It’s a day during this week, so that means it’s time for another Marvel’s Next Big Thing press call! This afternoon we spoke to Dennis Hopeless about the controversial new title Avengers Arena.
Since the announcement of the series, a number of fans have expressed anxiety over the prospect of their favorite teen heroes being thrust into an ongoing battle to the death. While Hopeless’ remarks might not bring comfort to everyone in that regard, you just might be surprised by his thoughtful considerations. It should also be noted that Avengers Arena is already getting a lot of positive buzz and might just be the sleeper hit of the Marvel NOW! campaign.
For those just joining us, Hopeless pitches Arena thusly: “Fifteen of your favorite teenagers and Darkhawk wake up on an island and they’re told ‘Only one of you is going to come out of it alive’” That’s not a dis at Darkhawk, by the way. The writer is simply acknowledging that the character isn’t a teenager. The cosmic hero is actually a late addition to the ensemble necessitated by the death of Hopeless’ initial choice of Kenji from Generation Hope (who died during pre-production). A fan of Abnett & Lanning’s Annihilation saga, he ultimately decided to bring in Darkhawk as a sub.
A newly menacing Arcade is behind this blood sport in the making, and this new Murderworld is easily his most ambitious project yet. We don’t know its exact location, but it’s not just some field or a stretch of green screen and astroturf. This Murderworld boasts four different regions, each with its own climate. That the world includes an arctic region, a forest, a desert, and a beach locale suggests that there’s a bit of Hunger Games level trickery going on, but the depth of that artifice or otherworldliness is uncertain.
Asked about the suspect choice to frame the story as an ongoing rather than a limited series, Hopeless pointed to the innate challenge of character motivation. “Primarily, it’s because we need the space to get you to believe these kids would do this stuff,” he said. “We need to get them to a place where they distrust and fear each other enough to let it play out. The first few issues have a different POV.” The first of which is Avengers Academy alum Hazmat’s. “It’s a long game. It’s not the one-person POV, it’s the characters all dealing with this in their own way. What would drive them to go through this and save themselves and save their friends? Once we get to a place where the core concept changes, the book changes, but the Murderworld thing is a long story.”
We asked about the adorable female Deathlok in the preview pages. That’s a Hopeless creation named Deathlokette (not sure on the spelling; sounds like ‘Death-Locket’). She’s 14 and is very much a Deathlok. Just sweeter than any previous incarnation.
Given the varying tones of similar stories like Hunger Games and Battle Royale–intense drama and satire respectively–Hopeless was called to identify Arena’s tone. Is the peril played entirely straight or is there an edge of black humor? Hopeless said that the characters in Murderworld take their situation quite seriously and that the book is a true character study for each teen (and/or Darkhawk, naturally). If there’s a streak of dark humor, that’s in Arcade’s perspective. The kids just don’t have that appreciation for their grim situation.
Asked about the concern and outraged leveled by some readers in response to the book’s announcement, Hopeless conceded that he’s definitely sought out internet comments on the subject. It’s not a topic he takes lightly. “Death close to you, very close to you, is the most powerful thing someone can go through,” Hopeless said, adding that he’d lost family members at a young age, an experience he’s had to summon in plotting these character arcs. While he understands where many of the anxious fans are coming from, he can only promise that he’s a massive fan of these young heroes as well. “I am really proud of the book, I think we’re telling a really good story within this. None of the people responding to the concept and the marketing have seen the book, so I don’t take it too personally because they haven’t seen it yet.”
Did he hesitate to add any favorite characters to the roster because he feared putting them into harm’s way? Hopeless said he had to avoid that mode of thinking, focusing instead on telling the best story. He did ultimately decide to remove Molly from the Runaways from contention, citing her comparatively young age as problematic given the themes he wants to explore.
And how does it all differentiate itself from those death-match movies we’ve seen in the past?
“These characters come from different places, but they’re all Marvel superheroes. This gives it a different perspective. We do a POV shift where you see the situation from all the characters over the course.” Hopeless has a working knowledge of the Hunger Games, referencing several key points. He particularly focused on that book’s fixed perspective in Katniss’ head. By the second arc of Arena, we’ll have taken a stroll in each character’s shoes. But Hopeless also seems to shrug off the Hunger Games comparison in favor of another favorite. “For me, it’s as influenced by The Running Man as anything. It comes from gladiatorial games and everything just as much. The perspective of teenage superheroes changes it enough.”
Avengers Arena #1 hits shelves on December.