I’m not sure that the comics-reading world actually needed Marvel Comics’ weekly, 16-part “Avengers: No Surrender” event — but I’m glad it exists, all the same.
The event, which reaches the not-quite-three-quarters-done mark with Avengers #685, has had at least these three things going for it: 1) It has been thoroughly self-contained, not requiring readers to pick up any additional tie-ins to follow the storyline; 2) It has shipped on time (so far — somebody better knock wood, now that I’ve said that), and, 3) Most important of all, it has been consistently well-written and well-drawn by a team of creators who have done a commendable job of not letting the seams show. I have no idea how the three scripters — Jim Zub, Mark Waid, and Al Ewing (the regular writers for Uncanny Avengers, Avengers, and U.S.Avengers, respectively) have divided up their duties — to put it another way, I can’t tell who’s written what — and I think that’s pretty impressive.
If, by some chance, you’re still unaware of the event’s premise, here are the basics: the Earth has been stolen to be used as a cosmic gameboard between En Dwi Gast, the Grandmaster, and his challenger, the, um, Challenger. Both of these cosmic gamers are fielding a team of superbeings, each of which is competing to claim one of the prizes, powerful objects called Pyramoids. It’s an old story concept, going back at least to the Grandmaster’s original appearance back in Avengers #69 (October, 1969), although there’s a twist this time — the Avengers, rather than being an unwilling team for one of the players (which is how this usually goes), serve in the role of “designated obstacles” for the actual teams, the Black Order (Thanos’ old crew) and the Lethal Legion (a new group using an old name).
All of the heroes appearing in the three regular Avengers titles have a role in the story, though for some it’s been a rather small one so far, due to a plot device that had the majority of the Avengers abruptly placed into stasis near the beginning of the crisis. Incidentally, that plot device — which initially appeared to be nothing more than a way to whittle down the casts of the three titles to a less unwieldy number of characters — has actually turned out to be crucial to several significant story beats (including one in this very issue). That’s been just one of the unexpected, if minor, pleasures of this thus-far thoroughly entertaining series.
One “wild card” introduced into the series early on was a heretofore-unknown “founding” Avenger named Voyager, originally presented as a veteran hero remembered by all the Avengers, even though she’d never appeared in a Marvel comic before now. And since the Marvel Universe had been rebooted at the end of 2015-16’s Secret Wars miniseries, fans had to wonder whether the “new” Avengers’ history had in fact changed so drastically that the classic stories we knew from Avengers #1 (September, 1963) forward were no longer valid. Issue #683, however, revealed that Voyager was an impostor — she’s actually the daughter of the Grandmaster, planted into the game as his “ace in the hole”, though, unbeknownst to him, she’s actually got an agenda of her own.
That revelation may have been a disappointment for some fans (such as my fellow Comicon.com writer Sage Ashford), but for we old geezers who (for better or worse) revere the old canon, it came as something of a relief.
The most important plot development in the storyline so far not to be revealed as a red herring or MacGuffin is the return of the original Hulk, Bruce Banner — whose inevitable return from the dead in this event sets up his return to regular publication in the new Immortal Hulk series, to be written by none other “No Surrender” co-scripter Al Ewing. The issue previous to this one, #684, brought the Hulk fully onstage after a couple of earlier issues’ foreshadowing, and the current issue features Ol’ Greenskin throwing down with several Avengers, including the current Red Hulk, General Robert Maverick, whose powers are here augmented by the Iron Patriot armor.
“Avengers: No Surrender” has been compared to 2004-05’s “Avengers Disassemble” event, in the sense that it marks the end of the current era of the team(s) and, presumably, clears the decks for the new “Fresh Start” Avengers title coming later this spring from Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness. This particular issue invites comparisons with that earlier event on the level of plot as well as theme, as a character who “died” in that earlier event appears to bite the farm again in this one — though I wouldn’t advise laying any bets on this demise being any permanent than the previous instance. Regardless of its lasting significance, however, the event is an effective shocker in the context of the present storyline, and helps ratchet up the suspense for the remaining five installments.
Looking past the conclusion of “No Surrender”, it seems unlikely that the majority of characters featured in its pages will also appear in the new Avengers title, or if they do, won’t do so right away. This event, then, represents a final bow for those characters and their attendant storylines, as well as for the three extant series’ creative teams. The writers of those series, along with their artistic collaborators on this combo finale — including (for this issue) penciler Paco Medina, inker Juan Vlasco, and color artist Jesus Aburtov — can and should be proud of the way they’re going out, with a really big bang. However, the present era of Avengers comics may be judged in the years to come, this event should be remembered as a highlight.
Avengers #685 is currently available from Marvel Comics.