Arena #12 cover.Avengers Arena was the most controversial Marvel NOW! launch title, not a surprising development given its premise: New and pre-existing teen Marvel heroes — including characters from the beloved Avengers Academy and Runaways series — manipulated into fighting to the death on formerly third-rate villain Arcade's newest incarnation of Murder World; with deliberate nods to Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.
Yet now that the series exists as a reality rather than a theoretical concept, series writer Dennis Hopeless says detractors have calmed down, and some have even embraced the book. As of this week's issue #7, there have been three fatalities in the series: Avengers Academy's Mettle in the first issue, plus Red Raven and new character Kid Briton (the fates of Darkhawk and Sentinel companion Juston Seyfert are currently unclear).
The relative calm of the first few issues looks to be shattered with the "Game On" arc starting with Avengers Arena #8, and we talked to Hopeless about what's coming up next in the series, the unique reaction the book has gotten so far, and whether there's any fun to be had in killing off fictional characters.Avengers Arena
#11 cover.Newsarama: Dennis, beyond the eventful happenings in the book itself, one of the most significant components of Avengers Arena is the sort of existential debate that's surrounded it since originally being announced. But now that seven issues are out there, have you found that the reaction has calmed down a bit — either just as a result of people naturally not being able to stay angry for that long, or because they've seen the actual product and realized it wasn't what they were fearing?
Dennis Hopeless: I'd say tempers have definitely calmed over time. We still get the occasional hateful email, and I see negative things on the Internet from time to time, but at this point the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. It seems like most that hate the premise have moved on to other books.
My favorite mail comes from people who were ready to hate the book but have grown to like what we’re doing. People are starting to see we weren’t lying when we said it was a character-driven story, and that I wasn’t insane when I claimed every character would be their own protagonist. There’s nothing more satisfying as a creator than changing the minds of your detractors.Avengers Arena
#10 cover.Nrama: You're also handling the letter column personally — was that decision a direct response to the type of initial reaction the book got? And has there been any one piece of mail or reaction that you've found particularly memorable due to being especially passionate and/or bizarre? (For some reason, guessing it's from a Darkhawk fan.)
Hopeless: Bill Rosemann (our editor) felt that giving me a platform to speak directly to the readers would be the best way to keep an honest conversation going, and I’m really glad he asked me. It was my idea to run those pre-release emails in the first couple issues. We were getting these really angry reactions to the early marketing and it seemed and I was sort of blown away by how upset people were. Fans were concocting these worst-case scenarios in their heads and freaking out. The letters column let me respond directly to their concerns. The hardest part was figuring out new ways to say, "this is a character-driven story" and "it won’t be a meat-grinder."That Darkhawk letter is my favorite piece of mail ever. It narrowly beats out my first Marvel check and the 9 pounds of cheese balls my brother-in-law sent me for my 30th birthday.
Nrama: The cast of Avengers Arena is a mix of established characters and brand-new creations. One might think there would be a tendency to lean towards the characters you've created, but do you find that you're enjoying writing the pre-existing ones just as much (or very nearly so)?
Hopeless: There isn’t a character in the book I don’t enjoy writing. I handpicked the existing characters and co-created the rest. The trick is weaving the overall plot together with the individual character arcs and finding the right spot for each character to take the spotlight.
I could have written the whole story from any one character’s POV and enjoyed the hell out of it. But the book we’re doing is about all of these kids and how they survive in Murder World. Each issue has a different voice. Each one is told from a different perspective. That’s been both the most fun and biggest challenge of writing the series.Avengers Arena
#9 cover.By the end of the first three arcs, I’ll have spent time in every character's head (with a couple obvious exceptions). It can be a little overwhelming, but I’ve been extremely proud of the results.
Nrama: A major component of the series, of course, is the fatalities themselves, from the first issue to Kid Briton losing his head at the end of #6. How important was killing off Mettle — one of the most well-known characters in the cast — in the first issue, to establish a feeling of no one being safe? And when constructing these scenes, though it may seem crass, is there also maybe a sense of twisted fun in figuring out different ways a character can meet their end?
Hopeless: We had to kill a known character in issue one. It was a crucial part of selling the high stakes and tone of the series. For all of the early controversy, there are only three deaths in the first six issues. One of those happens on the last page of issue #6. We knew we wanted to slow roll the deaths and spend some time with the characters before going full on deathmatch. So that first death had to be in issue one, and it had to be gut wrenching. Mettle and Hazmat had the most to lose. We had to show the reader what that loss looked and felt like. That last scene of issue #1 is the terror of our Murder World played out in a couple pages. You can try to save yourself. You can try to save your friends. You can try to beat the bad guy. But you can’t do all of that at once.All of the deaths were worked out very early on in plot outlines. Some of that shifts around as we plot the arcs but by the time I go to write an issue, I know what has to happen in it. I’m not sure I’d be able to write the death scenes if I didn’t know well in advance. These were some of my favorite characters before I started writing them. At this point I love all of them. I couldn’t be more proud of the book and I think we’re telling a really interesting story. But writing the deaths isn’t fun. Not at all. It’s devastating.
Nrama: Structurally, Avengers Arena is different than most any other superhero book right now, since it's (at this point) focused on one location and one event, rather than being able to jump around much in time or venue. How unique do you see it in that regard? And how important does that make things like flashbacks or breaks in the typical action? (It looks like a romance is being teased between Reptil and Hazmat, for instance.)
Hopeless: It’s definitely a challenge sometimes. Fortunately, our cast is pretty large and they don’t all stay in one part of Murder World the whole time, so I do have opportunities to cut away from time to time. I wrote an issue recently that focused on two of our cast members for 20 pages.I think the flashbacks have been a crucial storytelling device. We go away from that structure a little in the second arc but I can’t imagine the first arc without them. You have to care about these characters for our story to work. You have to know them. You have to see how Murder World is changing them. I stole a lot of what we did from the TV series Lost. They nailed that relevant flashback structure so well. I rewatched the first season a couple times just to study it.
Nrama: Kev Walker has been a consistent present in the series thus far, and it looks like he's sticking with it, but DMZ's Riccardo Burchielli is also coming on board. What are you looking forward to with that collaboration?
Hopeless: I loved Riccardo’s work on DMZ so I was really excited to hear he was coming on board. His work is so human and expressive. He’s currently drawing one of the second-arc’s biggest gut-punch issues and he absolutely nails every beat of it.
Kev is an impossibly tough act to follow but both Riccardo and Alessandro Vitti have been amazing filling in. The art team on this book blows me away every issue.Nrama: Speaking of flashbacks, this week's #7 was the Arcade-centric issue. What kind of challenge has it been to sharpen him up from his fairly one-note reputation to how he's being portrayed, in a realistic and natural way?
Hopeless: Issue #7 was a tricky script to write. We had 20 pages to take Arcade from the classic goofball trickster to the nasty character we met in AA #1. I had the basic plot worked out early on but finding the right tone took a fair amount of work. What we came up with is a sort of twisted hitting rock bottom story in which Arcade gets knocked so low he’ll have to change to survive.
Nrama: Moving further into the future, the "Game On" arc is coming up next. Clearly, the game has been pretty on already — how escalated do things get from here?
Hopeless: The book really starts to live up to its premise in this arc. That final scene of issue #6 is the opening salvo of what the book will be going forward. The kids are starting to buy in. Distrust and fear are starting to do their damage. This game really is on.More from Newsarama:
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