WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Avengers #679, by Al Ewing, Jim Zub, Mark Waid, Kim Jacinto, David Curiel and Cory Petit, on sale now.
Earth's Mightiest Heroes are facing a two-pronged attack from the Black Order and the Lethal Legion in Avengers: No Surrender. What our heroes don't realize is there are puppetmasters behind these villainous groups, pulling their strings from the shadows.
The Grandmaster and Challenger are playing a cosmic game, with Earth as the chosen field of play. It's presented as a simple game of "Capture the Flag," with the teams vying for possession of an object called the Pyramoid. Challenger, with the Black Order as his players, appears to be in the lead after Black Dwarf gained control of a Pyramoid in Rome. Grandmaster would have tied it up, if not for Johnny Storm's ultimate sacrifice.
With Black Dwarf off the board, the Challenger is down a player heading into the next round. Luckily for the Challenger, he kept a player in reserve. And if this mystery player is who we think it is, their presence will send shockwaves throughout the weekly series, and possibly into the greater Marvel Universe.
The Rules Of Engagement
When Grandmaster and Challenger began their competitive match, they started with an equal number of six players: Grandmaster's Lethal Legion of Captain Glory, Drall, Ferene the Other, Metal Master, Mentacle and the Blood Brothers, against Challenger's Black Order members Corvus Glaive, Proxima Midnight, Black Swan, Black Dwarf, Ebony Maw and Supergiant. (EDITOR: Jim Zub tweeted to us,"The Blood Brothers are _two_ players. We listed them as one in the cast page so it wouldn't be as obvious that the sides were uneven and the Challenger kept an extra player in reserve.")
One drawback of winning a round means you lose a player. Thus, the moment Black Dwarf touched the Pyramoid, he disappeared in a huge flash of light, which is also what happened to the Human Torch. It was believed that both characters were disintegrated in their pursuit of the strange artifact, but that isn't the case. Johnny Storm and Black Dwarf are, in fact, encased in colored gem-like objects above the Grandmaster's cosmic game room, though their status as living or dead remains somewhat vague. Not one to be deterred by the loss of Black Dwarf, Challenger's secret ace in the hole is filled with rage, and has a personal connection to the heroes of No Surrender.
An Avenger Rises... Again
The last page of Avengers #679 takes readers to New Mexico, in the ruins of the mount. As the panels descend into darkness, a faint green light begins to bubble towards the surface. Taken by themselves, these images and location don't offer much in the way of clues. But when you put them together, they tease the rebirth of Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk.
The Hulk was killed by fellow Avenger Hawkeye in Civil War II/ Though Bruce Banner did make a brief appearance during another Marvel event, Secret Empire, it was never made clear which ether it was the main Banner or his Ultimate Universe counterpart (though the font indicated it was the latter). Here, aside from the green light show, the reason we believe the jade giant is the Challenger's pawn is New Mexico was the location of Bruce's disastrous Gamma Bomb test that transformed him into the Hulk. Somehow, the Challenger must have the ability to bring people back from the dead, and if you had a choice of one character in the Marvel Universe to have on your side, the Hulk would likely be at the top of the list.
According to No Surrender's future solicits, the Hulk is set to return from the dead around Issue #684, the first time the jade giant is featured on a cover for the weekly series. We even see Hulk reaching for one of the Pyramoids on the cover of Avengers #686, to the dismay of Rogue. If the Hulk is truly being controlled by the Challenger, there's no telling what other deceased heroes or villains may be used as the game progresses further.
Whatever the case, Hulk's return will probably spell bad news for Hawkeye, along with the other heroes assembled when the archer assassinated Bruce Banner. We should learn more as No Surrender continues this week with Avengers #680 arriving Wednesday, February 14.