Starting a new school can be tough. You've got to worry about making friends and fitting in. The students of the ongoing Marvel Comics series “Avengers Academy,” by writer Christos Gage and artist Mike McKone, have to worry about those problems and so much more. That's because, as the title suggests, they're enrolled in a school where various members of the Avengers are training them to be superheroes. As if that wasn't complicated enough, the teen heroes in training have lots of other things on their minds, as well.
Some members like Hazmat, whose power allows her to generate toxic substances, and Mettle, a teenager whose body has been transformed into steel, have powers that isolate them from the rest of the students and the world. Others, like Veil, have powers that will eventually kill them. On top of that, all of the students are wrestling with the revelation that their school is more of an institute for “at risk” youth than it is a school for the heroes of tomorrow. That's because the Avengers believe that the early torture and manipulation that many of the kids received at the hands of Norman Osborn could push some of them onto the path of villainy.
In the next few months, the kids will have to deal with all these problems as well as several super powered incidents and crises, including the reemergence of one of the most powerful foes the Avengers have ever faced. CBR News spoke with Gage about "Avengers Academy," which released its eighth issue this week.
CBR News: Christos, in the first seven issues the students of “Avengers Academy” and their head master Hank Pym have been through a lot. How would you describe the dynamic between the kids? It seems like they're starting to bond at least a little bit over their shared experiences? It also seems like the bonds for some of the kids are stronger than others? Is that correct?
Christos Gage: The relationships are constantly evolving. But I think you're right. The kids are starting to bond over shared experiences. The question is, how strong are those bonds? Will they survive the tests coming? And I wouldn't say they have anywhere near the same bond with their teachers. There's kind of an “us vs. them mentality”
On the final page of the recent “Avengers Academy” #7 Henry Pym decided to set aside his attempts to revive his ex-wife, Janet van Dyne (AKA the Wasp), until he was better prepared. That last page seemed to indicate though that his attempts to revive Janet struck a chord with Veil. Why is that? What is about Janet's condition that resonates with her?
Well, Veil is facing a similar fate to what befell Janet: the molecules of her body dissipating to the point where she no longer has a cohesive form. She looks at Janet and sees herself. And maybe she disagrees with Hank's reasons for waiting. Maybe she feels that if she were in that situation, she'd want him to act now. This will be followed up on soon.
In issue #8, in stores this week, the kids of “Avengers Academy” get embroiled in a mission that involves the Hood, Parker Robbins. What made you want to bring Robbins into this series? And where does this issue take place in relation to the Hood's current activities in Brian Bendis's “Avengers” series?
“Avengers Academy” #8 takes place right before the current “Avengers” storyline. In fact, we'll see how the Hood escaped prison and how he obtained the weapon he used to find the Infinity Gems. The reason I wanted to bring in the Hood is specifically because of what he did to Tigra in Bendis's “New Avengers” storyline; he beat her savagely as an example to other heroes not to mess with him. And something like that, even a longtime Avenger like Tigra cannot get over easily. With post-traumatic stress being such an issue for our military veterans, and really anyone who's been in a traumatic situation, I thought it made sense that superheroes would have similar issues, and wanted to look at that a bit. I also wanted to see how the kids would react seeing the video of Tigra's beating for the first time, and how Tigra herself would react. It's a really meaty issue, and I think readers will enjoy talking about it.
Issue #9 is another one off issue where “Avengers Academy” student Finesse confronts one of your favorite characters, Taskmaster. What's it like coming back to Taskmaster? Will the events of the recent “Taskmaster” mini-series factor into this issue?
Yes, they will. We specifically touch on the whole “memory issue” Taskmaster has that Fred Van Lente introduced in that miniseries--the idea that his mind is so filled up with all these moves he memorizes that he can't remember much of his past. Which is interesting, because our big question is whether Taskmaster is Finesse's father, and even he may not know.
It was great coming back to Taskmaster, I never get tired of writing him—and seeing him drawn by Mike McKone was a knockout! Mike really pulled out all the stops and delivered a brutal battle between these two.
In issue #10, you bring us a day-in-the-life issue with two special instructors, Protector and Doctor Strange. It seems like with the presence of the alien Protector and the Master of the Mystic Arts that this day is going to be anything but ordinary?
Every day at Avengers Academy is extraordinary! But yes, this will be an interesting one, especially for Hazmat. And Speedball returns to Stamford.
In issue #11 you kick off a new story that pits the Avengers Academy students against an unlikely foe, the all-powerful villain Michael Korvac. What do you find most interesting about Korvac? And what makes him a good foe for the cast of “Avengers Academy?"
