By Kevin Mahadeo
With the final pages of AVENGERS ACADEMY #1, writer Christos Gage proved that there's more than one Avengers title out there that knows a thing or two about secrets.
"I'm old enough to remember when there weren't advanced Internet solicits that would spoil everything and you wouldn't know what's going to happen," laughs Gage. "Probably the last time I remember that happening was THUNDERBOLTS #1, where you realize at the end that they're villains pretending to be heroes. We wanted to try to, in the current climate, recreate that experience for people."
Prior to the launch of ACADEMY, fans believed the new series simply followed in the footsteps of AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE, with veteran heroes training the super powered youth for active duty. But the cat ripped its way of the bag when Gage revealed that the students of the newly opened Avengers Academy weren't chosen for their potential as the heroes of today, but out of fear of them becoming the villains of tomorrow. Class continues with AVENGERS ACADEMY #2 by Gage and artist Mike McKone, which heads into comic shops July 14.
Along with his lesson planning, Gage also goes for a swing around Marvel continuity starting this week with the release of the first issue of the SPIDER-MAN/FANTASTIC FOUR limited series. The project reunites Gage with his X-MEN/SPIDER-MAN artistic partner Mario Alberti. Like their previous collaboration, the new series features a story spanning across Marvel history; but this time instead of teaming the amazing arachnid with various incarnations of the mighty mutants, Gage and Alberti send Spidey to weave his web with the fantastic family.
Gage took some time out to talk about his two titles, the new students of AVENGERS ACADEMY and how this September his writing career at Marvel comes first circle when he once again pens Union Jack.
Marvel.com: The last time I talked to you was for the AVENGERS ACADEMY lead in from the ENTER THE HEROIC AGE title. I remember asking you about the cast of teachers and how they were all these troubled characters. All of a sudden, with the reveal from the end of the first issue, the instructors make a lot of sense.
AVENGERS ACADEMY #2 cover by Mike McKone
Christos Gage: Yeah. That's definitely the case. You have these people who have been down the same road [as these kids]. For instance, Quicksilver started out a teen villain and became a teen hero. He's walked the line ever since, but he knows what it's like on both sides of the coin. Hank Pym has certainly had his issues with his mental breakdown and actions from the past. Justice has been a hero the whole time, but he inadvertently killed his father, who was abusive. He couldn't control his power enough so he accidentally killed him when he tried to stop him and went to prison for it. Of course Speedball has been through the whole Stamford disaster. So, one way or another, they've all had things to struggle with. It's not to say we're giving them instructors who don't know what it's like to be on the right side-they know that quite well-but at the same time, many of them have perspectives of what can happen if someone with that kind of power goes down the wrong path. The theory is that those people are best equipped to guide these kids down the right path.
Marvel.com: The first issue was told from the perspective of the new character Veil. Will you be continuing this in the coming issues? Will the story continue to be told from her point of view or will you been shifting to the different characters?
Christos Gage: Each of the first six issues will be told from the perspective of a different one of the students and that was a conscious choice being that these are mostly all new characters and we wanted the audience to get a chance to get to know them. In many ways, Veil is the one who has the most ordinary upbringing. So, that's why he picked her for issue #1-because that was the one that wouldn't raise any eyebrows. It definitely had a feel where anyone who read NEW MUTANTS or X-MEN would see some familiarity about a kid who was an outcast and manifested their powers in high school. Some of the others will have slightly more off the beaten path origin stories. And some of them, we won't even find out where there power comes from and that will be a mystery to explore down the road.
Marvel.com: You know, instantly, I loved pretty much all these new characters, especially Veil. There is a certain connection when you read that first issue where I remember what it was like in high school and being an outcast and such.
Christos Gage: I have no idea because I was always popular. [Laughs] No, I think we all do. Even kids who were "popular." Everyone at a certain point in their life feels like they don't belong. But I'm glad you like them.
Hazmat by Mike McKone
Marvel.com: One character I wanted to ask about was Finesse. Looking at her design, it looks like much of her design was drawn from Mockingbird. Was this intentional and a hint toward a connection with the characters?
