Monday, September 12, 2016

To Life Comes... The Valkyrie!

Following the Valkyrie's introduction in the fourth issue of The Defenders, it's time well spent for both the character and the book to have the following issue focus on cementing her status as both a person and as this informal group's newest "member." As we'll discover, both tasks will prove to be equally difficult. Ordinarily, we wouldn't need to worry about someone's status as a person, since that would be a given; but in the case of the Valkyrie, who simply springs into existence as a conjuring of the Enchantress and does her bidding, there is no "person" yet to speak of. In each instance that she's been summoned, the Valkyrie has been merged with an already existing woman, taking her body as her own while suppressing the mind and personality of the human host. In this case, the Valkyrie was merged with a woman named Barbara, who had previously become involved with the other-dimensional Undying Ones and eventually became trapped in their realm before being rescued by Dr. Strange and the other Defenders. With the Valkyrie's ascendance, Barbara, for all intents and purposes, is simply gone; and with the Enchantress having departed while neglecting to withdraw the Valkyrie's essence, her creation must now come to grips with the fact that she exists as a bona fide person from this point forward.

And now, as she strides New York's streets, she does so as a virtual blank slate. And with the influence of the Enchantress no longer directing either her movements or her actions, she can't help but ask herself one question after another about her existence, and her future.

Nevertheless, she remains the Valkyrie, self-assured in her strength and skill, a warrior who has an embedded feeling of superiority over the male sex and an open contempt for any man who attempts to prove himself to be her better in battle, as we see when a few of Strange's enemies attempt to kill her in an alley and come to regret it. At her side is the mystic ebony sword of the Black Knight, which she's appropriated (along with the Knight's winged steed, Aragorn) following a treacherous act by the Enchantress that changed him into a statue of stone. The curse of the sword--an evil influence that slowly and eventually affects its wielder--appears to be ineffectual on the Valkyrie; we're left to assume that her own mystic origins are likely neutralizing that aspect of its nature, though it's more likely that the writers of the book have simply chosen to shelve the sword's curse for the duration.

As for the Defenders (such as they are at this point--its individuals by definition tending to affairs of their own, with neither the inclination nor the obligation to keep the others informed of their status in the least), only Strange has offered to house the Valkyrie temporarily while she gets her bearings; and after lending his assistance in dispatching her attackers, he gives her a bit of advice on how she might proceed to establish her self, something just as important as choosing a direction for her life.

Yet even in the midst of the Valkyrie's uncertainty--about so many things, but in particular her being and true nature--writer Steve Englehart pulls out of left field an aspect to her character that would normally be a long ways off for one who has literally just come into existence only recently and has no past experience or feelings to draw on.

If there's one thing that we can say about the Valkyrie so far, it's that the last thing that she would be able to understand at this point is "what makes her tick." Putting aside for the moment the fact that she hasn't been in existence long enough or had enough exposure to what she'll eventually be told is "popular culture" to even be aware of such a catch phrase, there's simply no basis for her to shift gears and admit that she harbors a crush toward the Knight, particularly when the two never exchanged a single word or glance with each other in the short time they were in the same company. She has "a complete understanding of [her] psyche"? Really? She spends her days walking around with no inkling as to how to proceed, where to go, who to confide in. She's also just explained that her personality gives her a basic distrust of men--how does she reconcile that with love for one?

Englehart is likely planting a seed here for further development, one lacking in the subtlety it would need to seem less out of place this early in the Valkyrie's story; in any event, nothing ever does come of it, except for the Valkyrie to muse that the reason for her feelings might be the result of herself and the current state of the Knight having the same mystic origin (the Enchantress). The sub-plot fizzles for good when the Defenders discover the Knight's essence in the 12th century and the Valkyrie, now faced with the Knight in person (and Englehart now with his back to the wall in this situation), finds that "I keep waiting for the love I thought I held for him--but nothing comes! Nothing!" Defenders readers could no doubt declare the same bewilderment; but regardless, the matter is unceremoniously dropped.

