War of the Realms: Week Four

Continuing our weekly survey of everything War of the Realms with some quick reactions on the three event tie-in books that came out this Wednesday. But first, a moment of silence for last week’s dearly departed, the O.G. Valkyrie. The Asgardian shield-maiden’s name and role will live on, of course, thanks to Tessa Thompson and Jane Foster, but, for the time-being at least, the Marvel Universe will have to do without their original Scandinavian warrior woman with the killer blonde braids. And because I’ve become particularly fond of this character in recent years (especially after digging in to her bonkers origin stories), I’m going to offer up, as tribute, my top 5 Brunnhilde the Valkyrie covers over the decades.

She hasn’t been on a lot of covers, of course (but more than your average B-lister, to be sure), but I still had a hard time narrowing it down. So instead of one top 5 list, I’ll share two: this week a list of standard covers, followed up by favorite variants next week. We live in the Golden Age of collectible alternate covers, of course. We’ve come a looong way since 1989’s Legends of the Dark Knight #1 and its multiple cover colors (save that little nugget, trivia fans) and Val has been featured on more than her share of retailer incentives. But the classics come first, in chronological order:

The Incredible Hulk #142 (1971)
Cover by Herb Trimpe

This is Valkyrie’s second appearance, and the first time Brunnhilde’s spirit is housed in a human host. It wasn’t the mentally unstable and long-time Defender Barbara Norriss, however, but Manhattan socialite and feminist activist Samantha Parrington getting the mystical whammy from Enchantress. The iconic cover by the wonderful Herb Trimpe was actually given the homage treatment in a recent “Hasbro Toy” variant cover on a 2014 issue of Hulk.

Defenders #4 (1973)
Cover by John Buscema and Jim Starlin

The classic issue in which crazy-ass Barbara gets Brunnhilde zapped into her body and takes over Aragorn from the turned-to-stone Black Knight. Norriss was the longest-running host for Valkyrie, and her best and craziest adventures happened in the pages of The Defenders, beginning with this Steve Englehart run before getting passed along to Steve Gerber and J.M. Dematteis.

Marvel Two-in-One #7 (1975)
Cover by John Romita, Sr.

This one is special for a few reasons. Besides being a great Romita cover, it’s also the beginning of Gerber’s seminal Defenders work. The totally bonkers Celestial Harmonica story, and its connection to Valkyrie, begins in this comic. On a personal level, this brings back special memories because it was part of that battered batch of comics that made up my collection long, long ago before I discovered comic book shops, bags & boards, and all the rest. To this day, when I think of my earliest impressions of this character, they take me back to this issue. I don’t know where that beat-to-hell copy is today (scant few remain from those early years, save for some odd G.I. Joes, Peter Porkers and Spider-Mans), but I have since added a more pristine copy to my grown-up collection.

Defenders #130 (1984)
Cover by Frank Cirocco

In the last years of its life, as the original Defenders title limped off to eventual cancellation, gutted by the X-Factor genesis, the book took on the “New” moniker in an effort to make it somehow more appealing. It also featured some incredible eye-popping cover artwork from folks like Mike Mignola, Kevin Nowlan, and Bill Sienkiewicz. But easily one of the best — and my personal favorite — is this Valkyrie cover by the great Frank Cirocco. Frank was one-half of the creative team behind Alien Legion, still one of the classic works of sci-fi in the comics medium. I can’t remember what happens in this particular Defenders issue (and I don’t care enough to Google it), but I remember the era well, and love this cover.

Fear Itself: The Fearless #12 (2012)
Cover by Art Adams

Flash forward several decades into the modern capes n’ tights era (or the “Diamond Age” if you’re a fan of our trivia nights) to the point in which Valkyrie has been restored to her original, beautiful, Brunnhilde self (but just prior to the silly Annabelle Riggs body-timeshare ploy). The great Arthur Adams did a number of great Valkyrie covers during the Fear Itself event and he also featured her on a gorgeous variant cover for Busiek and Larsen’s underappreciated 2001 Defenders relaunch. This capper to the The Fearless spinoff series is classic.

Now, back to our weekly War of the Realms rundown. Three tie-ins this week that run the full range of importance, from best to worst.

As with his Thor series with Mike del Mundo, Jason Aaron’s Avengers book with Ed McGuinness is required reading (even if it hadn’t been tied in to the War of the Realms). This week’s Avengers #18 features D.C.’.s greatest heroes… Which is funny, of course, because the Squadron Supreme, America’s new homegrown superhero team and based in Washington, D.C., was originally conceived by Roy Thomas and John Buscema as a pastiche of DC Comics’s Justice League. Anyway — there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, including some sinister machinations by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s back-from-the-dead Phil Coulson. No current Avengers appear in this issue, but there is lots of glorious giant-slaying nonetheless. Essential.

The X-Men rarely get fully integrated into these major Marvel Universe events, unless their characters are at the heart of the story (as in House of M or Avengers vs. X-Men). And with the bulk of the mutant superheroes presumed dead after being sucked into the Age of X-Man, it’s left to Matthew Rosenberg’s skeleton crew of middling X-leftovers to mind the store and the flagship series. As luck (or spectacular planning) would have it, however, one of those remaining X-Men is Dani Moonstar, the once and future member of Odin’s Valkyrior. And when the call goes out from the all-father in War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #1, Dani and Magik are compelled to answer. This pulls the rest of the ragtag mutant group into the fray. How integral this tale will be for the overall story still remains to be seen, but this three-part mini seems fun and Pere Perez’s art is fantastic. Recommended.

I’m just not a big Venom fan. Never have been. Having said that, the new Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman series is pretty great, and I’ve enjoyed every issue these two have put together. Venom #13, however, the War of the Realms tie-in, features the underwhelming fill-in team of Cullen Bunn and Iban Coello. A Norn witch goofs and allows Eddie to re-bond with a dumb-looking Viking version of his symbiote by using a “dreamstone.” The book is equally dumb. Dispensable.

April 17 | Weekly Buzz | May 1