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Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 4

Taika Waititi’s highly anticipated Thor: Ragnarok opens in theaters this weekend, and the hype engine has been revving ever louder for the indie filmmaker’s first Hollywood blockbuster. Among interview bon mots like Waititi’s stance that he’d love another chance at an MCU film, so long as it’s Thor, because he doesn’t “really like any of the other characters,” is buzz regarding Marvel’s first openly LGBTQ character, Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson.

boom! – nice to meet you

We’ve been detailing Valkyrie’s comic book backstory and, if you’ve been following along since the first installment, know that this unnecessarily in-depth primer is finally getting wrapped up. Thanks for sticking it out. If you’re here for the first time, welcome as well! And if Valkyrie’s bisexual orientation is what steered you here, then you’ve arrived at an opportune time. This four-part series on the Nordic shield-maiden is, ostensibly, a guided reading list of key storylines. In the process, however, we’ve shed some light on how the visions of various creative teams, over several decades, can shape and define a character. Her sexual orientation, for example, really came into focus within the last few years.

When last we left Brunnhilde of the Valkyrior, she had finally been restored to her true form, body and mind in the same place for the first time in centuries. Her memories were no longer muddied with those of mortal hosts like Samantha Parrington or Barbara Norriss (may she rest in peace); her powers of enhanced strength and combat skill had become more pronounced; and she was leading (at least in her own mind), the “New” Defenders. And then she died. Again.

Back Issue! #65, the B-Team edition

This was an editorial mandate to free up all those former X-Men for the launch of X-Factor. Without Beast, Iceman, and Angel, there was very little rack appeal for The Defenders, and the series was ticketed for cancellation. Despite her lengthy tenure on the team, Valkyrie really didn’t have a life outside of that title, so she was sadly sacrificed along with super-nobodies Interloper, Andromeda, Gargoyle, and Manslaughter. In an interview for Back Issue, Peter B. Gillis bemoans the premature demise of the team he had been building.

My long-term plan was to populate the Defenders with my own crew of characters… characters who nonetheless had ties to interesting parts of the Marvel Universe. Andromeda, while not the Sub-Mariner, gave me a connection to Atlantis. – Peter Gillis

Even though he didn’t get his chance to develop that crew, including some remarkably stupid characters (“I fell in love with Manslaughter as much as Don [Perlin] did. He was definitely going to stay a member”), Gillis found a way to bring back Valkyrie et al, in the pages of another book he was writing, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. Continue reading Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 4

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

Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 2

This is part two in a primer on the comic book saga of Valkyrie, portrayed in this fall’s Thor: Ragnarok by Tessa Thompson. For the first part of her story, including the origins of three different Valkyries, brought to life by comics legends Roy Thomas, John and Sal Buscema, and Steve Englehart, among others, click here.

Valkyrie magically connects to her teammates’ origins in Giant-Size Defenders #1 (July, 1974)

The newly incarnated Valkyrie, the persona of an Asgardian warrior in the body of a human named Barbara Norriss, may have been the missing ingredient that transformed these conflicting personalities into a team of Defenders. Or, at least, brought them dangerously close to establishing the identity that they had been denying for several issues. In Giant-Size Defenders #1, Doctor Strange’s disciple Clea guides Val through a framed narrative that helps her make sense of the “three titans” who, despite each possessing his own headstrong nature, seem to work so well together in this burgeoning super-squad.

part of the Valkyrie framing sequence, beautifully illustrated by Jim Starlin

Just as these normally solitary heroes are coming together as a team, however, Valkyrie asks for a leave of absence from the Defenders. She has unresolved issues with her past, specifically her connection to Barbara Norriss. But despite expressing a desire to part ways, Valkyrie soon finds herself fighting alongside the team on several adventures, including the famous Avengers/Defenders War.

Val is matched up against the Swordsman in the Avengers/Defenders War

That clash is precipitated by Doctor Strange’s solution for bringing the Black Knight back to life, currently existing as a stone statue in Strange’s home. But following the manipulations of Loki and Dormammu, members of each super-team find themselves squared off against one another in a competition to recover pieces of the Evil Eye. Cooler heads prevail (as is typically the case in these hero v. hero conflicts), and Val and her cohorts journey to the twelfth century in an effort to restore the limbo-locked soul of the Black Knight to the present. During this adventure, Valkyrie responsibly returns the Ebony Blade to its rightful owner.

