At the onset of Marvel’s current Fresh Start, the publisher made a predictably uniform push to give its marquee characters renewed rack appeal. The whole initiative kicked off with Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness’s new volume of The Avengers and, in short order we had new #1 issues for fan-favorites like Deadpool, Venom, and Thor. From those first solicitations, there seemed to be very little “freshness” in the back-to-basics approach promised by new EIC C.B. Cebulski. Thor was a boy again; Peter Parker was a broke shmuck again. Tony Stark wasn’t dead, or in a coma, or whatever… and The Avengers looked more or less like the casual fan expected. I braced myself for a disappointing regression from the diversity, creativity, and artistic experimentation that had made Marvel stand apart from the major publishers in recent years.
Instead, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that Fresh Start, while pandering slightly to the fans who couldn’t deal with a Black Captain America or teenage girl in Iron Man armor, has been replete with some genuine excitement. Creativity preempts the same old: Mike del Mundo and Christian Ward, whose fantastic art is outside the capes ‘n tights norm, get the nod to kick off Jason Aaron’s final Thor volume. Al Ewing and Joe Bennett re-imagine Hulk as a chilling EC-inspired horror book.
Women writers take the reins on noteworthy titles: Kelly Thompson is tapped to bring back West Coast Avengers. Mariko Tamaki unveils the best Laura Kinney to date in the new X-23. And Margaret Stohl continues to orchestrate the comic book face of the MCU’s proudest new property, Captain Marvel.
Most interestingly, however, peppered among the predictable #1 issues, is a host of oddball books and unexpected revivals. Jeff Lemire is writing a great Sentry. Matthew Rosenberg is allowed to bring Multiple Man back from the dead. Cosmic Ghost Rider — maybe as odd as it gets — graduates from the pages of Donny Cates’s Thanos into his own mini. And my favorite Marvel B-lister of them all, Valkyrie, leads a marvelously unusual crew of cosmic godlings in this week’s Asgardians of the Galaxy #1.
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.
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.
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→
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last month, Marvel gave us our first look at the new Defenders series as a back-up feature to the Free Comic Book Day edition of Secret Empire. And this week, Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez introduce us to the full cast of this street-level vigilante superteam. Marvel Studios continues to hold sway, which is why this Defenders squad is unlike any team of that name that we’ve seen in the comics (a Defenders team with no Strange seems odd). But right away, you can tell that Bendis is driven by more than just the typical company mandate that resulted in phoned-in Guardians of the Galaxy comics or the tedious Civil War II. Bendis is here because he loves these characters. And if the story doesn’t convince you, his afterword says, in no uncertain terms: “I love Daredevil so much.”
He also reminds us that he created Jessica Jones, has had a perennial crush on Luke Cage, and even took an opportunity to develop the Iron Fist mythology when Brubaker and Fraction weren’t looking. So this is clearly something he’s excited about. Marquez is onboard too; those bold, logo-draped character entrances give Bendis’s quick cuts and fluid dialogue a 70’s-style cinematic beat. You can almost hear the horns and bassline when Luke Cage strolls up carrying five dozen sandwiches.