Reptil, Finesse, Mettle, Hazmat, Striker and Veil have been through a lot in the eight issues thus far released of Avengers Academy, from defeating Whirlwind in what was actually a well-orchestrated publicity stunt, getting video-recorded revenge on the Hood for his attack on Tigra a few years ago in New Avengers, and learning that the real reason they’re being trained by the Avengers is since they were profiled as likely future villains. Oh, and Hazmat, Striker and Veil all got expelled by Tigra last issue for that attack on the Hood.
The faculty have been busy as well, most notably Hank Pym returning to his classic Giant Man identity in Avengers Academy #7. Plus, Taskmaster is showing up in this week’s issue #9 (preview here) — a character that series writer Christos Gage used extensively in Avengers: The Initiative, and one Finesse believes to be her father.
So, what’s next for the title — Korvac? The return of the Wasp? A new series artist in the form of Tom Raney? Newsarama talked to Gage about all of that and more, including what's up with Speedball. (You know you were curious.)
Newsarama: Christos, the last couple of issues have featured the "faculty" of the book — #8 had a lot dealing with Tigra, and obviously #7 focused heavily on Hank Pym. Would you say that in the comic as a whole, the faculty and the students are of about equal importance to the narrative? They both have a lot going on, independent of each other (like Hank Pym's quest to bring Wasp back to life) and in their interactions — like the reluctant mentorship between Quicksilver and Finesse.
Christos Gage: I think the book is weighted a bit more toward the kids…since the faculty are more familiar as characters I tend to write from the kids’ perspective and let us into their heads more than the teachers’. But the teachers are of huge importance. Besides being awesome characters, they’re all there for very specific reasons, and I have a lot planned for them.
Nrama: And speaking of Hank Pym, #7 saw him return to his Giant-Man identity. That issue had a very reasoned and thought-out explanation for that move — was that a direction you had been wanting to move towards for a while?
Gage: Yes, and it was only recently I really put my finger on why. When I first pitched this book, I wanted to make the change, but Tom Brevoort pressed me for a reason. He said that writers tend to want to turn Hank back to whatever identity he had when they were growing up, without much of a character-based reason for it. I knew my reason as a writer — I think Giant-Man is awesome, and it tends to be his most iconic identity. Whenever you see an Avengers team from another dimension or reality or future, Hank is Giant-Man (or Goliath, which is really the same thing, but right now Tom Foster is Goliath, so that name was out). I know why – giants are cool, a great visual in a visual medium. But Tom really made me think about the character, and delve into his past. And I realized that most of his identities were reactions to things – an inferiority complex (Yellowjacket), his breakdown (Doc Pym), the Wasp’s death (Wasp), etc. Going back to Dan Slott’s run on Mighty Avengers, Dan and I (as well as Academy editor Bill Rosemann) really wanted to get Hank past the “crazy wife-beater” thing, which he’s been working on getting past for about 25 years now, and firmly re-establish him as a hero with the stature of a founding Avenger (without glossing over his flaws or character quirks). To me, the identity he had when he was best balancing the roles of hero and scientist was Giant-Man. The fact that our artists, Tom Raney, Mike McKone and Sean Chen, all draw him awesomely doesn’t hurt.
Nrama: In regards to Wasp, though it looked like at the end of issue #7 Hank had made peace with her status for the time being, upcoming solicitations revealed that she'll once again play a role in the book. Will her dead-or-aliveness be an ongoing concern for the foreseeable future?
Gage: Yes, it will come to a head soon!
Nrama: Back on the subject of the faculty, Speedball hasn't had much of a role the last few issues. Might we expect to see more with him soon?
Gage: Yes. He’ll be featured prominently in issue #10, and of course he is the star of the lead story in the upcoming Fear Itself tie-in miniseries, The Home Front, where I’m thrilled to finally be collaborating with my pal Mike Mayhew, who is delivering beautiful pages.
Nrama: The most recent issue ended with Veil, Striker and Hazmat being expelled from the team by Tigra. Though I suspect they'll be back, it got me wondering — if the plan, long-term, to perhaps rotate Academy members in and out with new faces eventually entering the picture, or is the book really about these six students and their journey?
Gage: I think the inaugural class will always have a presence in the book, but sooner or later there will indeed be new students. The only question is when…and what happens to the old ones?
