By Paul Montgomery
Thrust into the kill-or-be-killed environment of Murder World, only a handful of young heroes escape the confines of AVENGERS ARENA. Those hardened survivors find themselves behind enemy lines, infiltrating the Masters of Evil organization in AVENGERS UNDERCOVER.
Can kids like Hazmat, Bloodstone, Death Locket, Cammi and Anachronism hope to maintain their humanity in this clandestine operation? Does convincing their sinister new comrades that they’ve embraced their role as villains mean that they can never go back?
Murder World prepared them for death, but can they cope with living as Masters of Evil? The descent begins in March 2014 with AVENGERS UNDERCOVER #1 by Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker.
We spoke to writer Hopeless about shoving these characters out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Marvel.com: Fans of AVENGERS ARENA will be happy to note that the game has gone into overtime, with a slight change in venue. Was this transition always part of the plan?
Dennis Hopeless: We knew from the start that the Murder World story would end with issue #18 of ARENA. Editor Bill Rosemann and I started throwing around ideas for a follow-up series around the time we finished our second arc. What we ended up with in UNDERCOVER is a brand new concept with a totally different tone and mission statement. This is the spiritual successor to AVENGERS ARENA but it isn’t a sequel or second season. UNDERCOVER is its own story that anyone can hop on and read from issue one.
Marvel.com: Without giving too much away, how have the rules changed in AVENGERS UNDERCOVER?
Dennis Hopeless: There aren’t any rules this time. The game is over and the kids who survived have to go back to real life. AVENGERS UNDERCOVER is the story of what that feels like. We explore the PTSD of the thing. What sorts of life decisions do these kids make once they realize that they don’t really fit into their old lives anymore? Can they get any of it back? If so, how? And if not, what’s next?
Marvel.com: Aside from the obvious conflicts carrying over from ARENA, it seems like the big through-line connecting these series is the kids' ongoing struggle to maintain their humanity in impossible situations. Are there any heroes left in this ensemble?
Dennis Hopeless: I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as “hero” and “villain.” Not at this point. Not after what they endured in the Arena. What you have is a group of teenagers who barely survived Hell trying to figure out what sort of lives are left for them back in the real world. I think your question is one they’ll be asking themselves throughout the series. Are they still heroes? Do they even want to be?
Marvel.com: Liberated from Murder World, does UNDERCOVER present an opportunity for you and the kids to stretch your legs, see more of the world?
Dennis Hopeless: Absolutely. That’s one of the story elements I’m most excited to explore. ARENA presented a unique opportunity because it was so closed off. We could really delve into the minds and hearts of the individual characters and show how differently they were all responding to a very specific situation. It was a blast but after 18 issues in one setting you do start to feel a little claustrophobic. I can’t wait to send these kids globe-trotting the Marvel Universe. Especially because they get to do it with such unseemly travel companions.
Marvel.com: How important are secrets and lies to this story?
Dennis Hopeless: They’re very important. I’d say deceit and dishonesty are the two main pillars of the story. Of course, I could be lying.
Marvel.com: Who, if any, are the most important additions to this cast, on either side of conflict?
Dennis Hopeless: The villains. The Masters of Evil. These kids and I just spent 18 issues with one villain. Now they’re completely surrounded by them.
Marvel.com: What did Murder World take from these kids? What did it instill in them, for good or ill?
Dennis Hopeless: Murder World took their innocence—or in some cases whatever was left of it—their patience and their ability to relate to most other people. It left them with survivor’s guilt, hard-rooted paranoia and a pretty strong kinship with one another. They have a hard time relating to the world but they get each other. That kind of shared experience creates some pretty strong bonds.
Not all of these scars are necessarily permanent. People are resilient and can heal from even the worst trauma. But at the start of our story, yeah, these characters are very much a product of Murder World.
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