What the D'ast? Grandmaster
(Editor’s note: This is another in a series of irregularly-scheduled columns by Managing Editor Byron Brewer, mainly dealing with Marvel Cosmic and its many denizens. Mr. Brewer’s opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CosmicBookNews.com. He welcomes both raves and opposing views.)
By Byron Brewer
This Elder of the Universe was a protagonist in one of the first Marvel Comics I ever read, Avengers #69, in which the Black Knight finally joins the group. He and Kang were contesting and, as usual, the Grandmaster won.
Although his exact origin is unknown, En Dwi Gast is one of the oldest living beings in the universe, coming from one of the first intelligent races to evolve after the Big Bang. He once possessed the Mind Gem, one of the six Infinity Gems, but he lost it to Thanos. Of course, the Grandmaster’s preferred game is pitting two opposing teams against each other.
In his first appearance, the aforementioned Avengers #69, the Grandmaster played a game against Kang, using the Avengers and Squadron Sinister as pawns. He next used the Defenders as pawns in a game against the Prime Mover.
The Grandmaster has even challenged Death herself to a game of strategy, with the power to resurrect his fellow Elder the Collector as prize. A large collection of Earth heroes were used as pawns by both sides of the game; the Grandmaster promised that, if he won, he would never again use Earth's heroes as his pawns. The Grandmaster won, only to learn the resurrection power could only be used if someone else died in the resurrectee's place. Nonetheless, the Grandmaster felt the game would not be complete unless the power was used; Death suggested he use the heroes' lives instead, but, unwilling to break his promise to never again manipulate them, he instead sacrificed his own life to resurrect the Collector.
The Grandmaster returned from beyond his grave to plague the East and West Coast Avengers during one of their annual games of baseball, reasoning that, since he was dead, he was free from his vow to leave Earth's heroes in peace. After he and the Collector tricked the teams into battling each other, the Grandmaster succeeded in his true plan: to capture Lady Death and usurp her powers. He forced the Avengers to participate in a competition with the Legion of the Unliving in order to stop a series of powerful bombs, the fate being all of creation. Captain America and Hawkeye were the only two heroes to survive; the rest of the Avengers were slain, only to instantly join the Legion. As the Grandmaster was preparing to force the pair to fight the Legion again, Hawkeye convinced him to lay it all on the line with one last game of pure chance. Hawkeye held one arrow in each fist, the tips hidden in his hands. Grandmaster would win if he chose the one with Hawkeye's last arrowhead. The one he picked was headless (Hawkeye admits to Captain America that he had cheated: he quickly snapped off the arrowhead as the Grandmaster chose the correct arrow), and his distraction allowed Lady Death to escape her bonds and banish the Grandmaster and all other Elders from her realm — in effect, making them immortal! As a reward, she returned the deceased Avengers to life.
The Grandmaster and a group of other Elders then conspired to kill Galactus and restart the universe; they felt that being banned from Death's realm would make them the sole survivors to continue their obsessions in a whole new universe. The Grandmaster battled Galactus and the Silver Surfer, and was devoured by Big G. Along with the other Elders, he caused Galactus "cosmic indigestion" from within, and escaped.
Since then, he showed up in various other stories playing games against both Korvac and Kang. The Grandmaster recreated his Squadron Sinister, with new incarnations of members Doctor Spectrum and Hyperion, to contend against the Thunderbolts. He had been using this Squadron to destroy several sources of extra-dimensional energy, known collectively as the "Universal Wellspring," apparently to prevent Zemo from controlling them. In Thunderbolts#106, the Grandmaster was dispersed by Zemo in a battle for the final Wellspring. Later in Thunderbolts #108, he was restored and battled Zemo for control of Earth. However, using all the power of Earth that had been loaned to him by Earth's superhumans, Zemo was able to take his powers away. Zemo then shot the Grandmaster in the head, seemingly killing him.
But ya can’t keep a good Elder down, especially when Death has booted him out of her domain. Thus the Grandmaster again returns, promising the Hulk the revival of his long-lost love, Jarella (although this has been thought in the past to be beyond his power), if he participates in a battle to the death with a team of his choice. The Hulk chooses Doctor Strange, Namor and the Surfer, but the Grandmaster takes them from different points in time (specifically, moments when their greatest loves were lost to them), and sets them against a team gathered by the Collector, which is composed of the Red Hulk, Baron Mordo, Tiger Shark and Terrax. Upon the conclusion of this brutal battle, the Grandmaster is apparently slain by the Red Hulk.
One of even the green Hulk’s intelligence knows that it takes more than a crimson clobbering to take out an Elder of the Universe. Unless Lady Death has changed her mind, I would not be surprised to see this most active of Elders back any time now – perhaps playing cards with the Many-Angled Ones?