The teenage super heroes of the Marvel Universe are asked to make many of the same weighty choices as other adolescents -- decisions that are actually life-or-death situations. That's especially true of the cast of the new Marvel NOW! series "Avengers Arena" by writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kev Walker.
In the first two issues, 16 teenage heroes from across the Marvel U were transported to Arcade's Murderworld island, where they are forced to fight each other in a brutal series of death matches, which have claimed two lives so far.
CBR News spoke with Dennis Hopeless about the deaths of teenage Marvel heroes, the core concept of the series, his collaboration with series artist Kev Walker and the direction of the book as it moves into 2013.
CBR News: Dennis, given the concept of "Avengers Arena," death is obviously a huge part of the series. Mettle of "Avengers Academy" died in issue #1 -- why kill him first? What does his death add to your larger narrative?
Dennis Hopeless: There are a lot of ways to answer that question.
I could say we needed to kill an established character out of the gate to sell the high stakes of the book.
I could say that Hazmat is a big part of the series and killing Mettle does a lot of interesting things to her character.
But the best answer is probably this: more than anything else, this book is about choices. These kids are in a worst-case life or death scenario. The choices they make within that will decide how long they live, how long their friends live and what kind of person they'll be if and when they make it out.
The first issue had to end with a life or death choice and Mettle was the one character in the cast who wouldn't hesitate to make it. Hazmat is the most important thing in his world. When faced with watching her die or sacrificing himself, he didn't even think about it. His gut reaction was "take me instead." That decision tells you a lot about Mettle and that two-page sequence is what's scary about this new Murderworld in a nutshell.
By killing Mettle and tossing around the various super powered kids, Arcade demonstrated some serious power that he didn't have before. Are you able to comment at all on the origin of Arcade's abilities and just how powerful he is in this latest incarnation of Murderworld? When will readers be given some clues or answers about the mysteries surrounding Arcade?
Issue #7 tells the story of how and why Arcade changed his game up. His new powers will be explained there, his agenda shift and attitude adjustment too.
I can tell you that our Arcade really is Arcade. I read someone speculating that it was The Beyonder pretending to be Arcade. While I find that idea hilarious, um -- no. I promise it's nothing that weird. This is just Arcade with some brand new tricks.
After Mettle's murder another teen hero appeared to die in issue #2, Red Raven. When Mettle died, his red power bar sunk to zero, the same as Red Raven. Is it correct to assume she's dead? Where did you get the idea to use power bars next to a character's name?
Yeah, Red Raven broke her neck on the ceiling. She has hollow bones. It didn't end well.
The power bars were actually Jonathan Hickman's idea. He read an early version of issue #1 and suggested them as a storytelling device. I can't thank him enough. Those power bars have become a really useful part of the book. They allow me to convey a surprising amount of information in a very small space. Also, it's a big cast and floating name bars make it a lot easier to keep everyone straight.
After Red Raven's death, readers got to know a little more about
one of your new characters: Rebecca Ryker, who goes by the alias Death Locket. What inspired her creation? What do you feel she adds to the series?
Death Locket was inspired by my love of all things Deathlok. I also wanted to play with the idea that the most innocent character in the book is also half killbot. She's a sweet girl who just wants a friend, but nobody trusts a Deathlok. Not that you can really blame them for pushing her away. As we saw in issue #2, one of her arms is literally a loose cannon.
I have big plans for Death Locket. She and the Braddock Academy kids come back into focus in issues #5-6.
"Avengers Arena" #2 was actually told through the perspective of Death Locket. Will you continue to follow her through this initial arc, or will readers get the perspectives of several different characters?
We switch perspectives throughout the series. Issue #3 is told from Cammi's point of view and #4 follows Chase.
We want readers to care about all of these kids and understand how the experience is different, if equally gut wrenching, for each of them. The story structure borrows a lot from the TV show "Lost," especially in these first 2 arcs. You'll get glimpses of who the kids were back home while watching Murderworld slowly change them in the here and now.
You also got to introduce the new characters from the Braddock Academy in issue #2. How would you describe the dynamic between these characters? Are the bonds between them as strong as those between the Avengers Academy members in Murderworld?
I think the most interesting thing about the Braddock kids is that they aren't as close-knit. They went to the same school but didn't all get along.
Kid Briton thinks of himself as the alpha male leader of the group. Nobody else necessarily agrees. Katy's his girlfriend and plays along when she has to but also spends a lot of time rolling her eyes at his bravado.
Cullen Bloodstone and Anachronism are very close, but keep the rest of their classmates at arm's length. They both hate Kid Briton.
Nara has anger management issues and is kind of a bully. Cullen hates her guts. Come to think of it, Cullen hates most everyone but Anachronism.
These kids stick together at the beginning of the story out of familiarity. Expect that to change.
In the first part of this initial arc, we learned the rules of the game in "Avengers Arena." In the second part, we met some of the players. What else can you tell readers about the plot and themes of this initial arc?
It's really important that we earn the premise. These aren't villains or trained killers. For the most part they're heroes. The moment someone steps out of character and kills just to kill, we've lost our credibility.
With that in mind, this first arc is all about building tension and paranoia while making readers understand and care about the characters. Arcade pushes them to mental exhaustion and then sits back watching what happens when they bump into one another. Everyone has a breaking point and this first part of the story takes us there. By the end of issue #6, the game is fully on.
It's hard to talk theme without sounding like an ass but like I said earlier, the story is about choices. These young people have to make some very difficult choices that will affect the course of the rest of their lives -- What would you do to protect yourself or your friends? What are you willing to sacrifice? Who are you willing to leave behind? What can you live with?
They're in no way ready to make these decisions, but they have to. To me, that's what makes a teenage super hero death match relatable. Life is about choices and being young is about making choices you don't fully understand. Take all the fantasy elements away and Murderworld starts to sound a lot like high school.
One thing that really stands out in these first two issues is Kev Walker's character acting. The emotions these characters feel are clear, vibrant and powerful. How much of that is in your script and how much of that is Kev? What kind of art direction do you give him in terms of characters' body language and emotions?
I'm a pretty touchy-feely writer. I start with character and work my way around to plot. My scripts describe facial expressions, body language and emotional states as much as possible. I care about that stuff and do my best to convey it.
I take zero credit for the incredible work Kev is doing on "AA." He gets so much out of every facial expression and adds layers to every scene. Early on some of the character personalities completely changed from what I had in the outline once I saw Kev's designs. The voices were clear even from those first sketches. I just grabbed those fully formed characters and ran with them.
Wrapping up, what's coming further down the line in "Avengers Arena?" What kind of winter will the cast of this book be having?
There are only nasty winters in Murderworld. I'm not great at teases but let's see -- Cammi and X-23 do snow angels. Kev Walker draws the hell out of Darkhawk in battle mode. Chase and Nico run away twice. Kid Briton grins a lot. Cullen Bloodstone grins once. And Arcade takes a well-earned beating.
I want to thank all of the readers who have reached out to tell me they're enjoying the book. "Avengers Arena" isn't for everyone and there was obviously a lot of controversy surrounding it even before issue #1 shipped. So it's great to hear from people who appreciate what we're trying to do with it. I've gotten messages from readers and retailers all over the world. That's amazing and humbling. Thanks so much.
"Avengers Arena" #3 hits stores January 9