I don’t think the world was crying out for a sequel to the thoroughly alright “Avengers: No Surrender,” which served to wrap up the various “Avengers” series Al Ewing, Jim Zub, and Mark Waid were writing at the time, but we got one anyway. “No Road Home,” however is the exceedingly rare time when a follow-up to a Marvel event actually surpasses the original. Yes, the main plot is another MacGuffin hunt. The key difference this time is that the hunt is a lot more interesting this time around.
It all starts with night falling on the Marvel Universe. It turns out that after Earth was snatched away during the events of “No Surrender” it allowed Nyx, the Queen of the Night, to escape from the prison she was put in by the Greek Gods. After she and her children smash up Olympus and every god that was there at the time, she sets her sights on getting back her power. It was split into three pieces and cast off into parts unknown. Standing in her way is a very disparate group of Avengers consisting of Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Spectrum, Hercules, Voyager, Rocket Racoon, and Hulk.
“No Road Home” greatly benefits from not having to wrap up three different “Avengers” series and find a way to make use of every member of those teams. And a few more. And all the villains. It’s a much more focused romp that knows what it wants to do and actually has time to develop its subplots. So the Vision’s mortality crisis and Hercules’ anguish over the death of his family actually have some room to breathe and actually contribute something to the overall story.
These things are nice, but the series really benefits from letting co-writer Ewing do his thing here. One of the biggest disappointments of “No Surrender” was how little time it gave over to the writer’s team of “U.S.Avengers.” What a difference a year makes. Now with a smash hit in the form of “The Immortal Hulk” under his belt, this series has much more time for an Ewing-written character.
While I’m sure the writer also handled characters here other than the Hulk, his influence is most keenly felt with this character. The Hulk we see here is absolutely the Devil one and while he may not want Nyx to win, he’s got his own plans for how to go about doing it. Plans that also include settling up with Hawkeye for honoring Banner’s wishes to kill him if he ever got out of control in “Civil War II.” As opposed to trying to talk him down and get the man some real help.
Whenever the story shifts to focus on the Devil Hulk, there’s a real feeling that things aren’t going according to plan. Like the rules regarding how these kinds of event stories are meant to play out aren’t being observed. It makes for some thrilling sequences as Devil Hulk leads the charge in Nightmare’s realm and even has you wondering how things are going to turn out when he gets his hands on part of Nyx’s power. Things don’t go as completely off the rails as I hoped they would, but it’s still a thrill to see this character in action here.
There’s another character who juices up the story almost as much as Hulk does. That’d be none other than Conan the Barbarian. I’ll say it right now: “No Road Home” may be $10 more expensive than the first volume of the “Conan” series I reviewed yesterday, but it’s easily the better of the two. It’s more fun to see Conan mix it up with this group of Avengers than to go through the usual motions. He really does feel like he works within the Marvel Universe. Never more so than when he urges Vision that the only thing more human than accepting death is fighting against it until your dying breath.
“No Road Home” also has a stellar group of artists bringing its action to life. Paco Medina has been doing this kind of superhero action for a while and he knows how to make it look cool with his issues. Sean Izaakse has been doing it for slightly less long, but he throws up some good scenes too. As well as what’s likely the coolest image I’ll see in a Marvel comic this year: Hulk on a giant black horse, holding sword, flanked by Hawkeye and Rocket Racoon (and Nightmare), threatening “The night is my time.” It is glorious and I feel bad for changing the subject to Carlo Barberi who pitches in for one issue. He does fine work but not as fine as that.
Really, the biggest issue I have with this series is that, even if it threatens to at times, it never fully diverges from the superhero event story template. It’s still a superior example of that format with great art, sharp writing, and some star turns from a couple of its characters. If these writers want another shot at a weekly “Avengers” series, then Marvel should definitely give it to them. This time, they’ve earned it.