SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Avengers #677, by Mark Waid, Al Ewing, Jim Zub, Pepe Larraz, David Curiel and Cory Petit, on sale now.
Bruce Banner's Hulk will be back in action as of Avengers #684, the tenth chapter of the weekly "No Surrender" event.
The solicitation for the issue revealed the cover and a description, both of which make it clear Banner's jade alter-ego will return. However, he'll be under the influence of an outside entity. “Back from the dead! He cannot be reasoned with. He will not be stopped. Bruce Banner isn’t home right now. There is only THE IMMORTAL HULK.” And "The Strongest There Is" won't be the only resurrection in this event. Various members of Thanos' Black Order were presumed deceased before popping up to plague the Avengers and battle the new Lethal Legion, which has led readers to ask, who's resurrecting the dead -- and how?
While the latest issue, Avengers #677, revealed The Grandmaster is involved in the cosmic contest that is being played out on Earth, his mysterious opponent stayed in the shadows. However, the solicitation for Avengers #679 No Surrender Part 5 mentions this powerful being by what appears to be his name. “Who is the Challenger? What is at stake in his grudge match with the Grandmaster? And when the two of them clash, can the Earth survive the destruction they unleash?”
Further, Nick Bradshaw’s variant cover for the issue actually reveals our first look at the Challenger.
Considering that this cosmic contender’s title follows the naming conventions of the Elders of the Universe (“the” proceeding his name and the “er” suffix), there is a good chance that this character is a new Elder. While most of the Elders debuted in either the 1970s or the 1990s, two of these immortals have been introduced in the last few years — The Promoter and Gara. Our best guess right now is that The Challenger is a third new Elder.
In the past, The Grandmaster has played his high-stakes games against The Collector, Kang the Conqueror, Death, Baron Zemo, Prime Mover and even Krona from the DC Universe, and many of these entities can take other forms and appearances. This means we can’t rule out the possibility that this might actually be a rematch, and The Challenger is a new alias of a classic character.
Getting back to our original question, we once again wonder, who is raising the dead? Well, The Grandmaster (aka En Dwi Gast) has been shown to have control over life and death since his introduction in the ’70s. He made the Avengers fight a team dubbed the Legion of the Unliving in Avengers Annual #16 (1987), which included many of their fallen friends and foes. In the original Contest of Champions miniseries he even gambled his own life in a game against Death. He lost, but later managed to escape Death's domain in a subsequent storyline. So Gast could easily be the one playing God. Although other Elders have been shown to be able to pluck heroes and villains from alternate realities (The Collector, The Contemplator), only Gast seems to have control over death.
It’s worth noting that in addition to the Hulk and the majority of The Black Order being back from the dead, there is another unexplained resurrection, as well as one we can’t confirm quite yet. The Lethal Legion we get in this event are all new characters (or new versions of characters), except the Blood Brothers. One of the brothers, Ross, had been killed by Drax in 2006 and yet he was somehow back in the "Standoff" event in 2016. He wasn’t brought back for "No Surrender," but his return still hasn’t been addressed and could come into play here. Also, the cover of Avengers #688 No Surrender Part 14 features War Machine. While the suit is currently being worn by The Punisher, all the other characters on this cover (Hulk, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Iron Man, Vision, Thor, and Cap) are essential Avengers, meaning it's possible James "Rhodey" Rhodes, who was killed by Thanos at the beginning of Civil War II will be brought back to life as well.