"No Surrender" the 16-part, weekly event set in the pages of Avengers is finally drawing to a close. When it began in January we put together a list of items the series would need in order to succeed. It was the first weekly series at Marvel Comics in quite some time, and many similar endeavors at other publishers had not ended well. The last big success in the format was in the pages of 52 more than a decade ago. With only one issue of "No Surrender" left, it's pretty apparent that this series has managed to recapture the promise of a weekly superhero adventure.
With all of the Avengers ongoing series (Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, and U.S.Avengers) merged into a single line, it provided the same amount of content in a single coherent story. What began as a mysterious game between the Grandmaster and Challenger, using Earth and its heroes as board and obstacles, has evolved into an apocalyptic event. Along the way it has explored key relationships between various Avengers and spotlighted some of the team's B-list. It has been an exciting odyssey from start to finish, but the grind of weekly installments still requires a special spark. That's why it's worth breaking down what made "No Surrender" such an enjoyable read, and what we hope to see future weekly superhero adventures learn from its success.
The Cast of Characters
The big ask of a weekly series is commitment. It's not enough to be interested in what happens next when you're required to spend money and time every Wednesday, not just once per month. That requirement means readers need to want to actively return to the story, which means they need to enjoy the characters they're spending their time with. Any Avengers title has an enormous set of members to choose from, almost everyone has been an Avenger at some point in Marvel history. What's more difficult is choosing the right ones, and that's where "No Surrender" went very right.
Rather than focusing on the most obvious stars like Captain America or Iron Man, "No Surrender" pushed a lot of lesser-known leaders like Falcon, Rogue, and Sunspot to the forefront. Readers familiar with only one title in the prior lineup of books were introduced to fun characters like the new Red Hulk, Robert Maverick. The mix of Avengers and their differently arranged teams guaranteed two key elements. First, every longtime reader would find a favorite hero in the mix. Second, every reader would be introduced to an excellent survey of new or lesser known characters.
That goes for the villains as well. While Grandmaster and Challenger were the major antagonists of the series, they each had their own teams to provide extra fireworks. The resurrected Black Order captured some Hollywood allure with some of Thanos' deadliest servants. Meanwhile, the new Lethal Legion offered a who's who of fun B-list baddies like Mentacle. Voyager was the secret ingredient though, the one new character slowly folded into the plot and possibly the future of the Marvel universe. Looking back it's easy to see how this massive cast was as carefully selected as the ingredients for an ambitious new recipe.
Twists and Cliffhangers
There are some elements that matter much more in episodic storytelling like monthly superhero comics. Creators must provide hooks to maintain interest between each issue or episode, as a month or even a week can provide unlimited new distractions. These often come in the form of cliffhangers or twists, and they are an artform perfected in American comics by writers like Mark Waid and Brian K. Vaughan. Luckily for "No Surrender", Waid was on board along with both Al Ewing and Jim Zub, two of the most promising superhero writers at Marvel Comics today. It's clear throughout the 16-issue arc that they understood each new week required a new hook to bring readers back.
They never deployed the same tactic between issues either, recognizing readers don't like repetition. Some twists came in the form of extended mysteries like Voyager's presence. It was clear from the start that she was not who she claimed to be, but the truth behind her existence was slowly rolled out over the course of multiple issues with hints and suggestions made throughout. Sometimes there was the need for a big stakes reveal or change in plot though. The resurrection of the Hulk and setup for the last pair of issues both offered jaw-dropping moments. No matter which week you look at though, there's at least one moment you can point to as a clear incentive to keep reading. That form of pacing kept interest high across the series and rewarded readers every time they returned.
An Epic Finale
It's not simply enough to keep readers engaged between weeks though. Every story requires a conclusion and the weekly roll out of an event like "No Surrender" requires an even more dramatic payoff. In the past this is where many weekly series have stumbled, saving too much for the big finale and leaving too little space to unpack revelations and flesh out a climactic battle. After months of dedicated reading, fans want the conclusion to earn the hype and interest generated by so many issues of comics. Calling that a challenge for creators is a big understatement.2comments
"No Surrender" pays off the promise of its series in its final few issues though. The finale has not been saved entirely for the pages of Avengers #690. Instead the weekly pacing has been used to break down the climax into a series of chapters, each telling a portion of the finale and allowing shifts in momentum time to build additional tension and stakes. While the final issue is still one week out, it's worth waiting for. Everything about this final month of the event has delivered in a big way. Characters have died and their deaths have felt impactful. The stakes have been raised in a natural fashion based on what has come before. Relationships and motives seeded at the start of the story have paid off. Reading these final issues it is clear that "No Surrender" was conceived first as a complete story to ensure that its conclusion was just as enjoyable as the path to reach it.
These are the key elements that made "No Surrender" a success: great characters, excellent plotting, and a satisfying conclusion. That may sound simple, but it's difficult even on a monthly schedule. Here we have witnessed it accomplished every week over the course of 4 months. The result is one of the most reliably enjoyable superhero reads of 2018. If Marvel, DC, or any other superhero publisher tries to tackle this sort of challenge again, they would be well served by looking to "No Surrender" as a model.