Nrama: In just a few issues, the Academy members have often displayed some pretty ugly behavior — #8's revenge on the Hood being maybe the most egregious. Obviously a central part of the concept is the Avengers hoping to keep them from becoming villains, but is it somewhat of a challenge to write characters who make frequent irresponsible decisions and keep them likable?
Gage: Yes and no. I think if people are being casually cruel you won’t like them. What I try to do is base the kids’ actions, whether you agree with them or not, in understandable motivations. Striker, Hazmat and Veil have all been abused and tortured by others (notably Norman Osborn). That drove them to want to punish the Hood, who they see as a similar person. I think we can all relate to wanting to punish those who hurt others, even if we realize that’s better left to the justice system. And in issue #5, where we learn Striker orchestrated a super-villain attack on himself and his teammates for the purpose of gaining fame, even though I don’t think anyone would say that’s a good thing to do, the desire to be famous is something we at least understand. That’s my goal… hopefully all the kids’ less than heroic acts will at least be understandable, if not something you condone. My challenge is sticking to that, making sure their motives are clear and relatable.
Nrama: On that Hood note, given the major role he's playing currently in Avengers, was it difficult at all to fit his Avengers Academy appearance in with all of that?
Gage: No, not at all… we started planning it at the last Avengers retreat, and everyone was very cooperative and encouraging, which I really appreciated. The only difficulty was that, given the way various storylines were going to fall — for instance, finishing the “individual spotlight” issues of each of the students that ran from # 1 to 6 – I knew our story would hit the stands the month after the Hood began his quest for the Infinity Gems in Avengers. Ultimately, rather than force matters to get it out there first in a way that would have, in my opinion, hurt the flow of the stories, I felt that it was okay to include an editorial note stating “this story takes place before” blah blah. Readers are smart. Plus, a lot of people read the books in collected editions — that’ll be the enduring form of the story — so to them it doesn’t matter. I know some readers found it jarring but I hope they’ll be understanding.
Taskmaster #1 cover.Nrama: Taskmaster shows up in #9. He played a big role in Avengers: The Initiative and recently starred in his own miniseries — was it always the plan to bring him in at some point? And how big of an impact can we expect him to have? Obviously there's the connection with Finesse…
Gage: I know that from the moment I wrote him fleeing the Fall of Asgard in Avengers: The Initiative that I wanted to write Taskmaster again. What Fred Van Lente did with him in the miniseries actually fit in perfectly with the notion we’ve been teasing that Taskmaster may be Finesse’s biological father, yet never have mentioned it or reached out to her. I think it turned out to be a really cool issue, with Mike McKone delivering an amazing, brutal fight between them for his last issue as interior artist.
#12 cover.Nrama: Also upcoming is the return or Korvac, who at face seems like sort of an odd choice to introduce into this book, if only because the last time we saw him he was scattered across six dimensions by the Cosmic Cube. What makes him right for this story?
Gage: I wanted the kids to go up against a huge, cosmic-level Avengers threat. The sort of villain you imagine all the Avengers uniting to take on, like Ultron or Kang. Korvac seemed like a perfect choice for a variety of reasons, some of which will become clear when you read the story. In fact, I’ll spoil one now, because some readers may have already thought of it: Korvac’s origin is not unlike those of the Academy kids themselves. He was badly abused (by the Badoon) and traumatized, then he gained great power, and used it in a destructive way, influenced by his trauma. In a sense, he is an extreme, dark reflection of what the kids could become if Avengers Academy fails in its mission.
#11 cover.Nrama: And coming on board the book with that Korvac story is new series artist Tom Raney. Artistically, what's he bringing to the title?
Gage: Awesomeness! Hopefully everyone who read issue #7, in which Tom drew an epic fight between Giant Man and the Absorbing Man, will agree. I’ve been a fan of Tom’s since his work on cosmic-scale books like Warlock and Thor, but I also knew from his StormWatch run that he’s amazing with character work as well, and this book really needs someone who can do both. Tom is that guy. And he tackled the army of characters I threw at him in issue #11 – both adult Avengers teams along with our regular cast – without complaint and delivered beautifully, so I know he can handle anything! While we’ll all miss Mike, Tom and ace inker Scott Hanna, along with our maestro of the palette, Jeromy Cox, are perfect for the book. And I can’t close without mentioning Sean Chen, who has been doing amazing work on the semi-regular “extra” issues we’ll be shipping on a biweekly schedule at several points in 2011! It’s wonderful to collaborate with him again. It’s an embarrassment of artistic riches, and I just hope I can live up to their talent!