WARNING: This interview contains spoilers for Avengers#681, in stores now.
In the current 16-part “No Surrender” arc running through Marvel Comics Avengers, Earth's Mightiest Heroes have their hands full with an epic crisis wrapped in a cosmic mystery. Their home planet has been stolen by two cosmic entities and turned into a game board for a contest between them. That contest involves their rival bands of pawns, the villainous Black Order and an all-new Lethal Legion, and the few Avengers who have not been frozen by the entities are meant to serve as “obstacles.” Worst of all is the fact that when the contest is over their planet will tossed away like cosmic rubbish. All is not lost, however, as the Avengers are being an assisted by long forgotten teammate Voyager (aka Valerie Vector), who appears to have been a founding member of the team.
In February, “No Surrender” entered the second of its four-month run, and the story's writers Mark Waid, Al Ewing and Jim Zub have been delivering shocking revelations that have deepened the story's ongoing mysteries as well as setting up new players on the board. In Avengers #681, Part seven of “No Surrender,” which features art by Kim Jacinto and Mike Perkins, they did both with a story that revealed the origin of Voyager's powers and how they work, brought a classic Avenger into the main story, and set the stage for the horrifying return of the strongest Avenger of all. CBR spoke with the writers about all of these twists and turns, and the major revelations that preceded them.
CBR: Quite a bit has happened since last time we talked about “No Surrender.” One of the big reveals is that the action in the story is a contest between the Grandmaster and his opponent, the Challenger. The other is that the Grandmaster stole the Challenger's name and his sort of role among the Elders of the Universe. What inspired this angle with the Grandmaster and the creation of the Challenger?
Al Ewing: I think the Challenger was one of those aspects that we decided on at the all-day meeting where we thrashed out “No Surrender's” basic beats - the idea of the Grandmaster playing against an ancient opponent from the dawn of time, who was back for the ultimate rematch. My memory for anything that's not comics continuity is terrible, so I'm not sure when he became the "original Grandmaster" - whether that was something we came up with on the phone, or whether it was something I dropped in when I did the flashback bit. The one thing I remember very clearly is wanting to have a nice contrast between the furious, snarling Challenger of the present - with his signature growl in moments of extreme anger - and the chilled-out friend of Grandmaster in the past. In fact, I think I put down in the script that I wanted past-Challenger to act like Jeff Bridges. Oh, and I ended up using a bit of the cosmology from the Ultimates, since it was lying around.
Jim Zub: Yeah, I think the Challenger first came up during our story summit. Once we decided on the Grandmaster we brainstormed ideas for opponents. There were a bunch of ideas, but they kept taking us further and further away from the core of the game so we circled back to creating a foe zeroed in on who the Grandmaster is and what he's all about. Once we knew that, it all kind of clicked. Al did a stellar job fleshing out Challenger to make him more than just a faceless baddie, humanizing him and his desire for revenge.