Dane Whitman, however, makes the decision to remain in the past, alive again in the body of his ancestor. Since Aragorn didn’t make the trip back in time, Val gets to keep the Black Knight’s flying horse. In Defenders #12, Doctor Strange gives Val her new magic sword, Dragonfang, which was carved – not surprisingly – from the tooth of a dragon. A few issues later, new Defender Nighthawk uses his super-powered checkbook to buy Val a private riding academy for her winged steed. Pretty nice friends, kid.

you’ll never guess what a sword called “Dragonfang” was carved from

Continue reading Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 2

Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 1

This fall’s Thor: Ragnarok may be winning the hype war with a rockin’ 80’s-themed trailer and a Planet Hulk-style interstellar gladiatorial tournament, but it’s those co-stars that really get my head banging. Cate Blanchett as Hela looks fantastic, and, like this guy, makes me want to buy toys again. Jeff Goldblum is inspired as the Grandmaster, and knowing that the director himself, Taika Waititi, gets his mo-cap suit on for a turn as the combatant Korg is delightful. This movie just looks like a great time. And my favorite addition to the party just might be the lovely Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie.

For the fourth in our series of comic book primers on B-list characters making big screen debuts, we’ve mined the archives and dug deep into the vaults. Presented here is a fairly comprehensive history of Valkyrie’s funnybook career, accompanied by reading recommendations for anyone even as remotely obsessive as myself.

Valkyries in Norse tradition are the mythical warrior women who preside over mortal battles, shepherding the chosen slain into the halls of Valhalla, where the noble combatants can revel, drinking mead and sharpening their axes in anticipation of Ragnarok. In a Marvel universe already well populated with mythological characters and lore, it was only a matter of time before Brunnhilde the Valkyrie made an appearance. This Valkyrie, like her kinsman Thor, possesses superhuman strength befitting an immortal Asgardian, but instead of a hammer, swings a big-ass sword as her weapon of choice. She’s also surprisingly less married to that Nordic tradition than is the God of Thunder. For years she flew around on the back of Aragorn, a winged horse handed down from the Arthurian-inspired hero Black Knight. She even picked up his Ebony Blade for a spell, before replacing it with the still-not-very-Viking-sounding Dragonfang. And, at least during the earlier years of her career, she was much more interested in punching men in the face than escorting them to the afterlife.

This Valkyrie is more than just an anachronistic collection of accessories in a hot outfit, and her origin story is as bizarre and non-traditional as any comic book hero that came to life in the gloriously zany 1970’s. Read on, for a backstory that involves demon-worshiping cultists, celestial harmonicas, and Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung.
Continue reading Four Color Primer: Valkyrie, Part 1

Ranking Marvel’s ResurrXion 13 – 6

13
Iceman

Sina Grace & Alessandro Vitti

No humor whatsoever would be preferable to what passes for jokes in Iceman. And acknowledging that something is a “dad joke” doesn’t make the inclusion of one acceptable. Everything in Iceman falls flat. Dumb art? Check. Constant hamfisted reminders of Bobby’s homosexuality starting on page 1? Check. Way too much dialogue in unimportant scenes to the point where half the page is dialogue bubbles? Check. Overused devices like starting a book out with someone questioning themselves before answering “check”? Check. This book is terrible. Read anything else. – IP

This book misses every pitch. I get why someone would want to make a Classic X-man that has been retroactively written as gay more appealing to contemporary audiences, but the whole “dating-profile” device is super lame. Iceman is both literally and figuratively cool. Dude would be on Grindr or Tinder or something. If you’re gonna do it, fucking commit. Seeing Iceman go on an awkward Grindr date could be much more effective at getting these themes across, rather than traversing the typical tropes of disapproving parents and self-discomfort. After Bobby trains himself, why doesn’t he ask younger Bobby some questions about being gay? There’s an interesting conversation. And are we just gonna avoid the whole masturbating question? If young Bobby and future Bobby were to mess around….what would it be considered? Where’s that joke? – tyrannofloresrex

