Be careful what you wish for, kid. After two somewhat unspectacular weeks of Marvel’s major 2019 event, week three of War of the Realms gives me everything I could have wanted from a universe-wide fiesta. But at such a cost. Oh my, what a cost… [One little spoiler ahead.]
Key among the WotR offerings this week is the second issue of the main title. Jason Aaron is forgiven for not knowing how to write Spider-Man (issue #1) because he reminds us how well he knows so many other key players in the Marvel U. The team-up between Logan and Frank Castle is one of the early highlights of this stage of Battleground Manhattan, and Doctor Strange’s Sanctum, along with his Aaron-assisted supporting cast, becomes a gateway to evacuating much of the populace to Avengers mountain (another wonderful Aaron brainchild).
But more than anything, the ever-reliable Marvel scribe and architect of everything Ten Realms-related knows his way around an event book. This second issue has all that glorious plan-staging and sub-team organizing that makes you anxious for Wednesday to roll around each week. In this era of binged television and massive all-at-once content dumps, it’s fun to be reminded of appointment viewing/reading. War of the Realms is the Game of Thrones of the comic book medium.
But, speaking of GoT, this issue really gets to me with its Barristan Selmy treatment of one of my new favorite B-list Marvel characters. Valkyrie — Brunnhilde the Valkyrie, to be specific — gets her little spotlight with Jane Foster right before she decides to make a charge at Malekith alone. No surprises how this turns out…
If it feels like every new Thor launch is scripted by Jason Aaron, that’s because this is the sixth time the prolific writer has had his name attached to one thundering #1 or another. And while the Jane Foster/Thor arc (itself witness to two premiere issues) with Russell Dauterman will forever hold a special place in my heart, there’s reason to believe that for this week’s “Fresh Start” Thor #1, Aaron has saved the best for last.
THOR #1 is in stores today, with this incredible cover by the amazing @DeadlyMike! Yes, this is the 6th THOR #1 I’ve done, but also likely the last, as we begin the third & final act of my run. I’m really proud of how different those first issues all look & feel. Hope you dig it. pic.twitter.com/NJ85Qfpigv
“Likely the last,” Jason? Tough to hear, and as much as we’d like for you to be to Thor what Dan Slott was to Spider-Man (or maybe you already are?), we know about all good things and such. But if your final act is going to kick off with art by the fantastic Mike del Mundo and feature back-up tales by the equally incomparable Christian Ward, you won’t hear anyone complaining. Continue reading Thor #1→
Not Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler, but the Night-Crawler, interdimensional guardian who protects the doorway to the realm of the Undying Ones. And he’s the answer to the question, who’s the other guy on Grandmaster’s tower in Thor: Ragnarok?
In a movie characteristically replete with fun Easter eggs, it surprised me to see such an obscure Marvel reference figured prominently in the bottom left of this towering tribute to Sakaar’s grand champions. Not surprisingly, the Internet has had a very hard time identifying this guy. I only recognized him because I had just finished an exhausting research project on Valkyrie in anticipation of this very movie. The Night-Crawler makes his first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #126 (April, 1970) by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe. In this same issue Barbara Norriss, who will later go on to inhabit the body of Brunnhilde the Valkyrie (Defenders #4), sacrifices herself to release Doctor Strange from a mystical prison. Catch up on the whole twisted tale here. Continue reading It’s the Night-Crawler!→
Thor is a person, he is an Asgardian, he is the son of Odin, he is the future king. Thor is also a mantle, a gift given to the God of Thunder, a license to wield the hammer Mjolnir. Separating the man from the mantle has been Jason Aaron’s primary focus in his incredible run with Thor thus far. The Mighty Thor #700, the defining title from Marvel’s Legacy initiative, is also Aaron’s greatest Thor story yet. Featuring a huge cast of “Thors,” a cavalcade of artists of an astounding variety of styles, and a realm-sprawling story worthy of the Legacy name, the issue is such a success because of the way it blends the past and present of Thor, as well as hinting at some intriguing future tales of the God of Thunder.
Aaron’s continuing saga of The Mighty Thor (Jane Foster’s story) takes a backseat to give the real meat of the issue to the original Thor, now unworthy of Mjolnir due to Nick Fury’s revelation that the Odinson himself believes Gods unsuitable for such a gift. Odinson must fight a horde of Malekith’s diverse army at the sanctuary of the Norns, weavers of fate. His failure in the central story of the issue is what’s used as a jumping off point for several potential followup stories. Though the issue features layers of groundwork for the future, it does so by building upon the past. Aaron’s run began in Thor, God of Thunder with Thor being thrust into the God Butcher’s sick attempt at genocide, an intense encounter which would leave the Odinson with that very feeling of unworthiness in the back of his mind. Issue #700 furthers that story by showing how the remnants of the God Butcher found their way to Galactus and Ego, the Living Planet. In one of the most conceptually insane series of pages in modern comic book history, Ego eats the corrupted Galactus.
