and conquerors and what have you. I wasn't happy with how convoluted it was going to be, but I was stuck and unable to find another way into it. Then Joe and Matt and Brian and Ed came up with the much simpler, more elegant and - most important of all - more character-based idea that the kids see the Avengers' files and realize the Academy doesn't exist because the Avengers believe in them, but because they fear them. It's so much better. I first learned years ago in film school the importance of being able to kick around ideas with a room full of other writers, and these summits are a perfect example.

All the members of the Avengers Academy faculty know what these kids might become. Will this affect how they treat the students on a conscious or subconscious level? It seems like teaching these kids has suddenly become a job where if the instructors fail countless people might be killed. Are they currently prepared to handle that kind of pressure?

Rosemann: The staffers are some of the most experienced crime fighters on the planet...and the most experienced not only with young heroes, but also with facing the same exact challenge that the kids are. Founding Avenger Hank Pym first teamed with Wasp when she was an older teen. Justice has grown from New Warrior to Avenger, all while facing serious life choices. Quicksilver has fought alongside - and fought - some of the most powerful superhumans and mutants alive. Collectively, they know how to deal with pressure and were selected precisely because they know what it's like to be in a position where you can choose one path or the other. The question is, how will the students themselves react to the pressures and temptations of the game?

Gage:The truth is, the teachers really don't have much choice. As you might recall, when the Young Avengers first appeared, the Avengers reacted by confronting them and essentially saying, "Stop this and go home. Be normal kids." Well, we all saw how that worked out. Then "Dark Reign" showed the Avengers that if they don't want to provide guidance for young superhumans, someone like Norman Osborn might do it instead. So they have now embraced that responsibility. And some of them might not be equipped for what's involved...but if they can't handle it, no one else can either.

As for how the knowledge of the kids' dark potential will affect how the faculty relate to them, it inevitably will, but they're professionals and have seen people like Hawkeye and the Swordsman make the leap to hero before. A bigger and far more ominous question is how knowing will affect the kids. Will they fight harder to prove the worst case scenario wrong, or will they figure they're damaged goods and there's no point in fighting it - that the Avengers think they're bad seeds, so why bother trying to be any different? That's what the coming months will explore.

We know some of Reptil's background thanks to last year's "Avengers the Initiative Featuring Reptil" one-shot, which Christos wrote, but the rest of the young cast are new characters. We get some hints as to their origins and what they can do in issue #1, but will you be delving deeper into them in upcoming issues? Do these kids have any connections to some of the Marvel U's established villains or heroes?

Rosemann: From issue #1 - #6, Christos has smartly crafted each story to not only continue the ongoing sub-plots, but to also spotlight the individual characters, giving readers insight into their origins and most inner thoughts. By the end of issue six, you'll hopefully feel like you've known this new crew for years. As to whether or not they are connected to any other established heroes or villains - keep reading!

Gage: Yeah, each of the first six issues will be told from the perspective of one of the students and we'll get some insights into who they are. Some of their origins will be revealed, others will be hinted at and still others are a mystery to the characters themselves...a mystery to be explored another time. Connections to existing Marvel characters, entities and/or institutions are certainly a possibility - savvy readers will notice hints and clues that will be revealed and expanded upon over time.

On the final page of "Avengers Academy" #1 we see the kids' reactions to the news about their potential. Let's talk about some of those reactions. Reptil and Veil appear shocked. It's hard to tell exactly what Hazmat's thinking because of her suit, but her eyes seem to indicate that she's having an intense reaction to the news. Is that accurate? Is that sadness on Fortress's face? And is that delight on Finesse's? What's Striker feeling at that moment?

Rosemann: See, that's the magic of Christos' writing and Mike McKone's art - each character had a unique reaction, and some of those reactions are specifically for the reader to interpret. They have breathed true life into these new characters from page 1, and now you are seeing them react in the unpredictable ways in which we all face challenging revelations. Each character's personalities are as different as their powers and backgrounds, and how they respond next - and during the months ahead - will keep the staffers and readers on their toes.

Gage:I agree that Mike did an amazing job on this sequence - and the entire book, really. He makes these characters live and breathe. I did call for specific emotions in the script, and he delivered beautifully, but I'd rather not say what those emotions were (except that you're right, they were all pretty intense). The readers can make up their own minds. To me, part of the fun is seeing and speculating on how each of the students feels about this revelation. And their feelings may change or evolve as events continue to unfold...

It seems like the instructors at Avengers Academy drastically overestimated their ability to keep this news a secret from their students. Is this their greatest mistake as teachers? Or is it possible the teachers knew exactly what was going to happen if they were seen discussing what was really going with the kids and allowed things to take their course?

Rosemann: Adults often think kids know less than they do. Kids often think adults don't have a clue. Both groups often don't know how to talk to one another, and when they do they often make missteps that only exasperate the age gap. Differences in viewpoints, coming of age struggles, free will or predetermination, experience vs. raw ability, failure and redemption - these are all the rich elements that Christos and Mike will be exploring in the months to come. 
Gage: I don't think the teachers meant for the kids to find out. I think they underestimated what skills the kids may have already learned, on their own and under Norman, that would enable them to discover this information. Plus, quite honestly, they didn't imagine there would be anything that would make the students suspect this situation was anything other than what it seemed-selecting the most promising young superhumans to train as the Avengers of the future. And if not for Speedball's emotional outburst, combined with Finesse's ability to read lips, there wouldn't have been. The teachers have their own issues, and that made them slip up in this instance. It'll be interesting to see what else they don't know about these kids... 
The revelation that the kids could become some of the biggest villains in the Marvel U casts the upcoming "Scared Straight" crossover with "Thunderbolts" in a new light. For the faculty, how important is the kids' trip to the Raft?

Rosemann: It could literally mean life or death. Will they choose the path of good, or fall into the shadows of temptation? Where will their choices take them - a spot alongside Earth's Mightiest Heroes, or a cramped cell in The Raft?

Gage: Very important. They want to make it clear where the wrong choices will lead. Just as a real-life "Scared Straight" program is meant to show at-risk youths where and with whom they'll end up if they go down the wrong path, this visit is meant to make the students think about how unpleasant it would be to share a cell block with Crossbones or Tiger Shark. But it's important for their education as heroes, too. Sooner or later they have to encounter super villains, and the teachers felt the best way for the first such exposure to unfold would be with the villains behind bars. Because, of course, in the world's most secure prison, nothing could possibly go wrong...

From the solicits, it seems like Norman Osborn will play a kind of tempter style role in "Scared Straight," but I have to wonder, considering he played a hand in torturing these kids, if they'll be looking to hurt or kill Osborn instead of join any nefarious plan he has for them?

Rosemann: It's a bit of a Daddy Complex, isn't it? Who will attempt to please the angry father...and who will want to deliver pain right back at him?

Gage: Exactly. There's no reason to assume the kids will all have the same reaction. And keep in mind, we don't know for sure that he tortured all of them; he may have taken different approaches to some, using the carrot instead of the stick. And don't forget that Norman is a master manipulator. He's like the Smoke Monster on "Lost": If you let him talk to you it's all over. So it'll be an interesting reunion, to be sure.

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