Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 3

Tessa Thompson joins Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, and Cate Blanchett as the sword-wielding Valkyrie in this November’s Thor: Ragnarok. There are many wonderfully succinct character bios available on the Internet that can illuminate her powers and backstory, but this isn’t one of them. This is part three in another ridiculously verbose Idle Time primer on Valkyrie, and if you’d like to get caught up, start with part one. If you are up to speed, and still reading these posts, thank you. I had no idea this little journey through oddball Marvel comics from the 70’s and 80’s would result in more than 10,000 words on an admittedly minor character. I’ve grown quite fond of Brunnhilde of the Valkyrior, to be honest. Regardless, I need to think about wrapping it up. But not before an in-depth look at the next writer responsible for putting his stamp on the character.

the Six-Fingered Hand saga begins in Defenders #94

Over the course of a decade, beginning in 1970, a handful of writers and artists took this concept and design, which began as nothing more than a villainous blind for Amora the Enchantress, and began to flesh out a complex and compelling character. She is Brunnhilde, leader of Odin’s nine valkyries, immortalized in popular culture by Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. For reasons as yet unclear, she was held captive by Amora, with her persona and powers bent to the sorceress’s will. Eventually that persona was permanently embedded in the body of a human woman, Barbara Norriss. In turn, Barbara’s psyche was trapped in Brunnhilde’s body, still held captive by the Enchantress. Brunnhilde fought nobly for years, while inhabiting Barbara’s body, as a member of the Defenders. During a war in Valhalla, the immortal body of Brunnhilde animated by Barbara’s psyche was damned to Niffleheim, and Valkyrie, as she was now known, went back to the hero business seemingly devoid of the psychic feedback and confusion that had been linked to Barbara Norriss (although she still happily made use of Barbara’s body).

She was still a member of the Defenders, and this famous “non-team” title had been a wonderful below-the-radar outlet for trippy forays into non-traditional stories, social commentary, and general experiments in superhero team dynamics. The next major creator to play around in the Defender sandbox was J.M. DeMatteis and he, much like Gerber before him, used this series to explore themes that may not have gone over as easily in a mainstream book.

Valkyrie is shot from behind and killed in Defenders #107 (May, 1982)

Gods & Goddesses, Death & Rebirth

DeMatteis’s later work, particularly on books like the Moonshadow graphic novel and DC’s Spectre, clearly showcases the author’s interest in spirituality and humanity’s place in the universe. But a look back at his earlier books, including a Defenders run that began with issue #92, reveals a related fascination with religious iconography, the psychology of faith, and the concept of an immortal soul. What better instrument of exploration than Valkyrie, a character herself inspired from human religious beliefs, right?

Wrong. As DeMatteis launches into his first lengthy storyline, “The Six-Fingered Hand,” Val takes a backseat to recent Defenders recruits Hellcat, Devil-Slayer, and Daimon Hellstrom, as well as Gargoyle, a character first introduced in Defenders #94. The Hand in question is an alliance of demons, captained by Mephisto, looking to unleash literal hell on earth. Hellcat, our dear Golden-Age Patsy Walker, reveals that she might be the daughter of the devil, and that she was sold into demonic servitude… by her mother! What a great opportunity for Valkyrie to sympathize. After all, the human body that she’s running around in belonged to Barbara Norriss, who was sold off to a cult of demon worshipers by her mother.

this all sounds really familiar…

But no. Throughout this storyline, replete with demonic possessions and satanic pacts, Valkyrie is a minor supporting character, operating almost exclusively in the background. You begin to get the impression that, had he been able, DeMatteis would have written her off the team. Even in the climactic battle, in Defenders #100, Mephisto separates her along with Clea and Silver Surfer, disregarding their worth as “children of other worlds” to be “consigned to an eternity as nothings — in a realm of nothing!”

Continue reading Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 3

Falcon

Despite Marc Guggenheim’s comical abuse of the term “legacy” in recent issues of X-Men: Gold, there are two other corners of the Marvel Universe that I fully expected the publisher to focus on in this new initiative. And, appropriately, in Week 2 of Marvel Legacy, the camera pans wide to take in the scarred landscape of Captain America and The Fantastic Four. There may be no character dealing with more trauma from Secret Empire than Sam Wilson, and Falcon #1, by Rodney Barnes and Joshua Cassara, is an especially poignant opener to a series that refuses to stand up for the anthem, as it were.

Sam has given up the shield and mantle of Captain America, and he’s back in costume as the Falcon, patrolling the streets of Chicago with the new Patriot, Rayshaun Lucas. Their first order of business is an attempt at dealing with a simmering gang war, but their real mission statement seems much broader, and far more daunting. Nick Spencer did a fine job reflecting the sociopolitical turmoil in this country in the pages of his two Cap books, and deserves commendation for persevering despite backlash from racist retailers and closed-minded readers (I mean, fer crissakes, this just happened last weekend). But now he passes the torch to Barnes, and he’s not holding back, or sweeping anything under the rug. “Legacy” may be the operative term, but Marvel’s recent editorial shifts to diversify its character base and shake up generations of white male super-icons is not only admirable, it’s imperative.

Steve Rogers has his own shit to figure out; that’s not Sam’s problem any longer. He does, however, have to deal with the fact that the most trusted human being on the planet just committed the biggest act of betrayal, and, right now, disillusionment with the superpowered set is at an all-time high. Especially when you’re dodging bullets in the South Side.

Continue reading Falcon