In Review: Avengers #686

Some solid moments, but all elements of the visuals mar the story.

The covers: A pair of covers for this twelfth installment in the No Surrender storyline. The Regular cover is by the spectacular Mark Brooks who, once again, creates a fantastic frontpiece. This has the Hulk looking absolutely insane as he reaches for the final Pyramoid. On his back is Rogue, looking as if she’s trying to hold him back. Good luck, darlin’! You’re going to need it! I love the look of both characters and the coloring is terrific. An odd alternate choice is the Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Road to 100 Variant cover by Dale Keown and Jason Keith. This is a direct tie-in to promote the ABC series which is soon to end. This features images of characters Daisy, Grant, Fitz, and Phil Coulson. Nice, but I gave up on this series after the second season, so this gratuitous illustration does absolutely nothing for me. Keown and Keith do a good job, I just wish Keown had been given other characters to draw, like maybe, oh…the HULK?! C’mon, Marvel. You really goofed on this one. Overall grades: Regular A and Road to 100 Variant C  

The story: This is a solid issue in this series saga. Co-writers Jim Zub, Mark Waid, and Al Ewing tread familiar territory but make it undeniably readable. The book opens with with a Quinjet speeding through a wind vortex courtesy of Thor. Within the vehicle are Rogue and Hercules, with Herc hungering for combat. At the Avengers Auxiliary HQ, Wonder Man stands before the vault that contains the last Pyramoid, which was taken there by Voyager. Simon is blocking the Hulk, who’s been brought back to life by the Challenger to get the final piece in his game with the Grandmaster. Professing peace and wanting to talk, Simon has got his work cut out for him. Even a new reader can guess what the Hulk is going to do to the hero when he says he just wants talk to Bruce. There’s dialogue on Page 4 that will startle any long time reader of Marvel Comics as much as it startles Simon. It’s brief, but it’s incredible (Okay, I couldn’t help that adjective). Meanwhile, two members of the Black Order are trying to kill three Avengers who have had a rough go of things in this series. How the battle concludes is neat, but more interesting is what happens at the top of 8, where someone seems to have made a life changing decision. Page 13 is the reason to get this book: what’s said is awesome and leads to something that’s nothing short of brilliant on 16. It’s an unexpected move, but completely in line with the character. This isn’t the only surprise in the book, with the final page’s cliffhanger enough to compel any reader to return to see what happens next. I’m continually surprised and impressed with this story. Overall grade: A

The art: Penciler Paco Medina and inker Juan Velasco do their jobs. There are some strong panels, but there’s nothing spectacular. This description is fitting from the first panel that shows the Quinjet going through Thor’s wind vortex. It looks fine, but it’s not spectacular. How else should it be illustrated? The Quinjet looks unremarkably smooth, more spaceship than “jet” and the vortex itself should be composed of more than speed lines. Yes, it’s a wind vortex, and it looks like a vortex, but this magical, spectacular, god-created moment should have looked spectacular. Look at Hercules in the second panel: that arm does not look good. Now in close-up in the following panel he looks fine. The second page, however, looks great. Simon looks spectacular and the smackdown he receives looks really strong. Not great is the full reveal of the Hulk at the top of Page 3: too much shading on him and the overhead lights are way too bright. Things really improve after this on the same page, with the close-ups of both characters looking great. Turn the page, what happened to Simon? His face becomes really simplistic. This happens throughout the book: strong work — nothing spectacular — but work that also isn’t so great. The story is told well through the visuals, but it’s just not consistent. The action on Page 12 really builds the tension visually, but is undone by the final image on the page that doesn’t clearly communicate if the action is happening mentally or in the actual world; this is due to one character receiving the action in the final panel. The inclusion of the other character would have helped immensely. Now on the next page the second panel answers this concern, but did it need two panels to be explained? The images on 16 are good, with both characters looking great, though now the sound is obscuring the art. The three characters that end the book look fine and the final page is a full-paged splash that looks great, making the reader to want to see more. It’s just that it’s been an uneven road to get to this point. Overall grade: B-

The colors: This is a fairly softly colored book. Brighter colors would have helped to punch up some of the surprises and the energy that the characters expel, but, like the art, Jesus Aburtov does his job. It’s passable, but not outstanding. For example, the first panel in the wind vortex (Yeah, I’m not letting that panel go — it’s the first in the book, so it should be strong enough to make the reader want to continue reading) is a really boring orange-red. Plus, these aren’t really colors one associates with wind or Thor’s ability to travel. The second page has exceptionally strong colors, with every element of the art looking awesome. The overpowering lights at the top of 3 look wrong. Much better are the panels that follow. Also, Simon’s narration is done with red letters in a black box, not exactly the easiest format to read text. Page 5 introduces other Avengers into the story and it’s practically done entirely in pastels. Why? The energy being released should be pumping up the reader. Bright art would have upped the intensity. Instead it makes it difficult for the reader to find details in the art. The surprise on 16 is lessened by the colors being a uniform shade that overwhelms the majority of the page. A single color is again blanketed for the final page, which would have looked better had it used different shades. Overall grade: C

The letters: VC’s Cory Petit creates Thor’s dialogue, dialogue and narration (the same font), scene settings, sounds, whispered dialogue, screams, yells, the Challenger’s mental commands, and the Grandmaster’s communications with his daughter. It’s disappointing to see that the shape of the thought balloons and their colors are what differentiates them from dialogue when a change of fonts would be much easier (and solved that coloring issue mentioned above). The scene settings are sleek, done in big, bold, exciting letters. The screams and yells are good, with Rogue and Simon having the best ones. The sounds are good, with the Hulk’s being the stand outs for the issue because of their size. Petit does have a raw deal in placing the Hulk’s punches, since he doesn’t have any room to place them on the page, so he makes them clear. They’re fine until 16, which obscures the art. Overall grade: B-

The final line: Some solid moments, but all elements of the visuals mar the story. I’m still enjoying No Surrender, but better visuals would have had me reveling in the issue like the previous installment. Still, I’m on board to see how this plays out. Overall grade: B-

To order a digital copy go to https://www.comixology.com/Avengers-2016-686/digital-comic/626419?ref=c2VhcmNoL2luZGV4L2Rlc2t0b3Avc2xpZGVyTGlzdC90b3BSZXN1bHRzU2xpZGVy

To see the covers visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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