AVENGERS ACADEMY WEEK: Gage on the Series So Far, Part 1

AVENGERS ACADEMY WEEK: Series So Far

For the latest installment of Newsarama's "Avengers Academy Week," we're discussing the development of the series — which debuted in June 2010 and is now 22 issues into its run — with series writer Christos Gage, who's answering our questions and providing insight into each story arc released thus far. Gage has written every issue of Avengers Academy, which stars six troubled young superheoes-in-training scarred by Norman Osborn's experiments on them during his "Dark Reign" over the Marvel Universe. With visuals from artists including Mike McKone, Sean Chen and Tom Raney, it's become a fan-favorite among Marvel's publishing line.

Taking an inspirational cue from The A.V. Club's feature "The Walkthrough," here are recaps and commentary on the major happenings of Avengers Academy #1-#8, with the rest of the series covered in the second half, coming Thursday.

 

"Permanent Record" (Avengers Academy #1-#2)

Recap: The series debuts with the students — Veil, Hazmat, Mettle, Finesse, Striker and Reptil — meeting the teachers; Hank Pym, Tigra, Justice, Speedball, Quicksilver and Jocasta. Finesse attempts to form a bond with Quicksilver, and issue #1 ends with the revelation that the Avengers Academy pupils are there not because of their potential for heroism, but their because they've been targeted as possible future villains.

Newsarama: Christos, let's go back to the start— as in, back before the first issue was even out. Going into the launch of Avengers Academy, how excited were you by the prospect of launching a series starring almost entirely new characters? And was there a sense of trepidation, too?

Christos Gage: You're right, it was both exciting and nerve-wracking. This was my first time creating new characters for Marvel (aside from the legendary Butterball, of course) so it was a thrill. And I had Mike McKone co-creating them, which reassured me they'd look great.

On the other hand, I don't have to tell you that books featuring new characters have not done well in the marketplace for the last couple of decades. Readers seem to prefer characters they already know. Fortunately, we had a few of those in the form of the teachers, so between that, the Avengers name, and Mike on art, I figured we had about as good a shot as a book with new characters was going to get in this day and age.

A lot of Internet pundits predicted the book wouldn't last a year… well, I just got done writing #28. So I really have to thank Marvel for believing in Avengers Academy, the many fantastic retailers who embraced it and recommended it to their customers, and our amazing readers for spreading the word of how much they liked it and supporting us with their hard earned dollars. I hope they feel their faith in Avengers Academy is being rewarded.

Nrama: Also, here's something I had forgotten but remembered while researching for this — during the original promotional unveiling of the main cast, Mettle was called "Fortress." What caused the name switch?

Gage: It's pretty simple…it came to our attention that there was a character called Fortress at Image. I can't remember in what book. [Newsarama Note: A character named Fortress debuted in 2009's Image United #1.] I don't believe they raised any objection, but we felt it was best to change the name just to be safe.

 

Nrama: Avengers Academy #2 saw the debut of the letter column, with you personally answering the questions. Letter columns themselves are somewhat of a rarity these days, especially one written by the writer — what inspired this move?

Gage: Well, for one thing, I just like letter columns. You could argue that Internet message boards sort of fulfill that function now, but I still think letter columns have a place… there's something about a forum that's in the comic itself that's special, at least to me. The first time I saw my name printed in a comic (Alpha Flight #4… go look, it's there!) was huge thrill for me, and I figured people would still get a kick out of it.

Plus, while I do spend time on message boards and Twitter, I felt there was nothing like a letters page to give a voice to questions and comments readers have and poll the readership as to how they feel. Finally, I wanted to reward those who buy the book in single-issue form by giving them something that's not in the collected editions. I still love doing it, and as long as the book continues, so will the letters page.

 

"Scared Straight" (Avengers Academy #3-#4)

Recap: A visit to maximum security penitentiary the Raft results in a clash with Juggernaut and a face-to-face confrontation with Norman Osborn, who manipulated the main cast members during "Dark Reign." Plus, more glimpses into the team's past are seen, Iron Fist and Valkyrie show up as guest instructors, and Speedball's seen to not be completely over the psychological issues that tormented him as Penance.

