The coming Heroic Age of the Marvel Universe is the result of a hard won struggle by many of the world’s costumed champions, and they’ll want to make sure it lasts for a long time. One way to do that is to make sure today’s super powered teens receive the training they need to become the heroes of tomorrow.
In June, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes implement a program to do just that with the launch of “Avengers Academy,” a new ongoing series by writer Christos Gage (“Avengers: The Initiative”) and artist Mike McKone (“Amazing Spider-Man”).
Several weeks ago, the inaugural class of “Avengers Academy” was revealed in a series of teaser ads. On Saturday at the Mondo Marvel panel at the C2E2 Convention in Chicago, another important announcement was made when Marvel introduced readers to the faculty entrusted with training those students. CBR News spoke with Gage about these characters.
Hank Pym’s ex-wife Janet Van Dyne -- AKA The Wasp -- perished at the end of “Secret Invasion.” Instead of being consumed by grief over her loss, Pym was inspired by her sacrifice. The Avengers founder chose to carry on The Wasp’s heroic legacy by becoming the new Wasp. This move helped Pym carry on through the difficult times of Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign, where he served as an effective leader for the latest incarnation of the “Mighty Avengers.” Pym was further inspired when Eternity, the physical embodiment of life in the Marvel Universe, recently revealed to him that he was the “Scientist Supreme” of Earth.
CBR: Christos, you recently collaborated with Dan Slott on several “Mighty Avengers” stories where Hank Pym dealt with some big stuff. What do you find most interesting about the Scientist Supreme’s present day status quo?
Christos Gage: Dan and I knew that Hank would be moving from “Mighty” to “Academy” while we were collaborating on those stories--in fact, if you look at the meeting between Hank and Eternity, you'll see that Dan slipped in a line from Eternity about Hank leading a new generation, or something to that effect. So Dan and I have very much been planning this for quite a while.
What I find interesting about Hank is that after a long time as the punching bag of the Marvel Universe, he has left that behind. His friends have forgiven him, and he's finally forgiven himself. He's reclaimed the confidence a man of his accomplishments-- and a founding Avenger-- should have. That doesn't mean he's perfect--in fact, as Dan has shown in the pages of “Mighty,” he sometimes does things others consider bizarre, like offering Loki Avengers membership. But he usually has a reason for what he does, and he's right more often than not.
Of course, just because Hank has moved past his dark days, that doesn't mean everyone else is ready to let them go -- and when he is wrong, things usually go to hell in an epic way. A “killer robots and dimensional catastrophes” kind of way.
What role might we see Hank play in “Avengers Academy?”
He's the rock. A founding Avenger. One of the smartest men on the planet. The guy who's seen it all and done it all, from the innards of the Vision to the outer reaches of the Kree galaxy. Wouldn't you want to learn from him?
Now, all that doesn't necessarily make him the best equipped to handle the growing pains of vastly powerful adolescents. I figure Hank never really had a normal adolescence himself -- he probably got his master's degree by sixteen. So he has challenges ahead of him, certainly. But he's got a whole lot of badassery on his side.
When the U.S. government instituted its Initiative program in the aftermath of “Civil War,” long time Avengers member Tigra was one of the first heroes to sign up and she rose through the ranks to become one of the Initiative’s senior staff members. Then Norman Osborn took control of the organization. The former Green Goblin’s ruthless policies made Tigra uncomfortable, but it was his appointment of the Hood (the super crime boss who shot and severely beat her) as the head of the Initiative that made her quit the organization and go rogue. She became a member of the “Avengers: Resistance,” a group trying to end Osborn’s control of the Initiative. She also began pursuing a violent vendetta against the Hood and the members of his syndicate. In the current storyline of “Avengers: The Initiative,” Tigra’s struggles against the Hood and Osborn are coming to a climax.
In “Avengers: The Initiative,” Tigra has been consumed by vengeance against the Hood. How would you describe her mental state when “Avengers Academy” begins?
Without spoiling “Avengers: The Initiative” #35, I'll say she is in a better place by “Avengers Academy” #1. But all is not cotton candy and fluffy bunnies. She's still trying to figure out in what direction she wants to take her life -- and teaching at Avengers Academy is the least of it. That's all I can say for now.
What possible roles might Tigra play in this series and how does she initially feel about being part of Avengers Academy? Does she even like kids?
That's a question she's been asking herself. But she believes strongly that Dark Reign should never be allowed to happen again, and she knows training the Avengers of tomorrow in the ideals of the Avengers of the past is the best way to make sure of that. She's already taught one of her students, Reptil (in the “Avengers: The Initiative Reptil Special”). And she has experience as a police officer, as well as being a veteran of both the East and West Coast Avengers. She's certainly qualified, and I think Tigra will surprise herself with how good a teacher she is -- which is not to say it'll be easy, by any stretch of the imagination.
Pietro Maximoff has struggled to be good almost his entire life. The super fast mutant is the son of Magneto and began his costumed career as a member of his father’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. He was able to break free of his father’s corrupting influence and became a member of the Avengers. Over the years, Quicksilver served the team with distinction, but Pietro’s tumultuous temperament did not make things easy. Several years ago, he convinced his mentally unstable sister, the Scarlet Witch, to use her reality-warping powers to create a world where mutants reigned supreme. In the aftermath of the “House of M” incident, Pietro was stripped of his mutant powers, but his poor choices continued. In a desperate bid to regain his powers, Quicksilver stole some of the Terrigen Mists from his former in-laws, the Inhumans, and ignited a war between them and the people of Earth. Recently, Quicksilver regained his speed powers and his desire to be a hero. He’s been putting both to good use as a member of Hank Pym’s “Mighty Avengers” team.
