CLASH journalist Jessie Maness interviewed Dennis Hopeless, a comic-book writer for Marvel Comics. Hopeless wrote the limited series: Avengers Arena. In it, sixteen teenage superheroes are trapped on an island where they must fight to survive.
Jessie Maness for CLASH: Was Avengers Arena an idea you had for a while or did it just appear to you one day?
Dennis Hopeless: I was asked to pitch slightly harder edged follow-up to Avengers Academy. I pitched a teen super hero school book based around the characters who later became The Braddock Academy. I also turned in a few arc plot ideas. One of those plots was a tri-wizard tournament type of contest between Marvel schools that devolves into Hunger Games/Battle Royale when a villain takes control. Axel Alonso (Marvel EIC) read my pitch, pointed to that plot and said “There’s your plot. Just do that.”
CLASH: Out of all the villains in the Marvel Universe, why Arcade? What made him stand out from the crowd?
DH: Arcade just made sense for the concept. I fought against using him for a while because he’s always been so silly and I wanted a more serious tone. Eventually my editors convinced me to accept the challenge of making the character cool. Looking back, it was the best decision we could have made.
CLASH: I’ll say. You’ve received a lot of hate mail from fans of Avengers Academy for killing off Mettle in the first issue. Do you regret killing him off?
DH: I stand by the story but that’s not to say the death’s were fun or without regret. The hardest part of writing the story was killing characters. I learned that lesson with Mettle. That scene was brutal to write.
CLASH: Were you surprised by the criticism the book received or was it something you expected, when you first started writing it?
DH: I was pretty blindsided by the pre-release fan fury. This was by far and away my highest profile job and I wasn’t expecting such a loud response of any kind. In hindsight that was pretty naive. Marvel fans are extremely passionate and protective of their favorite characters. As much as I disagree with our detractors, I absolutely respect their passion.
CLASH: The art has been praised by many people (including me). IGN said in their review for #15: “If you were similarly stranded on a desert island, the number one thing you’d need to survive, after a satellite phone and some water, would be Walker’s art on this series.” So my question is; How did you guys meet?
DH: Series editor Bill Rosemann brought Kev in. They had worked together on Thunderbolts and he was the first artist Bill reached out to for the series. In other words, I just got extremely lucky. Kev’s art is the very best thing about Avengers Arena.
CLASH: Where did the idea for The Braddock Academy kids come from?
DH: Initially I thought I had to create an entire cast of new characters. I created The Braddock Academy kids and Death Locket. When the concept of the book changed and it was clear we’d be pulling in teen characters from all over the Marvel Universe, I needed a home for my new characters. Several of them were already British and I love Captain Britain so creating a Braddock Academy just made sense. The individual characters themselves came from a lot of different places. Cullen Bloodstone started out as my excuse to get his sister Elsa into the book. Aiden owes a lot to my childhood love of He-Man. Death Locket, Nara and Katy were originally designed to be part of a Mean Girls bullying storyline. Most of the characters became something very different that what I’d originally intended. Part of that came out of Kev’s designs. Part of it came from Arena being a very different kind of story.
CLASH: One of the biggest shocks from the book, has to be the moment where Aiden cuts off Kid Britons head. How do you think that’ll effect Aiden in Avengers Undercover?
DH: Like most of the kids who make it out, Aiden will leave the Arena a very different character than the one who entered. Traumatic experiences change people in a lot of different way. Killing a classmate definitely changed Aiden. So did several other things he went through in Murder World. Those changes are the primary focus of Undercover. It’s the story of a group of survivors trying to find a new place within their old lives.
CLASH: How did it feel to kill off your own character?
DH: It hurt every time we killed any character. I’m a fan Avengers Academy. I’m a fan of Darkhawk. I’m a Runaways super fan. Anytime we killed any character, I felt like I was killing my own character. I didn’t create all of them but I took ownership of them the moment I put them in the book. The deaths were never easy.
CLASH: X-23 had to be a difficult to have in the series, considering she has a healing factor.
DH: She’s difficult to kill for sure. But she’s also come a long way from the child assassin she once was. Laura has made a vow never to kill again. That makes her a very interesting character to put in a death match.
CLASH: Cullen has to be the most intriguing character in AA. I was very anxious to see what he could do. Now that I have, all I can say is: That’s fucking awesome. Where did the inspiration come for him?
DH: It came from my love of all things Bloodstone. I wanted to give Elsa a little brother with an embarrassing secret that makes him extremely introverted. Since he comes from a long line of monster hunters, it just made sense that his dark secret is BEING a monster. I guess I clearly like tortured characters.
CLASH: How will Cullen’s and Aiden’s relationship be in Avengers Undercover?
DH: Not spoiling that just yet. But different. Definitely different.
CLASH: Sweet. You excited for AU?
DH: Very. I’m working on the second script this week. It’s a lot of fun taking some of the Arena characters into a very different kind of story. After 18 issues in one setting and one real villain, I love the freedom Arena gives us.
CLASH: Were you surprised that the book lasted this long?
DH: Not surprised really, but thrilled. We planned on 18 issues and got them. If sales hadn’t held we would have been forced to cut it short.
CLASH: Well, I’m glad it wasn’t. Last question. Battle Royale or Hunger Games?
DH: I love them both. Despite the obvious plot similarities, they’re very different stories. Hunger Games is about class warfare and all the ways in which the haves take advantage of the have-nots. Battle Royale seems to be about the brutal competition that is the Japanese education system. With Arena we tried to take our inspiration from both while tackling our own Marvel Universe based themes.