The game is afoot in Avengers #679 from writers Al Ewing, Mark Waid, and Jim Zub and artist Kim Jacinto as the Challenger’s true origin is revealed – and a surprise warrior readies for battle.
Spoilers ahead for Avengers #679.
Avengers #679 picks up with the Grandmaster and the newly-revealed Challenger debating the outcome of Johnny Storm grabbing the Pyramoid and denying both villain teams a point in their cosmic contest. As they jab at each other, the Challenger’s origin is revealed.
The Challenger is, like the Grandmaster, an Elder of the Universe, an ultra-powerful survivor of one of the first sentient races in existence. When Elders first came together, the Challenger and En Dwi Gast, the Grandmaster, were the best of friends, constantly challenging each other to new games. As the Elders choose titles (like the Champion, the Collector, etc.), the Challenger chooses the name “Grandmaster” – secretly enraging En Dwi Gast who covets the title.
As the ages passed, En Dwi Gast and the original Grandmaster’s games escalated until a final contest put the name “Grandmaster” - and banishment from reality - on the line. En Dwi Gast wins, banishing his opponent and claiming the name “Grandmaster.”
Back with the Avengers, Beast and Nadia Pym discuss Jarvis’ fate. As it turns out, he’s suffering from a strange condition in which prolonged exposure to the various energies, chemicals, and weapons used by the Avengers and their enemies has led to debilitating physical strain which Beast dubs “Avengers fever.” Meanwhile, Rogue learns of the loss of Johnny Storm, presumed dead by the other Avengers.
In the final pages of the story, it’s revealed that both Johnny and Black Dwarf are merely in stasis, removed from the competition. With the Challenger’s forces now limited, he summons reinforcements.
On Earth, in a cave deep in New Mexico, a pair of glowing green eyes come alight foretelling the impending return of Bruce Banner, the original Hulk – as a member of the Black Order.
The story continues in Avengers: No Surrender #680, on shelves February 14.