What I find interesting about Korvac is that, when you look closely at him, he has a similar background to the kids. He was tortured and abused, and then acquired massive power. And because he'd been mistreated, he misused his power. He's kind of a warning of what the kids could become. He's also a huge, cosmic-level Avengers villain, and I thought it was time to see the kids go up against one of those. We'll definitely see some surprising things from the kids. Oh, and Korvac isn't the only one coming back!
The return of Korvac seems like it would be an "all hands on deck" situation for the Avengers. Does the Korvac storyline feature any guest stars?
Oh yeah. Both Avengers teams! (Not the Secret Avengers, because they're covert, but Steve Rogers is in on it.) Seriously, this is a total “Avengers Assemble!” moment and Tom Raney is drawing the heck out of the massive fight scenes. It's amazing stuff!
In terms of plot and themes what is the Korvac storyline about?
I already covered some of it—beyond that, it's hard to say without giving too much away, but I will say that the kids are going to get a taste of their true potential—of what they might become.
Speaking of potential, I hear that during the Korvac storyline we'll get a glimpse of what the “Avengers Academy” students will be like as adults? Does this glimpse reveal whether the kids will ultimately end up becoming good or evil? Or does it end up raising more questions about their future?
Okay, you got me! Like I said, I don't want to give too much away, but in essence, the kids' minds are placed in their adult bodies plucked from different possible futures. So they are older, stronger, and more experienced, with an instinctive knowledge of their expanded powers, but they don't have any conscious knowledge of future events. And none of it is set in stone anyway, since their bodies come from different futures, chosen for wherever they had the greatest power, so for example, it doesn't mean that Finesse will necessarily have that same costume in “our” future. But we do get some tantalizing—and in some cases disturbing—hints about where their lives could go.
When I pitched this story at the last retreat, Matt Fraction said it reminded him of the classic “New Mutants” issue in which those characters found the “graduation costumes” that would be presented to them upon becoming full-fledged X-Men, and how cool he thought that was reading it as a kid. While my conscious mind had forgotten about that specific story, I remember loving it as well, so I'm betting it had some subconscious influence on me in coming up with this story. I love it when we get glimpses of future possibilities and they raise as many questions as they answer.
Who are some of the supporting players in the Korvac storyline? What roles does the “Avengers Academy” faculty play in the arc?
Steve Rogers, Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man—they're all in there. Both Bendis Avengers teams! And their role is fighting Korvac!
In the next few months Mike McKone will be joined by some guest artists. What can readers expect from the visuals in upcoming issues of “Avengers Academy?”
Yeah, Mike is actually leaving the book after issue #9, though he's staying on covers through #12. I'm sad to see him go, because we created the book together and he is very much these characters' “Daddy,” but I totally get him wanting to move on to something else. He's been living and breathing “Avengers Academy” every day for a year and a half, going back to the design phase, and he feels it's time to flex some different creative muscles. We've already talked about working together on something else, so hopefully I won't miss him for long.
The good news, though, is that our new regular penciler is the brilliant Tom Raney, who drew the heck out of the Giant-Man/Absorbing Man battle in issue #7! I've been a huge fan of Tom's going back to his days drawing Warlock, so I couldn't be happier. Tom returns with issue #11, part 1 of the Korvac story. In between, issue #10 is drawn by Sean Chen, who I'm thrilled to be working with again—we'll be double-shipping “Avengers Academy” several times in 2011, releasing two issues in one month, with the extra issue drawn by Sean, and #10 is the first of these. Oh, and the awesome Billy Tan becomes our cover artist starting with #13! So artistically, it's kind of an embarrassment of riches for me. I love seeing all these amazing artists' renditions of the characters. It's a fanboy dream come true!
With April's issue #12 we come to the end of the first full year of “Avengers Academy”. How does that feel? Any hints or teases about what awaits the students and faculty in year two?
In this market, it feels amazing just to get to issue #12 with a book whose cast is made up of so many new characters. To get there with the kind of acclaim we've been lucky enough to receive is overwhelming! As for year two, we'll see a superhero prom, tie-ins with “Fear Itself,” the kids will go up against one of Marvel's most prominent super-villain teams, and at least one of the kids will leave the school. Does that mean they'll become a villain? Wait and see!
Any final thoughts you would like to share about “Avengers Academy?”
I want to express how much I appreciate the support we've received from readers and retailers alike. “Avengers Academy” appeared on a bunch of “Best of 2010” lists, and given the amazing comics that came out last year, that's a tremendous honor. So thank you and please continue your wonderful efforts to spread the word and get others reading this book—I hope we can continue to make each other happy for some time to come!