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Avengers Arena: The Next Level Pt. 1

Dennis Hopeless describes how the first kill of Murder World has affected our teen heroes plus what comes next!

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Avengers Arena #9 preview art by Kev Walker

By Paul Montgomery

Miles under the arctic frost, the most powerful youths of the Marvel Universe fight for their lives. The maniacal Arcade has stepped up his game, hurling the likes of X-23, the Runaways and several AVENGERS ACADEMY students into an unrelenting death-match.

Despite their best intentions, first blood has been drawn and dried on the arena floor in a savage place called Murder World.

AVENGERS ARENA waits for no one and the threat of sudden death looms over every player.

We spoke to writer Dennis Hopeless about propelling this wildly unpredictable series to a vicious finale in “Boss Level,” the new story arc kicking off in August.

Marvel.com: Let's pause and take stock of the various factions formed so far. Who's banded together and how do they intend to survive? What game plans have they adopted?

Dennis Hopeless: Well, the Braddock Academy split up into two factions and that didn’t end so well for one of the students. A badly-injured Reptil and Hazmat are stranded alone in the ocean quadrant after a trigger scent mine sent them fleeing from X-23. Cammi and our Runaways have joined forces. I think each group had developed a strategy but a lot of that blew up in their faces. They just watched the first legitimate in-game kill and everyone is reeling.

Marvel.com: That first kill marks a major tipping point. We know Arcade's happy, but do all of the kids appreciate how momentous this event really is?

Avengers Arena #9 preview art by Kev Walker

Dennis Hopeless: For a lot of the kids, that moment finally proved Arcade’s point from issue #1. That first kill was committed by one of the more sympathetic and likeable players. He did it without thinking in a moment of fear. He did it to save a friend’s life. But he did it and everyone saw him do it. From that moment on, the truth of Murder World became crystal clear. This game is real. There’s no escape. And one way or another, Arcade will see it play itself out.

Marvel.com: By that point, do you think any of them needed further convincing that this was really happening?

Dennis Hopeless: Definitely. I think what we saw in the first arc was a bunch of scared kids refusing to accept the reality of their situation. But by sitting around avoiding the game, they stress, fear and distrust to fry their nerves. With a couple notable exceptions, they were waiting for the other shoe to drop while hoping they’d be rescued before it did. That last page of issue #6 was the other shoe. Now they all see Murder World for what it is. The game is on.

Marvel.com: Does the knowledge and acceptance that one student has already killed another feel, in some way, like permission for any of the remaining characters to do the same? "The ice is broken. I didn't start it. I waited as long as I could. But what's done is done and I should probably follow suit." Like a free pass in some way? 

Dennis Hopeless: I wouldn’t say it gives anyone a free pass. Most of these kids will still do anything they can to avoid playing Arcade’s game. What that first kill did accomplish is proving Arcade’s point. Everyone has a limit to how much they can take. Everyone has a breaking point. Survival is an instinct and when people feel legitimately threatened, they react. Nerves are threadbare at this point in the story and some of the kids are ready to snap.

Marvel.com: This far into the competition, waking up in this situation is going to be increasingly familiar for these characters. It's become their routine. Is anyone comfortable with that sensation? Does anyone find that repulsive? 

Avengers Arena #9 preview art by Kev Walker

Dennis Hopeless: Based on their backgrounds, I’d say Cammi, Katy and Cullen are the most comfortable with it. Aiden and Death Locket are probably the most tortured. But none of these kids will ever be the same. Surviving this game might even be worse than dying in it.

Marvel.com: Who do you suppose is the most surprised by the person they've become through this ordeal?

Dennis Hopeless: At this point probably Aiden. Murder World is forcing him to embrace the barbaric urges he’s been fighting since he first got his powers. Those urges allowed him to kill Brian and now he has to live with that. At the same time, this new version of Aiden finally got the girl. He’s being pulled several directions at once and it’s as confusing as it is emotionally exhausting.

Marvel.com: Would you classify any of these kids as having turned to the dark side? Do you think of them as good or evil? 

Dennis Hopeless: I don’t know about evil. Some of these kids are pretty broken. They have deep emotional scars and this environment is ripping those open. Murder World has a different effect on every player. Katy, for instance, has pretty fully succumbed to her narcissistic and manipulative tendencies. She doesn’t want to kill anyone but she’ll do whatever it takes to survive. Whereas Hazmat has become fiercely protective of her friends after losing Mettle in issue one. Both of those characters will continue to change under the weight of Murder World.

Avengers Arena #9 cover by Dave Johnson

Marvel.com: Chase has taken on the Darkhawk abilities, marking a major transformation for a character and his power set. Can we expect further instances of characters hijacking the powers or tools from another to augment their own abilities?

Dennis Hopeless: Yes. Now that the game is on, powers and weapons are at a premium. The smarter players will be powering up and allying themselves with heavy-hitters. Things are about to get nasty.

Pre-order AVENGERS ARENA #9, on sale Wednesday, May 8, and come back here tomorrow for more from Dennis Hopeless!

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