Christos Gage: Well, Mike McKone designed all the characters. He is very much the co-creator of all these characters. In some cases I would give him vague design elements, like Hazmat having to be in a containment suit. But really, he created the looks of the characters. Finesse is actually spotlighted in issue #2, and we'll learn a lot about her there. But the billy clubs are not so much her choice but the choice of her instructors because they are less lethal than some of the other weapons she might carry. A lot of people commented on the Mockingbird connection and some people have commented how her powers look like Taskmaster's. I love that people are speculating about ties to other characters in the Marvel Universe. I can say that not every character in this [title is] somebody's brother or cousin or clone. But those who aren't may have connections to Marvel Universe in another way. Part of the fun for me is revealing some of these connections as we go along.
Marvel.com: With the twist now out, what can we expect to see in terms of the direction the book will be taking?
Christos Gage: Well, you're going to see these kids going through the process of figuring out who they are and what they want to be and what they want to do with their lives, which is something we all go through at that age. In their case it's really specific in that it is "Are you going to be a hero or a villain?" And some people had asked why bring in all new characters and not some of the kids from AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE, and now I can say that that's the reason. I mean, there's the training aspect and all the Initiative recruits were all much better trained. But if we put in pre-existing characters as the students, if we put in Jubilee, you pretty much [know] that Jubilee is not going to become a villain. We want the
|Mettle by Mike McKone|
Marvel.com: You mentioned Spider-Man, and along with the AVENGERS ACADEMY ongoing, you've got the SPIDER-MAN/FANTASTIC FOUR limited series coming up. Now, I understand that this is going to be like the X-MEN/SPIDER-MAN limited series you did previously, where it's a story told throughout time and it's Spidey throughout Marvel continuity.
Christos Gage: Yeah. It's the same premise as SPIDER-MAN/X-MEN, which was very well received. People seemed to really like it. In large part because of the art of Mario Alberti, who is just brilliant. He's back as well, so it's the same creative team. But yeah, each of the four issues will take place in a different part of Marvel history with the last one in the present day. But there's a common through line linking all of them, which will pay off in the final issue. The first issue takes place in the Silver Age. The second issue takes place in the John Byrne era when She-Hulk was on the FF. Third issue takes place during the "New FF" adventures, where the [team] consisted of Spider-Man, The Hulk, Ghost Rider and Wolverine. The final issue takes place more or less in the present day. It's a lot of fun.
Marvel.com: I loved the previous series, especially seeing all the different incarnations of the characters throughout time. But when I heard about this, my first thought was that the FF has pretty much been the same group since the beginning. But as you've just shown, that really is not the case.
Christos Gage: Yeah. It's interesting you say that because we were wondering what the best route to take was-if we should go with She-Hulk, if we should go with when Luke Cage was on the team briefly. Ultimately, we realized we also had a good opportunity with a four-issue [series] to examine Spidey's relationship with each of the core members of the FF. Having said that, that doesn't mean we couldn't mess with the line up a little bit. So, we were able to have a little fun with that. Although, Mario probably thinks I'm trying to kill him because the third issue has about a million characters in it. But he does such an amazing job that you want to see him draw as many characters as possible.
SPIDER-MAN/FANTASTIC FOUR #1 cover by Mario Alberti
Marvel.com: No kidding. When I read the first limited series I was blown away by his art. Every character on the page is so detailed, even just random background people.
Christos Gage: He's really amazing. And he does it all. He pencils it in blue pencils. Then he inks it and colors it digitally. He's new to the U.S. with X-MEN/SPIDER-MAN, but he's a long time European artist with a very strong following for obvious reasons. In this current series, when he draws The Thing, I was like, "That reminds me of Barry Windsor Smith's version of The Thing." He said that was a huge compliment for him because Barry Smith is a big influence on him. It's very much a Marvel story but it has that European quality. I love working with him. In X-MEN/SPIDER-MAN, there was an issue where he drew Carnage and he did such a good job with the symbiote, making it creepy and gooey. This time around, we have the Venom symbiote and what he does with it is amazing. He's a really, really great artist.
Marvel.com: What else do you have coming up in the future that you can talk about?
Christos Gage: Well, I've got the INVADERS limited series with Alex Ross that starts in September. This is kind of cool because it takes place in the present day and it's the first time since the war that the original Invaders are alive and active again at the same time. So, it's the first reunion of the original Invaders. You've got Captain America and Bucky, although
|INVADERS #1 cover by Alex Ross|
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