AVENGERS #689 may have an anticlimactic villain, but the overall message is inspiring and motivational. Al Ewing, Mark Waid, and Jim Zub deliver such beautiful quotes for fans, and the artwork delivered by Pepe Larraz and David Curiel stuns on almost every page.
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AVENGERS #689 wraps up the battle with Grandmaster Prime aka Challenger and sets up the finale due next issue. With beautiful colors from David Curiel, the battle is rather epic. But this battle falls short at times and leaves a bit to be desired. How did the rest of the issue hold up? Read on to find out.

Grandmaster Prime: A Basic Marvel Villain

One of Marvel’s biggest issues (particularly in their movies) revolves around making lackluster villains. There’s hardly any character development in these characters. When you consider how large of a threat they are to the heroes who do have a lot of character development, it makes for a stagnant conclusion. Yes, the heroes defeated their enemy, but who was the enemy, anyway?

Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

We know Challenger is an elder who is wronged by Grandmaster, we know he’s got anger issues, we even know he’s a bit vindicated in his frustration with Grandmaster. But other than that, who is he? He’s defeated relatively easy once Voyager — through her powers of memory manipulation — reminds the Avengers exactly who they are and what they stand for.

This is all very inspiring, and the narration alongside it avoids being too cliche, but there’s hardly any struggle. At the end of this comic, our heroes finish off Challenger. He’s like Ronan from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: menacing but hollow. He’s overall anticlimactic.

The Hero that Starts it, Ends it

It’s unfair to blame this issue on such a bland villain, but it was the last chance for “No Surrender” to redeem him. But while Challenger is lackluster, there are other aspects that shine in AVENGERS #689. Living Lightning’s narration is absolutely wonderful in this comic. It’s fitting that he is the one to challenge Grandmaster (the original, Voyager’s father) to a final game for the stake of the planet.

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And what game is it? Poker. Texas Hold’em, to be exact. While the battle with Challenger is taking place, Living Lightning catches Grandmaster casually walking off, dismissing his daughter in the process. Lightning knows this man cannot resist a game of risk, however, and the two wager their possessions and ideals. Grandmaster simply gambles what he’s taken: Red Wolf, Human Torch, and the Earth. Lightning, however, gets a bit more meta: at first he gambles his own life, then the lives of the seven billion (remember when it was six?) on Earth, and finally his own history.

His history. The idea is that if he loses, nobody will remember him. Nobody will care about the countless lives he’s saved. I originally thought this a bit sappy, but thinking about it a bit more, it really works. Lightning’s encounter with Grandmaster and his overall narration juxtaposed against the heroes battling Challenger blends beautifully. Ewing, Waid, and Zub are trying to hammer home the point that these heroes are selfless. They don’t do it for the glory, they do it for lives that need saving. It’s what makes them Avengers.

About the Battle Scene: Artwork in AVENGERS #689

Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

AVENGERS #689 is a typical comic with extra pages to cover the fight scene. For the most part, this battle is exciting to gaze at and easy to follow. Pepe Larraz chooses to display the various panels in a hodgepodge sort of way. One panel displays Spider-Man swinging a child to safety while another displays a hooded Luke Cage carrying a victim into a medical tent. Pages go from Hawkeye flinging arrows to the Thing lifting debris to save lives. There’s a lot to cover, and Larraz manages to make it all coherent.

David Curiel’s colors in AVENGERS #689 are something special. They’re not as bright as his previous works, but that works fantastically. The faded hues draw the reader in, complimenting scenes that are meant to be memories (like Cap punching Thanos) and highlighting scenes meant to be gloomy yet inspiring. While some of it seems rushed (I’m sure the time crunch was unreal), the overall quality of this issue is grand.

Looking Forward

Overall, AVENGERS #689 is a treat of a comic. While it’s anticlimactic in its dealing with Challenger, the overall message (and its delivery) outshines this misstep. These heroes are heroes for good reason. Living Lightning delivers a message that hits home: “We fight for those who can’t fight alongside us. To give them just a little hope.”

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In superhero comics, the formula is hardly going to ever break: heroes battle villain just a little more threatening than the previous villain. It’s a hard fight. The heroes prevail, the heroes move on. But in “No Surrender,” the creators capitalize on this notion and concentrate on the internal struggle of the heroes by giving a different hero his or her own monologue each issue. Having Living Lightning narrate this ending battle is fitting (because he began the series) and his words sit well. It’s a very humanizing narration, making AVENGERS #689 such a beautiful comic book. It even quotes the title of the book: “No Surrender!”

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