By Paul Montgomery
If years of coming-of-age dramas have taught us anything, it’s that navigating adolescence might well be the most perilous odyssey of all.
|Avengers Arena #1 cover by Dave Johnson|
For the youth of the Marvel Universe, from the first graduating class of the AVENGERS ACADEMY to the fleet-footed RUNAWAYS, growing up is more than hard to do; it’s a teenage wasteland studded with landmines. While their peers fret over glandular catastrophes, kids like X-23 must contend with clone drama, claws in strange places, and worse.
This December, writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kev Walker usher Marvel’s youngest heroes under the school bus and into AVENGERS ARENA. Maniacal master of ceremonies Arcade has booked one-way passes for 16 young heroes to an island known as Murder World. There’s only one item on the itinerary for this nightmarish getaway: Kill or be killed.
We spoke to Hopeless, Walker and series editor Bill Rosemann about this deadliest of games.
Marvel.com: AVENGERS ARENA sounds like a perfect venue to assemble some of Marvel's best and brigh
Bill Rosemann: The occasion is that Arcade is a sick freak.
Dennis Hopeless: Yeah, Arcade has spent a lot of years building “Murder Worlds” that yield very few actual murders. He’s decided it’s time to get back a little self-respect. It’s time for a new kind of Murder World. AVENGERS ARENA is about the unlucky kids he’s chosen to help him try it out.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I can promise a lot of murder in this new Murder World.
Marvel.com: There are 16 participants fighting for their lives on this island. Any familiar faces? Any particularly unfamiliar faces?
Bill Rosemann: A fun mix of both. Fans of AVENGERS ACADEMY will hopefully be excited by the next chapter in the lives of Hazmat, Mettle, Reptil, Juston and his
Dennis Hopeless: We really got to cherry pick our cast. That was a lot of fun, almost as much fun as creating the brand new characters. I have a feeling the Braddock Academy kids in particular are going to break some hearts. Not sure if we made it clear yet, but people die in this book.
Marvel.com: This is a sizable cast, bigger than most team books. Then again, that probably won’t be a challenge for too long. Rumor has it that people die?
Dennis Hopeless: [Laughs] Yeah. It's sort of ridiculous how huge our cast is at the start. But if you're going to kill a lot of characters you gotta have a lot of characters.
There are 17 in issue one. 16 kids and Arcade. That's quite a bit bigger than even most team books and it does make the writing a little more challenging. There's just no way to keep everyone on the board all the time. So, yeah, we shift the focus from issue to issue. We may have two issues dedicated to the Braddock Academy and then let them recede into the background for a while so we can hang out with the Runaways.
Kev Walker: 17 characters. That initially sounded like a lot. There seems to be a pattern with the books I work on, which is an ever increasing number of characters. It can be a big challenge because it isn't just a matter of holding a bunch of faces in your head, but the costumes and actions as well.
The wide age range of these characters helps, going all the way from 12-13 up to mid-twenties, and not all of them are even human. If I had 16 [different] 12 year-old girls from the same school to draw, I'd be having a nervous breakdown already. But these kids are diverse, brought together from just about every source. So it's been fun, really.
Dennis Hopeless: The important thing is to give each character a chance to shine. These kids were chosen carefully and with specific story beats in mind. We definitely plan on taking advantage of the broad personality spectrum we have in play. Even the characters [that] die off early make their mark on the story. I didn't throw anyone into the book as cannon fodder.
Kev Walker: These kids are all there is. No spectators, no innocent bystanders, no civilians; an entire world of 17 people. This is up close and personal, more intimate than any other book out there, because it's just us and them, and I have to fill each of them with enough soul so that the audience feels for them, no matter how brief their appearance.
Marvel.com: Beyond orchestrating this field trip from the start, how involved is Arcade in this ongoing struggle?
Dennis Hopeless: Arcade is the undisputed star of issue #1. He does his scary song and dance, makes his case, and then after that he's the great and powerful Oz. We'll feel Arcade’s influence throughout, but he spends most of his time underground pulling the strings and enjoying the fruits of his labor.
Marvel.com: So far, these don't sound like the best spring break conditions...
Dennis Hopeless: I dunno, you might be surprised what some of these kids are secretly into.
Marvel.com: Maybe the sunny locale makes up for all the intramural blood sport? What’s on the Murder World brochure?
Kev Walker: Murder World looks like the real world, but Arcade can't help himself, smoke and mirrors are in his blood. Nothing makes sense in this place, tropical beaches and arctic wilderness sit side by side, dry desert and lush forest overlap. It's everything the real world has to throw at you condensed into a few square miles; weather, climate, terrain, conditions, everything is one voice command away from changing, with an unpredictable character like Arcade in total control. This Arcade isn't leaving anything to chance; you never know what's real and what isn't. This Arcade isn't content to sit back and watch the lab rats figure out the trap. He's an active part of the environment, playing with his toys in a way he's never really done before. This Arcade isn't afraid to get his hands dirty.
Marvel.com: What's the ratio of “Blue Lagoon” to “Battle Royale” here? Given all the percolating hormones, is there any time for young love on the battlefield?
Dennis Hopeless: The unsent first draft of every pitch I’ve ever written starts with the words “It’s ‘Veronica Mars’ meets…” or “Imagine ‘Friday Night Lights’ only…” This one is no exception.
That sounds like a joke. It isn’t.
Marvel.com: Are there bigger things than life and limb on the line here? By definition, is it even possible to walk out of Murder World a good person?
Dennis Hopeless: The rules change when you say, “kill or be killed” and mean it. Your options become fight or die. Some characters are better equipped to deal, but none of these kids are getting out here clean.
Marvel.com: Marvel NOW! promises new directions for a lot of characters we'd expect to see spotlighted like Captain America and The Hulk. But it also seems just as much an opportunity for new character combinations and experiments, as with UNCANNY AVENGERS. What kind of role does AVENGERS ARENA satisfy for readers?
Bill Rosemann: AVENGERS ARENA gives a high concept itch a superhuman scratch. Throughout history, societies have sent their young adults against one another in competition, whether that’s in war, sports or “American Idol.” Likewise, art has examined this phenomenon of the older generation sacrificing the younger generation—and also of young warring gangs wanting to prove who’s #1—in everything from the myth of Theseus vs. the Minotaur to “Lord of the Flies” to “Battle Royale” to “Starship Troopers” to “Survivor” to “Hunger Games.” Teen vs. teen competition is as old as storytelling—but now it’s time to give it the Marvel twist.
Dennis and Kev were the #1 picks to bring this story to life based on the unique voice they each bring to the table. X-MEN: SEASON ONE shows how Dennis nails the mix of humor, yearning and pain in young adult voice, while his writing in Lovestruck and GearHead reveal a nasty side that will definitely come to play in ARENA. On the art side, I loved working with Kev on MARVEL ZOMBIES 3 and 4, REALM OF KINGS: IMPERIAL GUARD and THUNDERBOLTS. I can’t get enough of his whip smart storytelling, grit, detail, power and passion. Together, these two rising stars are going to turn heads and grab the attention they deserve. They’re also going to make you fall in love with characters you never knew and break your heart in the process.
For more on Marvel NOW!, visit the official hub page, and stay tuned to Marvel.com for all the latest news!