Avengers Arena, debuting in December from the creative team of writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kev Walker, was the Marvel NOW! series announcement no one was expecting. It’s not a revamp of an existing concept —making it impossible to guess from the initial one-word teaser, “Survive” — though it does include characters from Avengers Academy(Hazmat, Mettle, Reptil, Juston and his Sentinel and X-23) and Runaways (Chase and Nico), plus Darkhawk, Cammi from Annihilation and multiple new additions to the Marvel Universe.
It’s also been one of the most talked about and perhaps the most controversial of the bunch, due to its central concept: A riff on familiarHunger Games and Battle Royale elements, with Arcade capturing 16 of
Marvel’s teen heroes and placing them in the latest iteration of Murder World, where only one of them can make it out alive.
Newsarama talked to Hopeless and series editor Bill Rosemann about Avengers Arena, who both state that the series isn’t about killing off teen heroes (though that will happen), it’s about the effect their situation has on them as characters.
Newsarama: Dennis, Bill, first, congrats on having the most surprising (and arguably the most talked about) Marvel NOW! series announcement yet.
Bill Rosemann: Thanks! When you combine the talent, characters, high concept and cover we unveiled, we had a suspicion people would be talking and debating and raving… which I’m predicting will only increase as the story unfolds.
Dennis Hopeless: Ha. Thanks. It’s definitely the most talked about thing I’ve ever done. Pretty exciting to have so many people so passionate about the book.
Nrama: To start in a fairly pedantic place, some folks seemed confused as to whether or not this was, as every other new Marvel NOW! launch has been thus far, an ongoing series, since it “feels” like a closed-ended story. Are those folks not getting the whole picture? Or is it an ongoing series in that it’s not a 4, 6, 12, whatever issue limited series, but it’s not necessarily designed to go on forever and ever, either?
Rosemann: Dennis and Kev have thought long and hard about how and why these characters will react to the scenario and the ripple effects their actions will create. Each month — and, yes, this is an ongoing monthly series — they’ll use the creative space to dig deep into the emotions of each character. As to what our cast will look like a year from now, well…
Hopeless: Yeah, this is definitely a long game sort of story. We need the space to explore all the different ways a worst-case scenario like Murder World affects this massive cast. I’m not sure we could have done them justice in a miniseries.
Nrama: Arcade is at the center of the series. As acknowledged in the Marvel.com interview, he’s been kind of a hapless character, who hasn’t been exactly successful in his goals of actually murdering people. How much of a challenge is it to sort of rehab him, and present him here as a threat — apparently a very potent one?
Rosemann: When at his best, Arcade’s creepy façade of a cheery carnival barker is a calculated play that both distracts his targets and also leads his unsuspecting foes to underestimate him. And never forget he began his career by murdering his own father before embarking on a successful run as a freelance assassin. Dennis and Kev both completely understand his potential and knew instantly how to peel off the cheese to reveal his untapped terrifying core. Previously, Arcade always left a way out of his deathtraps, giving his prey a sporting chance, but now… soon everyone will learn that to underestimate Arcade is a deadly mistake.
Hopeless: Arcade doesn’t get a lot of respect and we all kind of understand why. For the longest time, nobody ever died in Murder World. But despite all of his failures over the years, Arcade is a brilliant guy. Deranged and bizarre, but brilliant. He designed and built all of those crazy death traps.
The scenario Arcade has cooked up in Avengers Arena is a game changer for him. It’s his way of saying, “You don’t respect my reindeer games? Fine. Respect this!”
Nrama: Speaking of challenges: Obviously it’s tough to get people to accept comic book deaths as meaningful at this point, and part of the hook of Avengers Arena is that anyone can go at any time. Is that at all a tougher sell at all given the natural skepticism found in so many readers?
Rosemann: We can’t think about the cynicism or skepticism that readers may or may not be bringing to the show. We can only create the most intelligent, unpredictable and compelling adventure possible. Dennis and Kev both know that meaningless violence is easy and artless… it’s characterization and story craft that matters.
Hopeless: The thing is, the book is about characters, not killing. It’s about how teenagers (super-powered as they may be) react to and interact within this god-awful situation. It wouldn’t be very interesting to read or write a book about a teenage superhero meat grinder.
Yes, there’s death in the book. There has to be to give this concept any stakes. But the deaths serve the story, not the other way around.
Nrama: Avengers Arena looks like to be wearing its influences on its sleeve to an extent, with the cover to #1 being a clear Battle Royale homage (and #2, Lord of the Flies). Was “Hunger Games/Battle Royale but with superheroes” always there in the pitch, or did the similarities develop organically in the process?
