AVENGERS #687 / Writers: Mark Waid, Al Ewing, & Jim Zub / Penciler: Paco Medina / Inker: Juan Vlasco / Color Artists: Jesus Aburtov & Federico Blee / Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit / Cover Art: Mark Brooks / Publisher: Marvel / April 4, 2018
What separates a hero from a villain? How do you help a hero who sees themselves only as a villain? Can you pick up the pieces of those you love if you’re the one who broke them? All those questions get a deep dive, until all hell breaks loose when Challenger escalates his plan, in this 13th meaty issue of Avengers: No Surrender.
One might think Avengers: No Surrender has turned into Hulk: Saving the Hero Within by how much time I spend in my reviews writing about Hulk. Can’t help it, he takes up lots space in my mind as I read this series. In my entire life of enjoying comic book characters, never have I spent so much time carefully contemplating what it really means to be Hulk. It’s an amazing contrast of power and powerlessness, isn’t it? Drop him into impossible situations and it’s suddenly so much more than, “Hulk, smash!”
Waid, Ewing, and Zub ask a compelling question, pulling on a thread going all the way back to Bendis’s Civil War II, how do you help someone who sees themselves as the villain? Despite the grim answer in Civil War II, Hulk’s back, and in this issue Banner is back, and lower than ever. The answer is set before us in the conversation between Banner and a still-healing Jarvis. Yes, their conversation hits all the usual points you’d expect in a hero-based comic book. “It’s not how many times you fall, but how many you get up,” sort of thing. The authors take it deeper than platitudes though, thankfully. The answer isn’t knowing you have to get up when you get knocked down, the answer is it’s the friend being there with you, going through it, every time you need it. Banner needs to hear this message more than once. We all do. We are going to fail, and in Banner’s case break and smash, far more often than we’d like. Picking up those pieces each time only makes the reality of life more difficult. Jarvis’s message to Banner isn’t a one and done lesson, something all of us struggling through life need to learn.
Of course Hulk’s existence is above and beyond regular human experience. We may “hulk out” once in awhile in our anger, but none of us are going to literally transform into a giant green rage monster. That said, the terrifying feeling of being so broken inside is not unique. This panel, in particular, captures that feeling. Banner’s named Hulk the King of Hell inside him. By labeling Hulk as the “king” Banner is surrendering to it. No one is stronger than a king. It’s a small word choice but it’s really powerful.
I promise other characters and subplots exist in this issue. Voyager’s redemption continues, even if it’s still in its infancy. Pietro makes an interesting discovery. All of this, however, gets quickly cut off when Challenger, fed up with Grandmaster’s cheating, rains down destruction on Earth. If there’s a time for Hulk and Voyager to make amends, they’ll get their chance in the very near future.
Artistically, I’m still over the moon with the work from Medina, Vlasco, Aburtov and Blee. They’ve brought back the retro style for flashbacks effectively as a part of Voyager’s redemption (and to help new readers catch up with the last three months of fast moving story). Somehow that grainy, simplistic style works to transport me back to my memories of what the old comics I found in the basement read like. Those flashbacks balance out well with the more layered, dynamic art in the rest of the issue.
I’ve confessed before that many, if not most, of the main characters in this series are new to me. A real stand out is Challenger. Yes, I know he’s on the brink of destroying Earth and everything on it. I’m not here to stan the guy. I won’t say he’s likable but I like everything about how he’s presented on the page. (Perhaps it’s because I prefer human like villains over creature/monster-y ones?) He’s huge but not too huge. His entire being is very balanced, powerful. The purposeful use of red, on his body, eyes, and uniform, reminds me of blood, that he will be spilling yours, not his. Where I find Grandmaster slimy, Mentacle evilly charming, Voyager conflicted, I find Challenger just that: a challenge. He challenges the fact that I’m not supposed to cheer for villains, right? Challenger holds my eye on the page more than any of the Black Order or Lethal Legion has to offer, and in this series, that’s a lot.
I asked earlier, what separates a hero from a villain? The answer seems to be in the reaction to setback. Where Hulk and Voyager struggle with the consequences of their actions, of how to move ahead, Challenger and the rest confidently move forward with a destruction-of-all-my-obstacles approach. Will it work?
Verdict: 5 out of 5