Nrama: Just a couple of months into the series came a crossover (of sorts) with Thunderbolts. Why was it important to have this interaction early on in the book?

Gage: Actually, Ed Brubaker suggested it in an Avengers summit — we were discussing the new prison-oriented direction on Thunderbolts and he said, "You should do a Scared Straight crossover!" I talked it over with Jeff Parker and he thought it sounded like a lot of fun, so we did it, but we wanted to do it in such a way that readers of either title didn't feel they'd have to buy the other if they didn't want to. But I did feel like it was important to establish, fairly early on, a connection to the larger Marvel Universe and the world of the Avengers. That's why you got guest teacher cameos like Valkyrie and Iron Fist… that, and because they were fun!

 

"Fame" / "I Dreamed a Dream" / "Always on My Mind" (Avengers Academy #5-7)

Recap: A fight with Whirlwind leads to the public discovering the then-secret existence of Avengers Academy, Reptil gets elected class leader and advice from Jessica Jones, and Hank Pym returns to his "Giant-Man" persona following a fight with Absorbing Man. Also, things get awkward between Finesse and Reptil, and Hank thinks he's figured out a way to bring the Wasp back to life.

Nrama: Avengers Academy #7 saw Hank Pym abandoning calling himself "Wasp" — as he had since Janet Van Dyne's death in Secret Invasion — and returning to his familiar Giant-Man identity. Was it always part of the plan to get him back in that role?

Gage: I actually wanted to do it from the start, but Tom Brevoort pointed out, correctly, that Hank has switched identities so many times that another arbitrary change wouldn't mean much. He felt we needed to build up to it, and I agreed.

A lot of readers thought the change came about because Giant-Man was in the [Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes] cartoon, but that had nothing to do with it. I just realized that Giant-Man was Hank's most iconic identity, probably because it's the most visually striking — he's a giant! Think about it — when you see alternate world Avengers, he's always Giant-Man.

Anyway, I thought it was time to go back to the role that defined him the most strikingly — sort of his most pure form — without taking away the abilities he'd gained since (i.e., shrinking and growing objects and other people). Sort of have the best of all worlds. I think it's worked out nicely. Every time I see him at giant size on a page of art I just get a visceral kick out of it.

 

"Powerless" (Avengers Academy #8)

Recap: The Avengers Academy class discovers the tape of The Hood brutally beating up Tigra (from back in New Avengers #35) and unite to exact some vengeance on behalf of their teacher. Notably, this issue appeared on the 30 Rock episode "Queen of Jordan" (airing March 17, 2011), when the character Frank Rossitano deep-fries it an attempt to prove that he's moved past his childish ways.

Nrama: This issue obviously dealt with some very heavy territory involving Tigra and the Hood — but is also famous for a different reason. What was it like seeing an issue of your comic deep-fried on an episode of 30 Rock?

Gage: One word: fun. That's one of my absolute favorite shows and, at the risk of sounding like a snob, one of the few network comedies I've been able to watch in recent years.

The funny thing is, I hadn't watched the episode, I'd DVRed it. The next day, my Twitter feed was blowing up with fans asking me if I'd seen it. So after watching it I sent a tongue-in-cheek Twitter challenge to Judah Friedlander, who plays Frank Rossitano, the character who fried the comic. He responded with good humor, which was nice as it was kind of presumptuous of me to do that without knowing him personally. The subsequent video response Joe Quesada and Tom Brevoort did, with a hilarious appearance by major comic book fan Scott Adsit (30 Rock's Pete), was hilarious. I even heard Joe showed it at the D23 Disney convention. So I'm glad everyone had such a good time with it, and if it brings even one new reader to Avengers Academy, it was worth sacrificing that copy to the deep fryer.

The funny thing is, my wife and I have written for TV before — episodes of Law & Order: SVU, among others — and seeing Avengers Academy fried on 30 Rock was just as exciting as seeing my own writing credit on the screen!

Check back Thursday for Part 2, covering "Super Hero Prom," Fear Itself and more.

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