As to her current predicament, Strange advises her to seek out the Hulk and Namor and make a beginning with them as far as acceptance and a way forward for herself. How curious that Strange, himself the product of a rebirth of character under the tutelage and guidance of the Ancient One, hasn't taken more of an interest in the Valkyrie's plight and given her a foundation for forming an awareness of self and an understanding of the world she seeks to become a part of. The Hulk seems a poor choice for providing her with direction or substantive counsel, and his constant desire to "be left alone" speaks for itself; and as for Namor, he makes his feelings clear on the matter.

Before the conversation can proceed further, the Sub-Mariner mysteriously vanishes into thin air, as, unknown to anyone, the reactivated Omegatron once again moves closer to the point where it will detonate nuclear stockpiles and bring an end to the world. The device was countered by the Defenders in their premiere adventure; and it seems the mind behind the device, the evil Yandroth, wishes their involvement once again in order to provide the power it needs to accomplish its deadly task. As for the Valkyrie, she puts her personal problems on hold and immediately resolves to locating him--but the other Defender she seeks is wandering the same area as the path she takes, and he's unfortunately even less enamored of the Defenders than Namor.

Aragorn is there to save the Valkyrie from her fall--and thanks to the mystic means which Strange gave her to locate both the Hulk and Namor, she tracks the two to the hidden complex on the coast of Maine where the Omegatron continues its countdown. Inside, she and Namor's cousin, Namorita (yes, Namorita--a name I can't seem to say or write without wincing), discover that Strange's spell to suspend time around the device is still active but now weakened, though enough time remains to destroy the device. Yet it's time that the Valkyrie won't be afforded, since the Omegatron now appears to be able to create enough facsimiles of the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk to keep her occupied until the fatal moment when it speaks its creator's name and thus dooms the world.

Thanks to a tactic she employs through the use of Aragorn, the Valkyrie is able to discern the real Namor and Hulk from the Omegatron's illusions, but her problem remains the same: dealing with two powerhouses that block her way to the Omegatron. (It's unclear how the Omegatron has mesmerized both Namor and the Hulk; previously, he had to use illusion to force them to battle.)

It's an impressive display of what the Valkyrie brings to the table as part of the Defenders--for now, at least. In this, her introductory story, the character is given enough distinctive personality and attitude to distinguish her; unfortunately, while the Hulk and Namor continue their involvement with the team, the Valkyrie would inevitably begin to blend into the background, since, flying horse and a swinging sword notwithstanding, her abilities so closely mimic those of the other two that she would appear to be no true asset for the Defenders.

There's also the fact that her strength falls well short of either Namor or the Hulk, which becomes evident when her assault against them fails. In fact, the battle's vibrations have given the Omegatron exactly what it needed the most--the power to carry out its task at last.

(Come now, were you expecting anyone else to save the day here?)

In the Defenders stories to follow, it would have benefitted the book--and the character--to have the Valkyrie retain her sense of assertiveness and initiative and move more to the forefront in battles involving her teammates comrades-in-arms; in fact, it would have been in her nature to lead the charge now and then, as well as school foes like the Wrecking Crew and the Squadron Sinister when she'd had enough of their arrogance. I seem to recall her clarifying her stance at one point: "I do not hate men... I merely know I'm as good as they are." It wasn't long before the Valkyrie stopped wearing her pride on her sleeve like that--and the men she sought to stand among were virtually echoing the words of Dr. Strange at the time she first proposed to join them:  "What could we possibly need you for?"

The Defenders #5

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Frank McLaughlin
Letterer: Charlotte Jetter


Anonymous said...

I really liked Valkyrie and I disagree that she wasn't an asset for the team...I mean non-team. I never saw her as inferior or surplus to requirements and this was a woman with a sword and a flying horse which was more impressive than the Invisible Girl or the Wasp !!

Warren JB said...

Sad waste of a character... carrying on to when they dragged Jane Foster out of mothballs to take the role of Thor.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, I agree that the Valkyrie would go on to distinguish herself; she must have been doing something right to have stayed relevant with the Defenders until the very end of their series. But it seems to me that she was only allowed to grow as a character, and as a member in her own right, when she was able to step out from behind the shadows of the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner (and, to an extent, Dr. Strange) and bring more to the Defenders' table than a backup member.

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