Rosemann: Giving credit where it’s due, the series concept was sparked by an idea that Mark Waid was generous enough to offer up during a recent Marvel creative retreat. We were kicking around options for our younger heroes when Mark asked why — hitting on some of the inspirations you mentioned — we didn’t just put them on an island and let them fight it out.
As a huge fan of YA novels, I jumped at the chance to use this rich scenario (the older generation forcing the younger to fight… teens enduring the hell of war) as a coming-of-age metaphor. Theseus vs. the Minotaur, Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game, Battle Royale,Starship Troopers, Survivor, American Idol, Hunger Games, the Olympics… young adults competing for supremacy is the perfect platform to explore the challenges of your teen years.
Hopeless: Yeah, this concept was always part of the conversation. When I was first pitching, we talked a little bit about doing Murder World as an arc or mega-arc within a more traditional Avengers Academy-style book. It became clear pretty quickly that thiswas the book.
We decided to own it and never looked back.
And really, if you’re going to tell this story right, especially with a cast this size full of characters you don’t want to ignore, you need to give it your all.
Nrama: A lot of the Avengers Arena characters, especially the ones from Avengers Academy and Runaways, have very dedicated fans who have a very strong attachment to them, and are likely feeling very conflicted that they’re starring in a new series, but it’s one where they might get killed off at any point. Is that, then, what makes those characters ideal for this book (and likely very deliberate choices) — that they’re ones that people would truly be upset to see go?
Rosemann: I’ll answer your question with another question: If the audience and creators don’t care about the competitors, why would they care about what happens to them?
Hopeless: Look, I love these characters too. This is a heartbreaking story to tell with them. But, that’s what makes the thing so compelling. How will these kids I love deal with actual kill or be killed stakes? How will they change? Who are they deep down in the dark when they’re scared and no one is looking?
The kids are the stars of this show and we’re doing everything we can to give them a big meaningful story their fans can enjoy.
Nrama: And in superhero comics in general, there’s a sense that teen characters — and newly introduced characters — are somewhat disposable. This book features both. Is part of the aim of the series sort of poking at that notion, and subverting it?
Rosemann: Exactly. Adults think they know what’s best for teens (and often treat them like disposable objects)… teens hate when adults tell them what to do… and most comic readers hate young characters, even voting to see them beaten to death by crowbar. Seems a topic bursting with potential, right?
Hopeless: I honestly never thought about it like that. To me, this story (like all the ones that influenced it) is about the brutal gut-punch that is being a teenager. You’re stuck in this weird place between child and adult. You don’t have much freedom but you’re expected to act mature. Your hormones and emotions and stress-levels are pounding you into the ground every day. And then they trap you in a building full of other teenagers until you’ve grown out of it. I honestly don’t think our concept is that much more brutal than high school.
All we’ve really done is lock the door and up the stakes.
Nrama: It’s been established that the book has a cast of 17 characters in issue one alone. Aside from Arcade, who are some of the main focal points of the series? Or does the spotlight rotate to give fairly equal time to them all?
Rosemann: Dennis and Kev are investing time in the members of our ensemble, giving them all moments to shine. Hopefully you will care equally about our entire cast… or at least quickly pick you favorites to cheer for and against.
Hopeless: Yep. The only thing I’d add is that we focus more on the teens, not the trap. Apart from issue #1 and a few key moments later, Arcade stays out of the way. That’s always been his thing. The guy likes to watch.
Nrama: There’s also new characters in the book, including the intriguingly named Deathlocket. Can you share any insight at this point about the new (albeit potentially temporary) additions to the Marvel Universe?
Rosemann: They’re all complex, fresh, captivating, cool looking, full of secrets… and determined to be the last teen standing! Will their inexperience lead them into failure, or will a rookie shock everyone by outlasting the more experienced competitors?
Hopeless: I know these new characters seem like obvious cannon fodder. They aren’t. That would be a cop out and we’re doing this thing right. Not to say the newbies are safe. Nobody is safe in Murder World. These new characters are just that, new. And they’ll all play important roles within the story.
We could have easily filled the cast out with other existing teens, I just felt like we had an opportunity to create some new Marvel Universe characters and it would be silly to pass that up.
Nrama: Final question might be missing the point, but seems worth asking: The series is said to take place exclusively on Murder World, but at some point, other heroes are going to start noticing that these characters have disappeared, right? Does that aspect factor into the story?
Rosemann: They would indeed be missed, right? But the question is, can they be found?
Hopeless: Yeah, superheroes notice when you take their kids away. That said, don’t expect a bunch of grown ups to swoop in an save the day. Arcade is smarter than he looks.