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→
Every once in a while a book comes out that reminds us not only how much we love the glorious spark and bombast of superhero comics, but also how much we’ve loved them over the years, and how much these characters, creators, and concepts have meant to us through various stages of our lives. One of the principal aims of Marvel’s Legacy initiative is to pay tribute to Marvel’s storied past while paving the way for an exciting future. No one has taken that more to heart, or done a better job embodying those ideals, than Jason Aaron. In Week 3 of Marvel Legacy, Aaron and a host of incredible artists drop the “god-sized” Thor #700 on the shelves, and, verily, the earth doth shake with its majesty.
The War of the Ten Realms is still raging, and now things really escalate as Malekith and his armies move against the stronghold of the Norns at the base of the World Tree, Yggdrasil. The sisters who weave strands of fate are besieged, and in the process, the very fabric of storytelling itself comes under attack. It’s the perfect milieu for this launch, and the gorgeous two-page interior spread by Thor artist extraordinaire Russell Dauterman portends enough future storylines, each of them with threads connecting back to that legacy tapestry, to make your head spin. There’s Loki with the Infinity Gauntlet and Odinson with what looks like a golden hammer. Both Namor and Brunnhilde look primed for battle. Jane Foster might really (snif…) succumb to cancer and, in the background, the Mangog looms!
You want more Legacy? You’ve got more Legacy. What’s more Marvel than a classic Hulk vs. Thor battle? Except in the modern era, that means Thor, Goddess of Thunder, taking on Jennifer Walters, the hero formerly known as She-Hulk.
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!”
We’ve been building up to this for months, in the pages of various one-shot Generations books: a new publishing initiative that honors the tradition of decades of Marvel characters, stories, concepts, and creators with a mind towards the future and a host of recent additions to the superhero family. Legacy is a loaded term, and not one that you’d expect the House of Ideas – or its fans – to take lightly. For this latest trade dress, a return to sequential numbering for the various series is only part of the appeal. Of the two major comics publishers, DC has been the one traditionally most hesitant to restart volume numbering on its titles, respecting a much more rigid and carefully curated continuity. Which is fine. Part of Marvel’s appeal has always been its loose adherence to storyline sequence and chronology. Maybe Tony Stark created the Iron Man armor during the Cold War… or maybe it was during the war in Afghanistan… it doesn’t matter; the spirit of the story and the character is more important.
But, at some point, all of these new number one issues and “All-New” restarts and “NOW” jumping-on points start to disrespect the ancestry. How excited are we, really, for a new Avengers series every fall? Oh, this one isn’t just all-new, but all-different as well? It’s lousy marketing, and it takes away from the fact that Marvel Comics continues to lead the field with the best stories, characters, and creative teams in the superhero genre. Having said that, it sure is nice when you can pull in some new fans, and nothing seems like an easier gateway book than a first issue.
So this season they’re trying something a little different (trying something different again – Marvel did a return to series numbering for some of its books in the early 2000’s as well). Following this week’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, by Jason Aaron and a host of incredible artists, a number of new titles will be debuting, but the majority of their books will be renumbered to align across previous volumes. Next week’s Avengers #672, for example, follows 406 issues of the initial run; the thirteen issues of that abominable Liefeld volume two from ’96; eighty-four issues during the Busiek-era volume three, sixty-four issues from Bendis’s first New Avengers title; the thirty-four issues from volume four that kicked off the “Heroic Age” publishing initiative; forty-four issues of 2013’s volume five, Hickman’s follow-up to Avengers vs. X-Men; the fifteen issues of Waid’s All-New All-Different Avengers; aaaand the eleven issues of the most recent “NOW” Avengers restart. Whew. Confusing, right?
Not only will Avengers #672 revive the original numbering, but it will also be merged with two other offshoot titles – U.S.Avengers and Uncanny Avengers – before the end of the year. But more on those developments next week. Meanwhile, on the topic of Avengers, and an intense spin on the promise of legacy, let’s turn our attention back to Aaron’s one-shot, and the main storyline, with sensational art by Esad Ribić.
Those are the Avengers, if you will, of one million B.C. That’s Odin wielding Mjolnir, and the legendary Agamotto himself operating under the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme. Prior incarnations of Black Panther, Iron Fist, and Ghost Rider round out the team, along with Phoenix, whose past relationship with the Asgardian allfather was revealed recently in the Thor Generations book.
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.
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→