Collection: Iceman, Vol. 1 (January 2018)

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12
All-New Wolverine

Tom Taylor & Leonard Kirk
beginning with #19

I really like the dynamic of Laura and her clone Gabby as a team. The alien virus crash-landing on Roosevelt Island was a little unoriginal, but the fact that the virus was transmitted by an innocent child with some kind of connection to Laura, made it a bit more intriguing. I’d want to keep reading this. Also, Governor’s Ball is definitely cancelled. – hltchk

I really like Laura, but she seems to be stuck in a recycle. Wolverine built a huge fanbase off of solo books as a mentor to younger, equally deadly characters, including X-23, and it just seems really uninventive to throw Laura in the same situation so soon. – tyrannofloresrex

Collection: All-New Wolverine vol. 4: Immune (December)

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Continue reading Ranking Marvel’s ResurrXion 13 – 6

Marvel’s ResurrXion Ranked

Fox’s The Gifted

Despite receiving considerably less fanfare than any of their regularly scheduled publishing initiatives, like All-New All-Different or the forthcoming Legacy, Marvel’s recent refresh on their mutant and Inhuman books has not only shown some sorely needed love to these teams and characters, but produced some wholly entertaining titles as well. The first few months of ResurrXion, rising out of the ashes of Death of X and Inhumans vs. X-Men, has given us thirteen new series or storyline kickoffs.

ABC’s Inhumans

It’s a good time to shine a spotlight on these two venerable Marvel properties. Fox’s X-movies are still popular as hell, with current buzz building for the Deadpool sequel. FX’s Legion series was fantastic, and their network mutant show, The Gifted, looks promising. Marvel Studios has been forcing Inhumanity down our throats for a few years now, but with the highly anticipated debut of ABC’s Inhumans show this fall, the royal family finally takes center stage. Nothing against Daisy Johnson or that creepy porcupine monster that Ruth Negga turned into, but we want to see Black Bolt and Lockjaw! Continue reading Marvel’s ResurrXion Ranked

Ranking Marvel NOW! 56 – 41

56
Slapstick

Fred Van Lente & Reilly Brown

There is a lengthy dinner table discussion where Slapstick talks to his entire family about how he lost his dingus. Also he lights his fart on fire. These things happen, and don’t even make me laugh. – MeanOldPig

I can’t think of a more appropriate title for the collected edition. – MMDG

First collection: Slapstick, Vol. 1: That’s Not Funny (August)

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55
Solo

Gerry Duggan, Geoffrey Thorne & Paco Diaz

This is really dumb. Why does Marvel like this Thorne guy so much? The writing is so juvenile, and I couldn’t possibly give a lesser shit about Solo. I think we’re going to see a steady decline on all the SHIELD/spy-type garbage over the next year. – MMDG

Did not enjoy this. One or two amusing puppy panels is all I can say were good about Solo. What is Marvel thinking with this one? – IP

Collection: Solo: The One-Man War on Terror (June)

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Continue reading Ranking Marvel NOW! 56 – 41

Marvel NOW! – The First Six Months

It didn’t take long following Marvel’s All-New All-Different relaunch for the company to tease information regarding another “things will never be the same again” initiative. There was bound to be some fallout from last summer’s major crossover event, and the new season of books and fresh storylines was geared for a Marvel NOW! branding. No, this wasn’t the same Marvel NOW! slate that followed 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men event. This was an all-new, all-different Marvel NOW, if you will. I mean, look at that shattered and distressed NOW logo. Totally different.

In the same way that 2015’s Secret Wars set the stage for All-New All-Different universe, Civil War II was meant to segue into these Marvel NOW titles. And, in the same way that Secret Wars scheduling delays detracted from the initial ANAD offerings, major lags in CW2 meant that Marvel NOW! releases were rife with spoilers. And, sure, we Idlers bitched and moaned with the rest of the comic book community. But that didn’t mean we weren’t excited to read, rank, and review another stack of new books. In fact, the first month of this “shattered” NOW! initiative gave us some of the most promising superhero books in years.

