Gage Examines his Avengers Academy tenure
Unlettered Previews 1-3 for Avengers Academy #39
CBR News: Christos, take us back to the early days of your “Avengers Academy” work when you were first offered this assignment. How fully fleshed out was the book’s core concept when Marvel offered it to you? And what made the book appealing to you?
Christos Gage: Well, it started out while I was writing “Avengers: The Initiative,” which was sort of the spiritual precursor to “Avengers Academy.” Dan Slott began that title, I came on board as co-writer with #8, I think, and then with #21 I started writing it solo as Dan moved on to “Mighty Avengers.” Even before Dan left, we knew that the Initiative, as a program in the Marvel Universe, was coming to an end, and had talked about what would come next. My memory’s a little fuzzy, but I think we agreed early on that since the Initiative was, in essence, a draft for super humans, a boot camp where they trained like an army, what made the most sense for a post-Initiative world was a school for the next generation of Avengers, where the students were there voluntarily. I think Dan may even have come up with the name “Avengers Academy.”
Dan moved on before the idea was really fleshed out, so it was up to me to come up with the hook for the series. I thought the most interesting approach would be that the student body, rather than being made up of the best, most heroic and upstanding kids with powers, should be superhuman “at-risk kids” who are at a point where they could become either heroes or villains. So at an Avengers summit where I was to pitch the idea of “Avengers Academy,” I put forth that idea, though it involved a pretty sci-fi oriented setup, sort of a “Days Of Future Past” approach involving time travel where the kids saw a tomorrow where they were these horrible people.
The folks at the summit, which included a pretty impressive brain trust including Ed Brubaker, Brian Bendis, and Matt Fraction, as well as Dan Buckley, Joe Quesada, Axel Alonso and the rest of editorial, suggested a simpler approach. I think it was Joe who suggested the kids just find out their psych profiles by hacking into the Avengers’ computers. That was one of those head-slap moments for me, where I was like, “Duh! That’s so much better!” Simpler, more elegant and more personal. That’s why I do all my screenwriting with my wife; she reins in my comic book sensibilities and grounds them in reality. But at this summit I realized that’s often the best way to go in comics as well. Having a story grounded in basic human, real-world roots makes for the most effective approach. And then Ed Brubaker suggested a Scared Straight crossover with the Thunderbolts, and I was all, “These summits are great!”
As for what made the book appealing to me, it was the idea that these kids are trying to rise above the limitations set upon them by their elders, by society, and by fate to become something better. That, to me, is true heroism. I also liked the fact that the setup had such a striking parallel to the teenage years for all of us — it’s a time when one good or bad choice can change the rest of your life forever. That’s always true, but it seems those moments just come fast and furious in adolescence.
One of the elements that made “Avengers Academy” so unique was it featured a cast of predominantly new characters. What was it like getting to add several new toys to the Marvel toy box? Had you ever created that many new character at one time for a book?
It was terrific, and even more so because I was doing it with artist Mike McKone. He had a huge impact on the characters, from Mettle’s skull-faced look — which gave me the idea that he wasn’t just a guy with metal skin, but he’d had his skin torn off — and Hazmat’s ethnicity, as well as Finesse looking like an “evil Audrey Hepburn” and Striker’s costume. I actually had created that many new characters at one time before, when inventing new Fifty State Initiative teams, but they were pretty much meant to be background flavor. This was my first time creating this many new characters to star in their own book.
Your new cast included Mettle, Hazmat, Striker, Veil, and Finesse. What led you to create these characters specifically? What inspired them?
The one common thread was that, for most of them, I wanted to give them powers that were as much a curse as a blessing. Aside from that, I keep a list of character names and descriptions that I write down as they occur to me, so I pulled from there. And as I mentioned, Mike had a big influence on their development as well.
You also included a relatively new character in the line-up, Reptil. Why did you want him to be part of the book? What do you feel he added to the initial cast?
Well, he was created for the “Super Hero Squad” cartoon, and I wrote the “Initiative” special that introduced him to the Marvel Comics universe, so it seemed like a natural. Plus, I love dinosaurs. Have since I was a tiny kid. No more complicated than that.
The other big aspect of “Avengers Academy” was the characters’ torture at the hands of Norman Osborn. Did you know that element was going to be part of your cast’s back story when you were coming up with them? And if so did it impact the creation of the characters at all?
To the best of my recollection that was always going to be part of the origin story of the characters. It gave them all a reason that they could “go bad” and also a shared experience, and of course it made story sense in terms of transitioning from “Dark Reign” to the “Heroic Age.” In terms of how they were visualized, however, I don’t think Norman Osborn had any impact. We knew we wanted several of them to have powers that were as much a curse as a blessing, but that was separate from Osborn — though he accentuated that side of things.