WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Avengers #689
Marvel's Avengers: No Surrender comic event is coming to an end, with the fate of the world resting on a game of poker. A bit unorthodox a finale, but... that's kind of the Grandmaster's style.
The stakes have rarely been higher for Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Marvel's Marvel's Earth has been transported across space to a distant corner of the galaxy, becoming a cosmic gameboard for an insane battle between the Grandmaster and the Challenger. The Avengers now face three challenges: prevent the planet from being destroyed, defeat the victorious Challenger, and somehow get the planet back to its normal place in the galaxy.
It falls to a D-list Avenger - the Living Lightning - to save the day. And it's his poker skills he turns to as a solution.
It's certainly a fitting end to an event starring the Grandmaster. A single game of change, with the fate of the entire human race on the line. What's more, the Avenger making the challenge is one many fans will have never even heard of (until now).
Created by Dann Thomas, Roy Thomas, and Paul Ryan back in 1990, he's only ever made sporadic appearances in the comics. No Surrender has moved Lightning to the forefront as one of only a handful of heroes left in play during the Grandmaster's insane game. Unfortunately, by this point in the event Lightning has effectively drained himself of power in order to supercharge Mjolnir. Which means a game of poker may be all he has left.
The game proceeds exactly as one might expect: with two Avengers imprisoned by the Grandmaster, Lightning bets his freedom - and then, his life. But the Grandmaster raises the stakes even higher.
A single game of poker, to decide the fate of the world. No Avenger has ever gambled so much, but Lightning has to play the hand he's been dealt. He doesn't have the power to challenge an Elder of the Universe. He only has his own skills and instincts, and those lead him to believe he can still triumph. Because, even with the Earth itself as the prize, he still has one more thing to wager.
The progression is a fascinating one, pointing to the heart of what it means to be a hero. Lightning gambling his own freedom and life for his friends is noble, but... it's also what every Marvel superhero would do. Then, with the stakes rising, he gambles everything to save his entire world. In that moment Lightning isn't just risking himself, but every hero, every villain, every human life. Nobody appointed him to play this game on behalf of humanity, but he cements his place in history by simply doing what seems to be necessary, in a desperate attempt to save the world.
But winning in poker doesn't depend entirely on the hand you're dealt. It depends on whether or not you've got a read on your opponent. And Lightning believes he knows the Grandmaster's tells. If he's right, then he can outplay the Grandmaster and save the world. If he's wrong... then all will be lost.
It's an epic conclusion to Avengers: No Surrender, one unlike anything in Marvel history, with literally the fate of the world resting on one man's instincts. Can Lightning save the Earth?
Avengers #689 is available now from Marvel Comics.