The first month of Avengers weekly "No Surrender" mega-arc concluded with this week's Avengers #678, and as promised in the solicitations, there cracks in the retconning of founding Avenger Voyager and the first of what's said to be several deaths coming in the story.
Spoilers ahead for Avengers #678.
In this week's issue by writers Mark Waid, Al Ewing, and Jim Zub with artist Pepe Larraz, the Human Torch bucks the orders of his Avengers team-leader to make a risky play to acquire the mysterious artifact called the Pyramoid that's being fought over by Thanos' Black Order and the Lethal Legion. The issue ends with a cliffhanger of Human Torch grabbing the Pyramoid and having an energy reaction; as you read the issue it teases something major happening to Johnny, but as Zub tells Newsarama he's "vaporized."
Zub spoke with Newsarama about that and other key moments in this week's Avengers #678, as well as a look ahead at whats to come in February's issues and beyond.
Newsarama: Jim, this week’s Avengers #678 was really a spotlight for the Human Torch, reminiscent of his character arc in Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four run. Can you talk about his trajectory, and coming into contact with the Pyramoid?
Jim Zub: Johnny doesn’t know the Pyramoid is fatal but, even if he did, I’d like to think he’d have still sacrificed himself for the greater good. As headstrong as he can be, he’s also a hero through and through.
We wanted to keep readers guessing in terms of the action and show that anyone was at risk and everything is up for grabs. It’s been fun reading theories from readers online, and several threads I’ve seen had people making assumptions based on cover art, solicits, or “They’d never get rid of [character] because they need to be in [other Marvel title].” That’s one reason why we wanted to pull the rug out from under everyone by having the Human Torch take the fall here and keep everyone off balance.
Nrama: Dead or not, that’s the cliffhanger to this week’s issue. Thanks to the weekly nature of Avengers “No Surrender,” reads should expect to know the answer with next week’s #679, right? Can you say if there’ll be an answer to Johnny Storm’s well-being in #679?
Zub: Does “vaporized” count as “well-being”? If so, then the answer is “yes”. Keep reading to see which other beloved characters we mess with.
(Sorry, Chip. It’s Marvel One-In-One now.)
Nrama: … I’ll wait until #679 for proof, but it’s a sure-fire cliffhanger.
Speaking of mysteries, the mystery of who's with Grandmaster is still under wraps. He calls them an "old foe" - could it be the Collector from the recent Contest of Champions, or perhaps Death from the original? What clues can you give us - is this "Challenger" mentioned in the solicits for Avengers #679 this person?
Zub: He is the Grandmaster’s oldest foe of all, but the revelation of what that means and why will have to wait until part 5. Avengers #679 pulls back the veil on our Challenger and shows a bit more of what’s at stake in their cosmic game.
Nrama: Speaking of clues, the first crack in this in-story retcon of Voyager being a founder Avenger was discovered by the Vision, who didn't recognize her. (And if anyone would recognize a fellow Avenger, it'd be Vision). What can you say about this story thread?
Zub: Voyager’s part in this story has been a contentious one and we knew it would be going in. Mark Waid was one of the writers who created Triumph for DC and he’s a continuity buff, as is Avengers Lead Editor Tom Brevoort. We didn’t bring Voyager into “No Surrender” just to do the same thing that’s been done before.
I’m hanging back and letting fans run wild with their theories because it’s part of the fun, but I also want to reassure readers that we’re aware of Triumph and Sentry and all that stuff. We built the story with that awareness and a desire to give this its own little twist.
Nrama: There’s new characters in Avengers, and also characters new-to-you coming off your Uncanny Avengers and Thunderbolts runs. Has there been a new character you've been particularly jazzed to write?
Zub: Al Ewing made the case for bringing Lightning into the story and over the course of writing “No Surrender” I think we’ve all become fans of Miguel. He’s an underdog with an impressive power set who’s never really had a chance to prove himself.
Also, I wrote quite a few Thor and Hercules moments that are coming up and really enjoyed playing up the camaraderie with those two.
Nrama: Since we’re pointing out who did what, I have to ask - who came up with Wonder Man's "Avengers Observe!" quote in this week’s issue?
Zub: That’s a Mark line. I wasn’t sure how it would work when I first read it in the script, but when it all came together with the art I chuckled. It’s a nice unexpected moment.
[Editor's Note: The following art is from March 14's Avengers #684.]
Nrama: In the near future, I see that Wonder Man will reunite with Beast. What can fans look forward to there?
Zub: Beast and Nadia have been working to save Jarvis and Simon comes to their aid, but not the way they expect. Simon’s ionic energy form is going to come in handy…
Nrama: But there's also the tease of a "crushing loss of one of their own." I'm no mathematician, but Johnny's in a bad way with #678's end and Jarvis is on his deathbed too. What can you say about this presumed tragedy coming up?
Zub: The Avengers are on the ropes and their numbers are going to get thinned out. This issue notches one, but it won’t be the last. With a cast of over twenty heroes you knew we had to start knocking some of them off...
Nrama: Voyager - there's nothing about "No Surrender" with more question marksthan her. There are some answers promised in Avengers #681. I don't expect you to spoil it for us here (but you're welcome to), but can you say how the character was born/evolved in the Avengers Assembly of writers and editors?
Zub: Voyager is core to some of the bigger thematic stuff we put together for “No Surrender.” I can’t give away that theme here without tipping our hand a bit too much at this stage, but I can say she was a part we came up with very early on. Avengers #681 provides more information and opens up more possibilities.
Valerie Vector surprised me. Early on I looked at her almost entirely as a plot device but, as we developed the story further and started writing her scenes, I came around on her character. She’s a classic in so many ways: Her name, her outfit, her powers, and her personality. She helps the team to get where they need to be to maximize their potential. She brings heroes to the frontline and saves them when they’ve been overwhelmed.
Nrama: “No Surrender” is one month in, with three more to go. Tom Brevoort said the scripts are already complete, but what's it like for you at this stage seeing it all unfold - and have the fans' reactions?
Zub: It’s a wild ride. Knowing that everything is already written, approved, and in the can, is both liberating and nerve-wracking. Ideas we’ve been sitting on for months and months are now unfolding at such a rapid pace. It feels a bit odd to have readers reacting to each issue so viscerally until I remember that it’s all fresh and new as each issue roll out.
Some readers will assume we’ve changed things as the story goes along to bury their theories, but it really has been built this way from the start. The plan we created back in February 2017 is the same structure we followed through to handing in the final script in late October.
Most importantly: I hope everyone has as much fun reading No Surrender as we’ve had creating it. It’s our love letter to the Avengers: classic Good vs. Evil heroics told with modern storytelling sensibilities. We put a lot of care into crafting this whirlwind of a story and I hope that shines through.
Nrama: Big picture, what can fans get excited about in February with the second month of Avengers “No Surrender”?
Zub: The Challenger revealed, our heroes mourn, and the Avengers get to the business of avenging, no matter what it costs…