What do you find most interesting about Quicksilver and why did you want him for this series?
Quicksilver is interesting to me for two big reasons: One, he has always walked the line between hero and villain. And two, he was a teen hero himself -- as well as a teen villain, with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. So he represents both paths a young superhuman could take. He brings a unique perspective to it all. And he's fun to write. I'm really enjoying playing him and Hank off each other.
Quicksilver is not known for his patience so he might be a teacher the kids aren't incredibly fond of. Or might we be surprised by Quicksilver’s skill as a teacher?
You're right, he's not patient, but he has knowledge that might be of more benefit to the students than anything else they learn. Or more danger…
He’s still fairly young, but Vance Astrovik -- AKA Justice -- has had a long and successful career as a hero. He was one of the founding members of the teen team known as the New Warriors, and after serving with them for several years he was offered membership in the Avengers, another team he also served with distinction. In the aftermath of “Civil War,” Justice joined up with the Initiative and became one of the organization’s most popular instructors. When Justice uncovered evidence of some of the Initiative’s morally murky activities, he quit and formed his own team to keep watch on the program. When Norman Osborn came to power, Justice’s team, now calling itself the New Warriors, stopped keeping watch on Osborn and started openly opposing him. They changed their name to the Avengers Resistance and their battle against Osborn is currently coming to a head in “Avengers: The Initiative.”
Vance is another character you seem to be developing a fondness for. Which of his qualities are you interested in exploring in “Avengers Academy?”
What I find interesting about Justice is that he fits very comfortably into the role of hero and leader, but he really has quite a dark past. His father was a physically abusive alcoholic, and Vance accidentally killed him while defending himself and his Mom from an assault; he served time in prison for it. He comes across as very confident and seems like a prime role model in terms of overcoming your difficulties, but the fact is he's not much older than his students, and he doubts himself more than he lets on.
Given his experience with the New Warriors, the Avengers, the Initiative, and the Avengers Resistance, Vance seems to be a pretty qualified instructor. Will there be any subjects that he'll have a difficult time teaching?
I think what he'll have the most trouble with is the attention of the female students -- one in particular.
Robbie Baldwin -- AKA Speedball -- was one of the founding members of the New Warriors. Several years ago the team was having financial problems, so they became stars of a television reality program. In a reckless attempt to gain ratings, Speedball and his teammates attacked a house where fugitive super villains were hiding out. The battle triggered an explosion that killed Speedball’s teammates, wiped out the city of Stanford, and ignited “Civil War.” Speedball survived the explosion, but his guilt and anguish over what happened crushed his spirit and his mind. He adopted the identity of Penance, feeling that he had to atone for what he had done. His guilt issues and vast powers made him a perfect pawn for Norman Osborn, who used Penance as a member of both the Thunderbolts and the Initiative. Recently, Speedball had a breakthrough, abandoned the identity of Penance, and joined his friends in the Avengers Resistance in their struggle against Osborn.
Robbie Baldwin has been through hell since “Civil War.” Is he bitter at all about his experiences?
It's had a huge impact on him. He's been through absolute hell, and at last he's trying to put some of it behind him but it's not as easy as changing clothes. You can't erase what he's been through. Just because he took off the Penance armor doesn't mean Penance is erased from existence. Robbie still has those powers and he's going to find out that while he's not the same person he was as Penance -- I think Warren Ellis did a great job of showing his growth in “Thunderbolts” as did Paul Jenkins in “Penance: Relentless” --- he's also miles away from the guy he was before “Civil War.” His journey will be about figuring out just who he is now. In many ways, he's the most interesting to me of all the instructors.
Given his experiences, how effective of an instructor do you think Robbie will be and what subjects might he be especially good at teaching?
I can't think of anyone better to teach the potential consequences of superhuman combat. And as a founding member of the New Warriors, he's been down the path the kids are on. The question isn't whether he has anything to teach, it's whether he's in the right frame of mind to teach it.
Do these five core instructors make up the entire faculty of “Avengers Academy?” Or will we see more instructors later?
The great thing about “Avengers Academy” is that the faculty could include anyone who has ever been an Avenger. If archery is being taught, for example, they'll bring in Hawkeye. For engineering, Iron Man might step in. In our third and fourth issues, we'll see guest appearances from three Avengers regularly seen in other books. At last year's Avengers Retreat, the other writers -- Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction -- were very generous about encouraging me to use anyone that made sense, so I plan to do exactly that-the key words being “when it makes sense.” If you see characters saying, “Hey, you know who'd be a great gym teacher? Wolverine!” smack me, because I'm abusing my privileges. Of course, the focus will be on our core instructors, but with me and Mike both being old time nerds, some fun surprises are inevitable.
I think it's a really fascinating group. In many ways, they're the Avengers with the most baggage. But if we believe people should learn from their mistakes, they also have the most to teach. Also, I really like the fact that these are not characters who have their own books. “Avengers Academy” is where they live and we're free to change their status quo any way we want. It gives the book a sense of “anything can happen.” Oh yeah, and doesn't Mike McKone make them look awesome?