Continue reading Marvel NOW! – The First Six Months

Marvel NOW! – Week 14

When MeanOldPig shared the cover image for U.S.Avengers #1 a few months back, I thought it was a joke – a goofy fanart pin-up at best or, at worst, an authentic cover, but for some tongue-in-cheek series along the lines of Vote Loki. But, no, this was really happening. So the questions were: how is this coming together… and why? At the time, Ewing’s off-kilter New Avengers book hadn’t really established its own direction, awkwardly caught between an attempt at picking up the pieces from Hickman’s Avengers World, and the goal of defining itself as a genuine, albeit disjointed, superhero team with a place in the All-New All-Different Marvel universe.

file_000-2By the time the series ended, a few weeks ago, storylines involving triple-agents, S.H.I.E.L.D. shenanigans, and the only version of Reed Richards that we’ve seen in print for more than a year – the evil sliced-up Maker from the Ultimate Universe – had been hurriedly concluded. Now, back to figuring out exactly what this Avengers squad is supposed to be, and who makes the roster.

Roberto da Costa, formely known as the mutant hero Sunspot, and now the latest hero to adopt the alter ego Citizen V, has taken his Avengers Idea Mechanics out from the shadows and boldly partnered with the U. S. of A. His new Avengers team is just as weird as it was in the last volume. In fact, maybe even more so. But somehow, this time I’m digging it.

Gone is the token recognizable Avenger; following Civil War II, Hawkeye has his own issues (and new issues of Occupy Avengers to dick around in). That’s not Iron Man, but a new Iron Patriot, this time captained by Dr. Toni Ho. Speaking of captains, that’s not Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, or even Sam Wilson wielding the shield. That’s Danielle Cage – Luke and Jessica’s kid – as a Captain America from an alternate future. That’s not any Hulk you’re used to seeing, either. Hell, it’s not even the Red Hulk any of us assumed it to be. Round it off with Squirrel Girl, Cannonball, and a repurposed Pod, and you’ve got maybe the oddest group calling themselves Avengers since that gang of goofballs from the Great Lakes.

Maybe it’s the means of introduction, or maybe it’s the table-setting with some equally oddball adventures looming, but for now, I’m buying what you’re selling, Ewing and Medina.
Continue reading Marvel NOW! – Week 14

Love Is Love

The most important book on the new releases shelf this week is a trade anthology published by IDW, in conjunction with DC Entertainment. Love Is Love, with dozens of stories, artistic tributes, and messages, is a collaboration organized by Marc Andreyko intended to honor those killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando earlier this year. From the book’s solicitation: “this oversize comic contains moving and heartfelt material from some of the greatest talents in comics — mourning the victims, supporting the survivors, celebrating the LGBTQ community, and examining love in today’s world. All material has been kindly donated by the writers, artists, and editors with all proceeds going to victims, survivors, and their families. Be a part of an historic comics event! It doesn’t matter who you love. All that matters is that you love.”

2016 has been a helluva year. The Idle Time clubhouse, for all its escapist frivolity and arguments about superpowers or cinematography, has not been immune to the disbelief and confusion brought on by real-world events over the last twelve months. I’m a little tired of being told that “we live in a bubble,” or that “we don’t understand what’s going on in the rest of the country.” What I do understand is that it’s almost 2017 and my nation is still beset with racism, bigotry, rampant misogyny, and hate. As a straight, white male I have a hard time accepting this. I can’t begin to imagine how my gay friends, my Muslim coworkers, or my own daughter feels when any one of them sees the news each day. When they’re told that they don’t understand what’s going on in the world.

I firmly believe that there are more of us that love than hate, more of us that celebrate than destroy. More of us who appreciate diversity than are frightened by things they don’t comprehend. And the more of us need to start affecting the rest of them. Seeing so many artists and writers who I admire come together for a project like Love Is Love exemplifies this. If it takes pinups of Superman waving a rainbow flag, or goofy exchanges between Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, to drive the point home, so be it.


Continue reading Love Is Love