UNLOCKING THE CAGE: Gage talks "House of M: Avengers"

They are a collection of the world's most wanted super criminals. They're considered highly dangerous. They are . . . the Avengers? That's the status quo for one of Marvel Comics' greatest super teams in the "House of M" reality. This November, writer Christos Gage and artist Mike Perkins will take readers back to that world when the five-issue "House of M: Avengers" miniseries begins. CBR News spoke with Gage about the book.

It's been a few years since the original "House of M" storyline but the alternate-world tale is still capturing the imaginations of readers. "Apparently the trade paperbacks are still selling quite well; they're very popular in libraries, and Marvel has been asked for new material set in that world," Chris Gage told CBR News.

"I've always loved alternate-world stories, so I was predisposed to want to do it already," Gage continued. "But when [Editor] Bill [Rosemann] mentioned the possibility of working with my 'Union Jack' collaborator Mike Perkins again, that sealed the deal for me. Plus, the lineup of characters he had in mind - Luke Cage and his band of freedom fighters - are nearly all ones I'm quite fond of."

In the "House of M" reality, Cage and many other Marvel characters faced a world that was the embodiment of the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for." "Spider-Man got his dead loved ones back and the admiration of the public, which had always considered him a menace, but he also had to cope with living a lie, hiding the fact that he's not really a mutant," Gage explained. "Wolverine got to remember his entire life, but he also had to work for an oppressive monarchy in the House of M. With Luke, I think we see his ingrained desire to always fight for the little guy, the man on the street who couldn't get justice any other way, reflected in that he becomes the man who gets justice for normal humans, folks the establishment couldn't care less about. That's the kind of guy he's always been, it's what he's always done, and it's what he always wants to do. The catch for him in this case is that, by doing that, he becomes a criminal.

"Incidentally, the formula doesn't apply to everyone," Gage continued. "I doubt the Fantastic Four secretly harbor a desire to die, for instance. So I wouldn't read too much into what role every character plays. But for many characters it does apply, and we'll see that with the Punisher in this series - he manages to save his family from the mobsters that killed them in our world. The catch is, a man with a family has loved ones who can be used as leverage against him."

Readers will get to see the effects of the House of M reality on a number of characters in "House of M: Avengers" but the central character of the series is obviously Luke Cage. "Luke is definitely the focus, but at different times we'll see events from other characters' perspectives, including Misty Knight and the Punisher - who is the token Sapien on the FBI task force assigned to bring the Avengers down!" Gage said

"House of M: Avengers" begins during a chapter of Luke Cage's life that will seem very familiar to fans of the character. "When we first meet Luke he is a very young man, in prison for a crime he didn't commit, who volunteers for an experiment that gives him powers - that much is also true in our world," Gage remarked. "But in the House of M reality, the purpose of the experiments is to create super-soldiers to fight Magneto, whose mutants are overwhelming the human forces in the human/mutant war. Luke still breaks out of prison, but finds a world where Magneto has just won the war - a world that is beginning to change drastically. In our world, Luke was eventually able to clear his name and become a full-fledged hero, but in this reality he remains a criminal, yet he gathers a group of like-minded people around him, and becomes more of a rebel freedom fighter than a thief or more selfish kind of outlaw. How that happens is the main character arc of the story."

"House of M Avengers" is an epic story that unfolds over many years. "Our story starts in 1979, the date Bendis set for the end of the human/mutant war, with Luke getting his powers and breaking out of prison," Gage explained. "When all is said and done, we'll have covered a number of years, more than two decades, if I'm not mistaken."

While "House of M: Avengers" is a decades-spanning tale, it occurs before the events of the original "House of M." "We felt like that ground had already been pretty well covered," Gage stated. "So we decided to explore the rich back-story of the world instead."

The meat of "House of M: Avengers" will detail how a loner and outcast like Luke Cage became a leader of a renowned band of rebels. "Initially, Luke sees it as a matter of survival - the system has branded him a criminal and an outsider, so that's what he's going to be," Gage explained. "He gathers others like him to increase his strength, the way a mobster assembles his crew, except they all share Luke's sense of justice, and a desire to see the downtrodden Sapiens protected even if the ruling power structure won't provide that protection to them. At first they commit robberies and other criminal acts, and that's their main purpose, but somewhere along the way they morph into the freedom fighters we saw in the 'House of M' series. It doesn't happen easily, and not everyone is sold on the idea, especially Luke."

As readers saw in "House of M," Cage's team of Avengers came to consist of some of his friends and allies from the world we know and other characters that he had no close ties to in the world we know. "The membership includes Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Iron Fist, Moon Knight, Tigra, the Sons of the Tiger, Misty Knight, and we know it will eventually include Cloak and the White Tiger," Gage stated. "We will get an idea of each character's motivations at some point or another. In some cases, it's a lot like the reason they became a superhero in the world we know - for others, it may be different. For instance, Misty starts out infiltrating the Avengers as an undercover cop."

The cast of "House of M: Avengers" includes a collection of fiercely determined freedom fighters who are all highly skilled combatants but Gage has assembled a multitude of fearsome foes to test the heroes' meddle. "There's an FBI task force whose job is to combat organized crime by any means necessary - think of the Strike Team on the TV show 'The Shield' and you have a pretty good idea," Cage said. "It's led by Thunderbird. Members include the Punisher, the Blob, Taskmaster, Feral and others. Then there are rival criminal organizations, like Shang-Chi's Dragons, and the Kingpin and his assassins - Bullseye, Elektra, and other familiar faces."

"House of M: Avengers" is a series where choices are grey hued and many characters will be forced to make some morally questionable decisions. "Misty Knight will have to decide where her loyalties lie. The Punisher will question whether he's on the right side, and how far he's willing to go for a government that says he and people like him are second-class citizens, but struggle with whether he's willing to jeopardize the secure life he's created for his family," Gage explained. "This series has a darker tone; it's not your typical Avengers tale with the team saving the world from a galactic menace; the menace is the ruling system itself."

Gage is delighted that Mike Perkins is the artist bringing his dark, dystopian tale to life. "I'll always jump at any chance to work with Mike," the writer stated. "His work is beautiful, and he puts so much thought into it - like when I described a gang of mutant punk rockers, he had the idea of putting them in 'X Pistols' jackets! He's also an amazing storyteller, and he is one of the hardest working men in comics. For the opening splash of the first issue, I made a list of things we could see in Times Square that would be sort of like what was going on in our world in 1979-1980, but different - for instance, the billboard for the movie 'Apocalypse Now' would show a picture of the mutant villain Apocalypse. I wrote a note to Mike saying he could pick and choose which of the sight gags he liked and ignore the rest - and he used them all!"

Both Gage and Perkins are having a blast with "House of M: Avengers" and they hope that readers will give the series a chance. "I've seen some comments online where certain people question whether the story 'matters,' since it's not set in current continuity," Gage remarked. "But I've always felt that it's good stories and good art that matter, and we're knocking ourselves out to deliver both! "I hope readers will agree."

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