Marvel Comics has been burning up the message boards in recent weeks with a highly-publicized string of teaser images for their Avengers line of books that range from the iconic to the oblique. Yet the most recent run of images featured not a group of characters fans knew and loved but ones the publisher hopes they'll grow to support in the months ahead: the teen heroes of the Avengers Academy.
While the veteran heroes of the Marvel Universe have seen and endured a lot over the last few years – civil wars, false assassinations, invasions and supervillains in power – and are ready for the "Heroic Age" to begin in May, this new age also means the next generation of heroes must be taught to appreciate, respect and defend it. So this June, school is in session when the new ongoing series "Avengers Academy" by writer Christos Gage ("Avengers: The Initiative") and artist Mike McKone ("Amazing Spider-Man") begins. CBR News spoke with Gage for an early take on his plans for the series.
CBR News: Christos, let's begin by talking about the basic ideas behind "Avengers Academy." The title seems to suggest that this series will sort of be like the original issues of "Avengers: The Initiative," where readers followed several new characters as they learned how to be heroes. Is that the central premise of "Avengers Academy"? Or is there more to it?
Christos Gage: Both. As we enter the "Heroic Age," the Avengers are committed to training the next generation of superhumans to use their powers responsibly, but without the compulsory, military setting we saw in "The Initiative." So yes, this is about young characters with powers learning to be heroes – but if that's all there was to it, that wouldn't be unique or different enough to justify a new Avengers book. There's a twist to the whole thing – something I really can't discuss but that will be revealed by the end of issue #1. Mike McKone and I – and the entire creative and editorial team – are very excited about how it's shaping up.
I am going to be mysterious about this, neither confirming or denying any speculation out there, as I think it's fun for people to have the opportunity to guess. We do know that one of the students, Reptil, has already been introduced in an "Initiative" special I wrote (and, of course, a different iteration of the character appears in the "Super-Hero Squad" cartoon, where he made his debut). I will say that I love creating new characters – it's something Dan Slott and I did a lot of in "Avengers: The Initiative" – so I wouldn't be surprised if some of the students are brand new characters created by Mike and me. More specifics will be revealed as we go along.
Let's talk a little bit about Reptil. What's it like coming back to this character? And will any other established characters be part of the student body in "Avengers Academy"?
There will be established characters in the book, certainly – I just can't reveal in what capacity just yet. As for Reptil, I have been a dinosaur fanatic since before I could read. There are countless pictures of me as a little kid in stylish '70s clothes playing with my armies of plastic dinosaurs...so I really do have fun with the character, and it's a pleasure to write him again.
We've talked a little bit about students, now let's talk faculty. How big of a role do the instructors play in "Avengers Academy"? Will the faculty of get just as much time in the spotlight as the students?
The instructors play a huge role – they all have very specific reasons for being there, and their interaction with the students is something Mike and I are really enjoying sinking our teeth into. For our first few issues, the kids will probably get a bit more of the spotlight in order to get the readers familiarized with them, but the teachers will still be a big part of things, and before too long I see the screen time being equal.
You're right, I can't say much! I will say that the name "Avengers" Academy is no accident. And one of the cool things about this book is that the faculty is really made up of anyone who's ever been an Avenger...and their friends and associates. There will be a core group of instructors who will make the pages of this book their primary home, but at last fall's Avengers retreat, Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction were incredibly generous about telling me to feel free to use characters from their books when needed. So if there's an archery class, Hawkeye will be teaching it. If there's a story dealing with a mythological threat, Thor may show up. But as I said, we'll have a core group of faculty that I think readers will find very intriguing given their personalities and histories.
Let's talk a little more about the stories you're interested in telling in "Avengers Academy." Will these mainly be stories of self-discovery and character interaction? Or can we expect some good old superhero slugfest style action?
Ideally, a good amount of both. One thing I don't want to do is have the kids go right out from the word "go" and beat down Galactus or somebody to show they're ready for the big leagues. They're not. We will see them progress and gain experience. And there will be plenty of character development. But I loves me a good brawl, and I love to see Mike McKone draw a good brawl, so there will be lots of that as well!
Since the book is called "Avengers Academy," I imagine a lot of the action will take place in the titular setting. What can you tell me about the Academy and its features? And will the stories in "Avengers Academy" take place primarily at the school? Or will the students and teachers be going out into the field as well?
I really can't say much at all about this. But we will be going outside the school, yes.
Mike is amazing. My first Marvel work was with him – "Spider-Man Unlimited" #12, about five years ago – and I've been a huge fan of everything he's done, especially "Amazing Spider-Man." I realize it's a cliché to say this, but I really think he's reached new heights with his current work. I know he's recently started using some high-tech stuff that I don't really understand, but I do know the results are stunning! And of course, Mike designed all the characters – it's been so crucial having him right in there from the start, giving the characters personalities and body language, bringing them to life before my eyes. Due to the realities of the business and scheduling, I've often written scripts in my career not knowing who will draw them, but for this book it's been so important having Mike on board from the start to make this a truly equal collaboration. He's as good with quiet character moments as he is with huge action, which is a rarity.
How would you describe the tone and feel of this series? It seems like you can tell some big adventure stories, but it also seems like you have a chance to explore some fun soap opera style elements. Will those be part of the book?
Yes to both. I grew up with classic "X-Men" and "New Mutants" stories, and to me that's the benchmark for this sort of thing, with "Runaways" and "Young Avengers" being recent examples of doing it right.
Any hints or teases about your inaugural story arc in "Avengers Academy"? What can readers of issue #1 expect?
Hopefully to get sucked into a world and characters that they'll want to spend a great deal of time with! I wish I could say more, but…more information is coming…keep an eye out!