Avengers #679 - No Surrender Part 5
The identity of the mysterious challenger is revealed, and he’s got one last trick up his sleeve.
**Contains spoilers for Avengers #678 and mild spoilers for Avengers #679**
Avengers: No Surrender, the massive story written by Mark Waid, Al Ewing, and Jim Zub, enters its second quarter (no, really, it’s 16 issues total), gaining a darker tone, in no small part due to artist Kim Jacinto. Jacinto’s sketchier style, with similarities in his renderings to greats such as Olivier Coipel and Leinil Yu, pairs well with the place the Avengers now find themselves, down a team member and facing a threat of epic proportions, one they barely understand.
Luckily for readers, Waid, Ewing, and Zub begin to peel back some of the mysteries, finally giving a backstory to the mysterious challenger, one that may not satisfy everyone but certainly has synergy with the classic “Marvel Super Hero: Contest of Champions.” That 1982 limited series, the first of its kind for Marvel, detailed a battle between The Grandmaster, an Elder of the Universe, and the literal embodiment of Death. Using Earth’s heroes as combatants, the two powerful entities wagered for the life of The Collector, The Grandmaster’s brother. With the origin of this new challenger, the story is mirrored in a fascinating way that really makes No Surrender a sequel to the first Contest of Champions without invoking its name. That may have been a smart move, one that divests itself from the popular mobile game entirely, avoiding fan skepticism of cheap tie-in books and easy cash grabs, while still allowing the writers to craft a new tale in the spirit of that classic comic.
However, beyond this, there isn’t too much else that happens in this chapter. The mystery of Jarvis’s condition gets an odd twist, and the fallout of Johnny’s death is handled by a few of his teammates. Of course, it’s also shown that Johnny might be less dead than he appears, a revelation that will likely shock no one. That said, the final page does its job of making sure readers will want to come back next issue.
The trio of writers seem to work well together, but have the herculean task of juggling all these plot threads and characters, which has made single issues of the series seem thin or uneventful, even as they make the necessary set up to move the story along. Even with a few meaty reveals, there just doesn’t seem to be much to go on with this issue, as the origin of the challenger takes up a substantial portion of it, and, synergy aside, it’s hardly fun or exciting, or even very fresh. Additionally, the cliffhanger was spoiled almost two months ago, so, even as the implication may be shocking, it’s undercut by the nature of marketing for a story like this. This is hardly the fault of Mark Waid, Al Ewing, and Jim Zub, but it undeniably alters the experience, leaving readers wanting after the great execution of the previous issue.
On the art side, the transition to Kim Jacinto is hardly seamless, but it works tonally, almost as if the “death” of Johnny has fundamentally changed the experience for these characters and that’s being reflecting in the sketchier linework and heavier shadows. David Curiel maintains the same color palette as he used with Pepe Larraz, but the difference in technique is stark. As mentioned before, Jacinto could, at times, be confused for Olivier Coipel or Leinil Yu. His facial work, however, isn’t as strong as Coipel’s, but he does a better job with women than Yu. Time will tell how Jacinto’s work will develop and if he can find a way to stand out from these comparisons, but he’s hardly in bad company right now.
With a series paced this tightly, where entire issues take place over relatively short periods of time consecutively, there is a real danger that the reader can get burned out. It isn’t so bad yet, and the weekly pace mitigates that to a degree, but issues like this, even as they move the plot forward, increase the risk that people will lose interest. Hopefully the writers have more tricks up their sleeve to keep it all moving, as there are a lot of issues left before No Surrender concludes.