When the survivors of Arcade’s Murderworld deathmatch made it to the end of Avengers Arenathey thought their nightmare was over. But this March with Avengers Undercover, they find they’re in a new nightmare – of their own making.
After the success of Avengers Arena, writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kev Walker have reunited to tell the next chapter in the lives of the survivors of that Hunger Games-style scenario – and the story isn’t just about the heroes. In the series Avengers Undercover launching this March, readers will see as the scarred teen heroes try to use the lessons learned by the horrors of Murderworld to take down one of the biggest super villain outfits ever, the Masters of Evil. How? By joining them. At the same time, the maestro of Murderworld, Arcade, is riding high after his coming out on top in Avengers Arena and has attained a new level of infamy – and serious consideration – after he leaked video of what he did to the world’s preeminent teen heroes in that series.
So it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for the survivors of Murderworld into Avengers Undercover, and series writer Dennis Hopeless gives us a guided tour as he and Walker transition from a death match island to a secret underworld empire ruled by super villains called Bagalia. In previous interviews, Hopeless has described Avengers Undercover as a “PTSD book” for the teen heroes who made it out alive last year, so we talked about making moments that matter and events that have long-lasting effects on character in the ever-changing world of superhero comics.
Newsarama: Avengers Undercover #1 is only a month away, Dennis – what can readers – both the Avengers Arenafaithful and new readers – expect from this first issue?
Dennis Hopeless: Avengers Undercover #1 is very much a character study. We meet the Murder World survivors and get to experience just how jacked up their lives have become since they returned from the events of Avengers Arena. One of them has become unhinged and deciding to help propels the others down the deep dark rabbit hole that is the series.
Nrama: A big tease came out about Avengers Undercover earlier this week; one that said that one of the teen heroes would transition to become a villain – not just working undercover – during the course of this series. What can you say to that, Dennis?
Hopeless: That's the big question of the series. Most of the cast will be tempted and it will be a good long while before it's clear who will turn. Also, it's more accurate to say at least one of them will become a villain.
Nrama: From the covers we already know who some of the cast of Avengers Undercover, but you’re a writer whose known for your surprises – who can you say is coming over from Avengers Arenato be inAvengers Undercover?
Hopeless: Hazmat, Nico, Chase, Cammi, Anachronism, Death Locket and Cullen make up the main cast. Arcade is a big part of the first arc, and then obviously Baron Zemo and this new Masters of Evil.
Nrama: The Avengers Arena alums aren’t just joining a super villain team – they’re going to a super villain country, Bagalia. For those who aren’t aware of Bagalia, can you set the stage for us there with the Masters of Evil and the Shadow Council?
Hopeless: Bagalia is a massive super villain mega city located in the bottom of a pit. The whole place is populated by crooks and costumed criminals. I see it as a sort of super villain Deadwood. There are no laws to speak of but everyone follows the unwritten pecking order. Since we last saw Bagalia (During Rick Remender’s run on Secret Avengers) Baron Zemo has risen to power and turned the city into a headquarters for a new Masters of Evil.
Nrama: Arguably the most famous character coming out of Avengers Arena is the villain, Arcade. And although Murder World is over, you said he is to have a continued role here in Avengers Undercover. Some of the kids might have escaped with their lives in Avengers Arena, but in many ways Arcade won – especially after putting out that video of their experiences. Previously we talked about Arcade’s heightened role thanks to Avengers Arena, but can you flesh out what Arcade’s mindset is after coasting on the events of Avengers Arena?
Hopeless: Arcade is in an interesting place after Avengers Arena. To some degree he’s gained all that respect he was after. He’s definitely famous now. But at the same time, every super hero on the planet is itching to put a boot up his ass. There’s no denying her won the game, but winning didn’t feel as good as he expected. And then there’s the question that haunts anyone who accomplishes a major life goal… What’s next?
Nrama: These kids made it out alive – but are damaged. In another interview you called Avengers Undercover a kind of “PTSD book” for these teen heroes. In most superhero comics we see the heroes shrug off the events of the past to begin a new day – so can you tell us about writing it so these tragedies are carried on by these five?
Hopeless: One of our goals with Avengers Arena was to keep the stakes very high. The kids were making life or death choices and we wanted to make sure they had consequences to match. We’re holding ourselves to a similar standard with Undercover. Our cast may not be in a death match anymore, but they are being tested. We make it a point to put them up against life experiences they can’t just shrug off.
Life leaves scars, especially when you’re young. The nasty stuff you go through as a kid shapes the person you’ll grow up to be. I try to keep that in mind with this series. These characters aren’t unshakable super heroes. They’re kids trying to figure it out as they go.
Nrama: In the finale of Avengers Arena #18 we saw Arcade put out a video of the events of Murder World, kind of spoiling the secret the kids were trying to keep about what happened. How does having this video out for the world to see change these kids, especially in terms of people knowing who they are?
Hopeless: It has changed their lives completely. The videos were an Internet phenomenon. In the three months since their escape, the survivors have become pseudo-celebrities. The whole world knows who they are and everyone seems to have an opinion about what they did (or didn’t) do in the arena.
Murder World changed these kids in profound ways and getting famous for it has changed them even more. We find them at the beginning of Avengers Undercover #1 struggling with the fact that they no longer fit very well into their old lives. They may have survived but none of them really made it all the way back.
Nrama: Is there anything you learned from Avengers Arenathat you wouldn’t have known otherwise to do in Avengers Undercover?
Hopeless: Oh, definitely. Avengers Arena taught me more than I could possibly explain. It was my first ongoing series. It was my first taste of comic book controversy and online fan rage. It was the biggest cast I’ve ever had to juggle. Everything I’m doing with Avengers Undercover is in some way a response to Avengers Arena. From the way I’ve plotted it on up to how I approach lettering drafts.
Nrama: If you could, pick out one specific lesson you learned from Avengers Arena and how you're applying it here to Avengers Undercover.
Hopeless: Trust Kev Walker.
Kev brings so much to the table. He makes every fight sequence more badass. He asks all the right story questions and throws out little character suggestions that always work. By the middle of Avengers Arena I'd realized that the more freedom Kev had, the better the book would be. At this point, I do my best to tell him the story and get out of the way.
Nrama: Speaking of Kev, the nature of the mainstream work-for-hire comics industry is that writers and artists come and go from comic projects, even long-term ones. What’s it mean for you to be doing this spiritual sequel to Avengers Arena, and having Kev Walker here with you to do it?
Hopeless: Kev Walker is hands down the best thing about either of these series. I can’t imagine Avengers Arena without Kev and was absolutely thrilled he wanted to stay on for Avengers Undercover. The man draws blockbuster action sequences and then turns around and nails every single facial expression. He’s like my two favorite artists rolled into one guy.
Nrama: Avengers Undercover #1 launches in March, but you and Kev Walker are in a much different place than when Avengers Arena #1launched. How are you feeling now with this impending launch compared to those feelings building up to the launch of Avengers Arena?
Hopeless: I’d say I’m just as excited but maybe one tenth as nervous for this launch. That was my first time and I was freaking out about it. Now that I’ve been through the ringer a couple of times, I know what to expect.
We’ve been working hard making Avengers Undercover and I can’t wait to have it out.