Of all the books announced by Marvel Comics as part of the Marvel NOW! initiative, Avengers Arena has been one of the more polarizing titles. Drawing influences from the manga Battle Royale and the fiction novels The Hunger Games, Avengers Arena pits Marvel’s heroes against one another on a death island hosted by the villain Arcade.
After reading the first issue and reviewing it, I wanted to talk with the creative team about some of the questions and concerns I had, as well as the ones I gleaned from many of your comments. Luckily, writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kev Walker were kind enough to answer my questions. Even the ones about Darkhawk.
iFanboy: Since the announcement of this series there has been a lot of visceral reaction to the premise of the book, with the comparisons/references to Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. How has the reaction to the book affected your approach to it?
Dennis Hopeless:It hasn’t affected my approach at all. We have a very clear vision for what this book is and where we’re going. It’s a big character-driven story with a pretty slow burn and all of that was worked out and plotted well before the book was announced.
Telling that story has to be the priority. As much as I respect and appreciate the passion we’ve been seeing from fans of all these characters, we have to separate ourselves from all of that and do the job. I think in the end the book will speak for itself.
Kev Walker: I’ve been both stunned and amazed by the reaction, especially given that the book hasn’t even seen print till now, but it hasn’t affected the way I work at all. I get a script, read it and draw what I see in my head, tell the story to the best of my abilities. That’s it.
Let’s face it, the premise is hardly a new idea, and goes back way further than either Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. I think the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur came way before those two. What’s important is what you bring to the theme, add nuances that change it or evolve it somehow. I like to think we’re doing some of that here, not lining characters up against firing squad, or bulldozing entire kindergarten classes into a meat-grinder, which is what you’d think we were doing given the reaction. These kids are superheroes, some of them are virtually indestructible, which is what makes the whole death match scenario way more interesting. These characters wouldn’t react like regular kids in this situation. It’s in their genes to be different. I could understand the reaction if we’d picked characters that have a long standing hatred of each other, cos it really would look like we planned nothing more than a series of grudge matches, but most of these kids are not simply going to snap and turn on each other at the get go. That would be doing all of them a disservice. What Arcade wants and what Arcade eventually gets are not necessarily the same thing.
iF: What do each of you plan to bring to the table to differentiate Avengers Arena from those and other comparisons?
DH: The characters make it different. “Teenage deathmatch” and “reluctant gladiator” are pretty broad concepts when you get down to it. The story is what you do within that. Our story is about these 16 characters and who they are deep down after they’ve been stripped of everything but their most basic instincts. Who is the hero? Who is the coward? How much are they really willing to sacrifice for a stranger or even a friend?
iF: Many of these characters have established looks from their time in other books. How are you approaching the visual look of such a large cast as the story progresses? Will we see “island native” breakdowns of their costumes?
KW: Ha, I have no idea. The only answer I can give right now is ‘probably’. I do like to see that kind of of progression in characters, that they adapt and change with their environment, so if the situation calls for it, I’ll certainly include that.
iF: With the establishment of Arcade as the villain and this updated approach to Murder World, what can you tell us about your take on this classic Marvel villain. Is this concept the natural progression of the character?
DH: I think it’s a natural progression, yeah. Arcade was a world-class assassin before he got into the super hero game. He was like Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun. People hired him to kill in big extravagant ways and he was great at it.
Super heroes are Arcade’s white whale. He loves building Murder Worlds and filling them with spandex gods. He gets off on the challenge. But this has been going on for years and Arcade realizes you can only fail so much before you become a joke. This new Murder World is his first shot at redemption from all that failure. He’s trying something new.
That said, this is still Arcade. He’s still a showman. He’s still a snappy dresser. In fact, he looks amazing in the book. People are going to love Kev’s version of the character.
iF: In other interviews, you’ve talked about your character-based approach. How is that balanced with the mandate of this book which involved killing off characters? Some fans see that mandate as gimmick, questioning its ability for you to forge connections with the characters when you know they’re just going to die. How do you handle that challenge?
DH: I think I could probably say this until I’m blue-faced and fans would still worry, but the book isn’t a meat grinder. It wasn’t designed to cull the teenage super hero herd at Marvel. Every issue isn’t a 20-page fight to the death. We’re telling a story with extremely high stakes. This is the game and they’re playing for keeps. That’s the only gimmick. That’s the mandate.
The way you sell that is by starting with character and working out. Every death in the book has to be earned. If we cheated that, we’d be doing the characters and readers a disservice. So we don’t cheat. We make sure the characters have believable motivations for their actions. They’re scared and tired and paranoid but they’re all still reasonable. If a hero is going to kill, we have to get her to a place where from her perspective killing is a reasonable response.
A big part of the book is going to be exploring what it takes for each of these kids to get to that place. That’s why Avengers Arena is an ongoing. To do the concept justice, we need that time and space.
iF: In terms of the location and setting, what can readers expect visually from the surroundings of Avengers Arena and how does Arcade’s history of building elaborate deathtraps make it more of a challenge for you to draw?
KW: This incarnation of Arcade is more sophisticated and elegant, so the location has to reflect that. This Murderworld is being teased out to me the same way it is to the readership, Dennis knows what he’s going to do with the place but I don’t think giant pinball machines will be making much of an appearance. This is a world Arcade has created that he has complete control of. He’s like a god here, even the leaves on the trees bow to his will, so there’s plenty of scope for jeopardy.
iF: The group of heroes are not the front line heroes, but include many fan favorites (for example, personally I’m a huge Darkhawk fan), how does it affect you’re writing when you know that you may be killing or praising someone’s favorite character?
DH: People don’t like this answer but you have to put that sort of thing out of your head. I understand nobody wants their favorite character taken off the board, but this is the story I was hired to write. I believe in that story. I think it’s going to be great. And, the best way to tell it is to fill it with rich and interesting characters.
iF: What can you tell us about your approach to drawing Darkhawk?
KW: I drew Talon in Imperial Guard, I drew Portal in Marvel Zombies 3, now I’ve got a complete set. He’s the only fully fledged adult hero in the group, so is more confident, unlikely to let fear get the better of him. He has access to the kind of power that could theoretically turn the island into a smoking crater, so…I think Arcade would know that. Purely as a reader I’d have to think that maybe there’s more to his inclusion than is immediately evident.
iF: Can you confirm that you’re not killing Darkhawk? Thanks
DH: Ha. Unfortunately, I can neither confirm nor deny any character’s safety. No one is safe in this book.
Avengers Arena #1 goes on sale tomorrow, December 12, 2012. Check out this preview of issue #2 along with the variant cover, which ships on December 19, 2012: