AVENGERS #679 / Writers: Al Ewing, Jim Zub, & Mark Waid / Artist: Kim Jacinto / Color Artist: David Curiel /Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit / Publisher: Marvel / Feb 7, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight in the Cosmic Game Room, we have a Challenger! Meeting head to head with an old familiar, can the Grandmaster defeat this formidable, worthy, and vengeful foe? Or is this the day when the Grandmaster finally meets his match?
A moment to catch my breath, something I’d been yearning for in this chaotic series, finally arrives in Avengers #679. The issue opens boldly, introducing us to the Grandmaster’s mysterious opponent. Mountainous in size and brimming vengeful anger, Challenger has escaped the void, intent on playing a final game with Grandmaster with the highest of stakes.
Back on Earth, the both Avengers teams are reeling to deal with new understandings and losses of team members. In Peru, Lethal Legion’s Captain Glory congratulates Falcon and the rest of the team on beating them in the first round of the game. Understandably confused, the team struggles to come to terms with their new reality: they are obstacles/pawns/players in a game they didn’t know they were playing, a game with life-or-death consequences. By sheer luck, or combination of powers and luck, the Avengers happen to “win” the first round.
As the first round of the game has ended, it makes sense the issues slows down and lets the reader catch their breath. We get to check in on Jarvis, still in the hospital under Beast and Wasp’s care. In a quiet moment, Nadia ponders the chances that Jarvis will recover. He’s been stalwart support for the Avengers for so long, been exposed to all the crazy toxins and radiation over the years, that perhaps his body has absorbed some and now he’s fighting the “Avengers fever” as Beast calls it. It feels like a reach, this diagnosis, but it speaks to the cost for regular people living in a superhero world. This series very clearly shows the costs paid by our heroes to do what they do, to be who they are. We do not always see the cost on the non-super humans who live in the superhero orbit. I found this moment introspective, something this series lacked to this point.
The back half of the issue focuses strongly on revealing the history between Grandmaster and Challenger. As noted more than once in this issue, “All time is a long time” and for those who live a life eternal, that time must be filled. Grandmaster, as we know him today, is an Elder, who also lived by the name En Dwi Gast and filled the time playing games with his brother, the Elder known today as Challenger. Their games started innocently enough, but as all things do between competitors, the stakes grew higher and higher. Eventually, the game—their last together—had the highest stakes of all: the loser was banished from existence. Well, Challenger, known as the Grandmaster then, loses. He loses not only the game…but his existence and name as well. En Dwi Gast assumes the mantle of Grandmaster and moves on. As we all know, no one stays gone forever in the comics.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a very specific panel that impressed me. At the start of the scene between Grandmaster and Challenger, the Challenger has mocked Grandmaster because the obstacles (Avengers) won a round in the game, implying Grandmaster is not as masterful as he seems. Grandmaster counters that he wants a truly spectacular game, and to achieve that, he chose Earth purposefully. Earth has long stood against enemies from without, name-dropping Phoenix, Thanos, and Galactus. Grandmaster acknowledges that Earth has the Avengers and that fact alone makes Earth the ultimate playing field. All this plays out in a single page with five wide frames. It’s the first hopeful feeling I’ve felt, this acknowledgement that Earth has withstood much, thank you Avengers, and is a worthy place for this game. If the Avengers have defeated mighty foes in the past, and Grandmaster acknowledges this, does Earth have a chance again? Only time will tell.
I loved the introduction of Challenger. He is rightfully vengeful. I won’t go so far as to say I’m cheering for him, because, you know, I want Earth to survive and the Avengers to win. Another ace up his sleeve is his secret weapon, a character I’ve been eagerly anticipating. This character we all know and love, how can he be under Challenger’s control? We will have to wait until the next issue to find out the truth.
I had little to argue with in this issue. Our Avengers are barely holding it together. Rogue lashes out at Thor. Lightning grapples with guilt and loss, bolting between the two battlegrounds. The loss of Human Torch hits them all hard. Interesting twist to the game presents itself when the dead Black Dwarf and Human Torch seem encased in a gem-like state as prizes (?) in the Cosmic Game Room. Are they really dead, trophies on the wall, or are they just in stasis?
This issue should please newbies like me and long-time Marvel readers.
Finally, I would pay good money to see the Marvel One-Shots return to showcase a showdown between Grandmaster and Challenger (both played by Jeff Goldblum, obviously).
Verdict: 5 out of 5
I’m a curious, creative, comic(al) woman. I am unapologetically Team Cap, but not HydraCap because there is a line in the moral sands of the universe and that whole thing is on the other side of it. I teach high school students all about the joys of mythology through comic books, graphic novels, and films. I wandered into the comic book world in 2015 and is a proud member of the #DoYouEvenComicBook gang.