Written by Jim Zub, Mark Waid, Al Ewing
Art by Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Jesus Aburtov, Morry Hollowell, Cory Petit
Edited by Alanna Smith, Tom Brevoort
Published by Marvel Comics
Release Date: March 14, 2018
“Humans are full of surprises. They make for entertaining obstacles and useful pawns.”
En Dwi Gast – the Grandmaster – speaks those lines to Challenger to open the main part of the “No Surrender” story in Avengers #684. With the fifth Pyramoid claimed, but each gamer stalemated, Grandmaster and Challenger unfurl additional developments that add depth to the plot of “No Surrender” and use this issue as a path to merge the various storylines back together for the home stretch.
Avengers #684 opens with a Hulk retrospective that appears to lead directly into The Immortal Hulk coming soon from writer Al Ewing (one of the trio of “No Surrender” writers) and artist Joe Bennett. Joining these two are Ruy Jose on inks and Morry Hollowell on colors.
Labeled a “prologue” in the text page of Avengers #684, this ten-page story is told from Bruce Banner’s point of view and provides a quick rundown of the Hulk’s history. Ewing is less concerned with the nuance of Hulk’s adventures and reputation and focuses on Hulk’s brushes with mortality before the final, revelatory three-quarters splash page that brings the Hulk (with a new adjective) into “No Surrender”.
Bennett’s Banner is slender and deceptively frail, a visual contrast to his take on the Hulk. Jose’s inks are strong and solid, adding depth and texture to Bennett’s characters and settings, truly collaborating. Hollowell’s colors are on point for the adventure, which includes iridescent gamma radiation, mundane lab equipment, and other noteworthy Marvel Universe characters from Thing to Spider-Man.
Orange text on dark gray caption boxes are an interesting choice for Banner, but letterer Cory Petit makes it work, especially in contrast to overlapping dialog from the story under the narration which is in gray-green boxes. Petit makes is quite clear to the readers that Banner and Hulk are not one and the same in Avengers #684.
The Challenger and his signature word balloon style makes an appearance at the end of the Hulk story to bridge into the issue proper, with Petit solidifying the story through his smart lettering choices.
Banner does not cross over into the main story, but Hulk does, and that changes everything. No only does Hulk take the lead on panel appearances, he takes the story and breaks it.
Hulk may have the most panels, but Voyager takes the narrational lead, just in time for the Hospital Avengers (not their actual title, but there it is, Marvel, you’re welcome) make a discovery about her, thanks to a revived Jarvis. Voyager provides some additional revelations that shift the direction of this series while the writing trio gives readers another zig and even a zag regarding Voyager before the end of Avengers #684. It’s not quite a full-on convergence, but even the most jaded fan will find something to admire in the twist.
Writers Jim Zub, Al Ewing, and Mark Waid begin to bring “No Surrender” to a logical conclusion, and have a bunch of characters to check in with across the issue. They do an admirable job, giving a number of the Avengers a chance to shine while emphasizing the breadth of the team as all factions attempt to converge on the Avengers Auxiliary Headquarters. Which is exactly where the Hulk is going. And where the final Pyramoid is.
The main story is standard-issue twenty pages, drawn by the smart tag-team of penciler Paco Medina and inker Juan Vlasco. The duo packs the panels with George Pérez-level details and constructs the pages with smooth storytelling flow. Medina and Vlasco have a strong artistic bond, gracefully sharing responsibility for the finished image. Vlasco uses a nice range of finishing styles, and even contributes to the Kirby Krackle that every good Avengers comic should have in it somewhere. For his part, Medina stages some dynamic mid-action shots of Hulk that could be boosted to iconic levels if given a chance. Another panel packs in eleven characters, a Quinjet, and debris – in a quarter of a page. This is definitely Avengers-worthy art for “No Surrender,” with Medina and Vlasco proving they can tackle anything written in their direction.
The single panel of Voyager returning to the Headquarters is a gorgeous collaboration that is equal parts pencils, inks, colors, and lettering. Medina and Vlasco bring lighting, shading, storytelling, and construction to the panel, but the mystically uncertain purple hues from colorist David Curiel elevates the story in the panel to epic proportions while Petit pastes on a sound effect that is transparent, but impactful. The magic of comics is that every panel is a story in and of itself, but this particular panel set my imagination ablaze with possibilities for Voyager – past and future – that could be unlocked by this creative team or another.
Aside from a minor typo, and a little bit of sameface (Nadia and Voyager have very similar hairstyles and noses) Avengers #684 is a nice, Hulk-sized issue that gives “No Surrender” a supercharge to head towards the finish line. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next few issues, but with an unchecked Hulk, a few too many Avengers, and a pair of cosmic-level manipulators both averse to losing, anything seems possible.
The Verdict: 9.5/10