Avengers #681 - No Surrender Part 7 Review
Contains mild spoilers for Avengers #681 (unless you saw all the advertising and press about the Hulk coming back)
An origin for Voyager. The Avengers learn the truth about the Lethal Legion and the Black Order. Lots of Fights. And the same cliffhanger. Again.
Avengers: No Surrender, the weekly story written by Mark Waid, Al Ewing, and Jim Zub, nears its halfway point, delivering an action-packed chapter that, regrettably, suffers from an artist change mid-issue and another repetitive cliffhanger teasing the return of the original Hulk. Kim Jacinto draws the hell out of his half of the issue, but couldn’t meet the weekly-series schedule, requiring Mike Perkins, an artist better suited for moodier, and more realistic, comics, to step in, a move that neither serves Perkins nor this issue.
The plot, involving a proxy battle between the Grandmaster and the new “Challenger,” doesn’t progress much further, other than Grandmaster’s team, the Lethal Legion, scoring a point and a couple of new players entering the battle. The Avengers, however, have finally discovered the full nature of this ‘Contest of Champions’ and who is behind it. Gleaned separately by the divided teams through telepathy and absorbed memories, this finally puts them in a position of formulating a real plan instead of just reacting to the situation as it comes.
But the Avengers aren’t the only ones who get answers. Readers also get new revelations, in terms of more detail about the “origin” of Valerie Vector, the mysterious new-old hero called Voyager. Inserted, retcon-style, into the founding of the Avengers, Voyager’s tale of gaining her powers echoes similar classic Marvel origins, involving cutting edge pseudo-science (though featuring a much more modern form) and an accident bestowing someone with astounding abilities. Of course, no astute reader would take this story at face value; chances are high that none of this is as it appears, and that the true nature of Voyager is probably the real threat of No Surrender.
This issue is big and bombastic superhero battles almost wall-to-wall, and that’s really what, in the end, makes it one of the stronger entries, story-wise. It’s heroes fighting villains, with big stakes and fantastic displays of superhuman ability, basically what defines the best of superhero team fiction. The one break, featuring Voyager’s backstory, is well executed, making the issue feel like more than just a fight comic, but, in the end, it’s the battles that are gonna make this an enjoyable issue for fans, and Waid, Ewing, and Zub have set the table for it well. And, if it wasn’t for the change of artists, it would be almost flawless.
Kim Jacinto continues to prove himself to be an absolute beast when it comes to big superhero battles. But he seems to have improved even from the last few issues with his rendering of faces outside of the battle, particularly in the well “acted” Voyager flashback. And drawing such a large cast so well, in such breathtaking battle sequences, cannot be easy, so it’s not hard to see how the schedule caught up with him. But it’s a real shame that he wasn’t able to do the whole issue. Mike Perkins, probably best known for his contribution to Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, is an excellent artist, but his style doesn’t jibe at all with Jacinto’s, and the transition is jarring to say the least. Viewed on its own, Perkins hands in excellent pages, with strong action and framing and great facial expressions. But, in contrast to Jacinto’s style, it looks muddy and sloppy, not because of any failing by Perkins, but because of the vast difference between their approaches. Perkins’ rougher and more expressionist style isn’t even overly suited to this type of story, and he does admirably, but choosing him as a fill-in was a glaring misstep by Marvel editorial.
Of course, there is still that cliffhanger. The previous two issues featured sequences teasing the return of the Hulk. There is an absolutely glaring error on their part, using two different settings between the two endings, but the real problem is that this entire thing comes across as lazy, not suspenseful, especially when Marvel’s promotional wing has been shouting from the rooftops that the Hulk is coming back in this series. It’s easy to see why the writer’s wanted to hype the return, and maybe they weren’t aware that it was going to be spoiled before it ever hit stores, but it is overwhelming, which makes it even worse that issue #681 does it again. And moves the location again! The Mount has somehow gone from New Mexico to Nevada to Arizona, through these three issues. The whole things feels poorly thought through and tacked on, and it really undermines the entire issue, like a bad aftertaste to something that had been tasty. Even the interesting twist in the nature of the Hulk, in some ways a throwback to the Azzarello and Corben miniseries Banner, is undermined by these errors.
In the end, this issue, and this series, demonstrate the real reason why weekly comics are not an endeavor that companies want to take on often. It usually doesn’t take long before the wheels just fall off, before everybody starts slipping up and making basic errors because there are just too many moving parts and one small thing becomes compounded by other people’s errors or failings. Even when executed exceptionally well, like with DC’s 52 weekly from 2006, it can still be wracked with problems: the year-long story didn’t end up at all where it was supposed to and generally failed to do the basic things it was intended to do, despite telling a great story on the way to where it wasn’t really meant to go. No Surrender doesn’t look like it can escape this pitfall. It’s already stumbling, and there’s no guarantee that it will be able to stay on its feet, even as it’s been an enjoyable and satisfying series overall. It’s a real shame, too, as this series continues to do something fans have been asking for, namely having heroes fighting villains in high stakes battles like the classic comics. In this, it’s been fantastic, so perhaps it can stay on track and not get bogged down by errors and slip-ups and go on to be a great entry in the Avengers’ library, but, for now, that is hardly a sure thing.