Avengers #678 - No Surrender Part 4
Writers Mark Waid, Al Ewing, and Jim Zub bring the heat in the fourth chapter of “No Surrender,” the massive non-event event running weekly in Avengers, with a cliffhanger that, however tenuous its ending might be, is sure to ruffle feathers. Rendered by the sensational Pepe Larraz, with colors by David Curiel, this issue regains the series’ footing and drives it forward with heaps of action and big revelations, and, oh yeah, that cliffhanger.
**Spoilers for Avengers #678 below**
The stakes continue to ratchet up for the various Avengers squads, now delineated by the location of their battles with the “Black-Lethal-Order-Legion,” as viewpoint character Johnny Storm puts it. The two teams of villains have themselves split in two, each vying to be the first to reach two artifacts that have fallen to Earth (as seen last issue). The respective Avengers teams, attempting to piece together what’s happening through little more than context, each reach the same conclusion, that they should attempt to reach the artifact first. One team, however, learns that this act is one not to be taken likely, racing to warn the other team of what what they’ve learned before it’s too late.
Of course, given the apparent power levels of the Grandmaster and his opponent, it’s hard to take any of this at face value, especially since much of the Black Order has been killed before their appearance in this story. If our combatants can return characters back from the dead to fight a proxy war for them, how seriously should readers take the death of a character within the pages of this story? The permanence of death in this story remains to be seen, but that likely does little to mitigate the shock of this issue’s cliffhanger.
Yes, it’s Johnny Storm who appears to have made a fatal error in the final page of Avengers #678. After seeing Black Dwarf killed when he touched the artifact, Lightning raced across the globe to warn the other team, getting there just in time...to see Johnny grab the artifact. The next cover, in the context of this reveal, certainly implies that things won’t turn out well for Johnny. How (or even if) this will impact Chip Zdarsky’s Marvel Two-In-One remains to be be seen, but good money is on this being undone (or recontextualized to mean he didn’t really die in the first place) before “No Surrender” comes to an end. This reality may undermine the impact of this ending for some readers, but, within the story, it’s hard to deny that it’s a shocking and heart-wrenching turn of events.
In terms of the execution of the rest of the issue, the writers seem to really be hitting their stride, especially with other mysteries pushed to the side for the moment to allow the core events to really stand out. This issue gives us the biggest clue as to how this story is going to play out, in the form of a giant number 1 that cements its place as a successor to both the original and 2015 Contest of Champions books. Though the nature of the contest may have changed, the Grandmaster's modus operandi has not. And while it may read to some as an uninspired retread, the freshness of the approach will assuage all but the most jaded that this is a great extension of the legacy of those stories, and not merely a lazy recall to past glory. That is especially aided by superstar-in-the-making Pepe Larraz. It’s a shame he can’t draw the whole series, but, given the pace, it’s obvious that wouldn’t be in the cards no matter how high is page output is. Hopefully the book won’t be thrown off next issue when Kim Jacinto, who is handing (most) of the next leg of this series, takes over art duties. At least colorist David Curiel will still be working his vibrant magic and will lend some needed cohesion between artists.
Overall, this is another strong chapter in an event that, while variable, continues to show itself worthy of carrying the Avengers title, giving readers a massive, high stakes story with plenty of gravitas and heart, and even a few laughs along the way. That said, the story is still bogged down by the increasingly jaded nature of modern readership, with some likely unmoved by Johnny’s apparent death, since the likelihood that it will be permanent are slim. But for readers looking for big, bombastic superhero showdowns, with clear heroes fighting villains who are playing for keeps, this is one of the best books on the stands.