With the Avengers at the core of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the franchise has gotten a big push in comics over the past decade, spawning multiple titles that expanded the team’s presence in the Marvel Comics line-up. This gradually diluted the brand with too many books taking on the Avengers name and pulling the property in different directions, and for its Marvel Legacy initiative, the publisher consolidated the Avengers books to bring the separate teams together for one unified mission. “No Surrender” is a 16-part weekly storyline that has been running since January, merging Mark Waid’s Avengers, Jim Zub’s Uncanny Avengers, and Al Ewing U.S.Avengers into one central Avengers series co-written by all three creators with a different artist for each month’s crop of books.
“No Surrender” has the Avengers turned into pawns in a competition between two Elders of the Universe: The Challengers and The Grandmaster (taking advantage of Jeff Goldblum’s memorable turn as the character in Thor: Ragnarok). They’ve whisked Earth away to a pocket dimension and turned it into a battleground for select members of the Avengers, a resurrected Black Order—soon to make its big screen debut in Avengers: Infinity War—and a reimagined Lethal Legion. A weekly series is ambitious, but the actual story is not, telling a very conventional tale of heroes fighting villains as they try to get their hands on MacGuffins that score points for the cosmic players. These writers have managed to keep the stakes high and have a firm handle on how these characters play off of each other, but this is very much the comic-book equivalent of a popcorn flick. Each chapter is entertaining in the moment, but quickly fades from memory once it’s done.
A new hero, Voyager, was retconned into the Avengers’ origin story in the Marvel Legacy one-shot, and the reveal of her identity is anticlimactic given that Marvel set her up for a major role. She’s actually the daughter of the Grandmaster, planted within the Avengers to give him an advantage in this game, but her brief time working with the team has inspired her to pursue the path of heroism. Avengers #687 (Marvel Comics) has the rest of the heroes learning the truth about their teammate, and it’s a breather issue that delves into what it truly means to be an Avenger. There’s a dig at fans who obsess over power levels when Lightning says that he’s not valuable because he wasn’t able to stop a threat when he gave his all, and Wonder Man reminds him that Avengers aren’t defined by their ability, but what they choose to do with it.
With the exception of a few fill-in pages during Kim Jacinto’s month, the artwork has stayed consistent for nearly all of “No Surrender.” Jacinto, Pepe Larraz, and Paco Medina are all artists that can draw blockbuster superhero action, but they also get the opportunity to tap into retro art styles thanks to Voyager’s arc, and #687 has Medina channeling Jack Kirby and John Buscema with shots of Voyager fading from her teammates’ memories. Mark Brooks’ covers are a highlight of “No Surrender,” and while he does strong work with more traditional narrative covers showcasing specific moments from the story, working on so many covers gives him the opportunity to be more imaginative with his design and compositions. Avengers #676 is a cover of a cover, showing two hands holding the very first issue of Avengers, which now has Voyager inserted in the original line-up; Avengers #682 is an in-your-face close-up of Hulk’s rage; and this week’s Avengers #688 is a gorgeous art nouveau-inspired image that shows a softer side of these characters.
The emotional content of “No Surrender” becomes much deeper with the addition of the Hulk, and there’s an especially powerful scene in #687 that emphasizes the horror of the Hulk concept. Bruce Banner is finally back in control after a Hulk rampage in the last few issues, and as Bruce comes to terms with the fact that his monstrous side is immortal, he begins to feel like he’s dead and trapped in hell. Bruce’s conversation with the Avengers’ butler, Jarvis, sets up the internal conflict that will be further explored in Ewing’s The Immortal Hulk series in June, and there’s a profound tragedy in Bruce’s situation that gives him a major hurdle to overcome in order to realize his heroic potential.