Friday, June 7, 2019

The Prisoner... The Madness... The Goddess!

Most of you are probably familiar with the woman named Barbara Norris from the pages of The Defenders, either when she was rescued from the dimension of the Undying Ones or through her association with the woman warrior called the Valkyrie. Yet we first met her when she and her husband, Jack, were cultists attempting to bridge the path to Earth for the Undying Ones by using the Hulk to remove the Night-Crawler, the guardian of the border between the two dimensions.

As we can see, Barbara is having second thoughts about what they're doing, particularly now that they've helped to put the life of an innocent man in danger. And Barbara's doubts haven't gone unnoticed by Van Nyborg, the cult's leader, who has her seized and hurled into the void to share Banner's fate. Yet when the Hulk appears and fights to protect Barbara, she stands valiantly with him and even acts to save him--though the conflict escalates to the point where the domain of the Night-Crawler is destroyed, forcing them all to transport to the universe of the Undying Ones.

And that universe has been visited before, by the Sub-Mariner and Dr. Strange--with Strange sacrificing himself in order to allow Namor to escape. And now, Barbara, finding herself in the same position, doesn't hesitate to act to save both Strange and the Hulk.

Cut to 2½ years later, when the Defenders assemble (heh) to help the Silver Surfer escape his imprisonment on Earth by moving dimensionally past the barrier of Galactus. Only the dimension which they find themselves in rings familiar to all three Defenders, especially when they come across a mystic prison that once held Strange and still appears to hold the girl who helped him to gain his freedom.

Yet the Defenders have fallen for an elaborate ruse by the Nameless One, two conjoined monsters who now shockingly reveal themselves as having mated with their former captive.

The battle between the Defenders and the Nameless One is fierce--but the ethereal prison that trapped both Strange and Barbara would now serve to trap their former jailer, thanks to snares devised by Strange and the Surfer. And yet Strange still sees Barbara as a captive of their foe, and moves to help her--with unfortunate consequences.

We could argue that Barbara was already doomed by the time the Defenders arrived, and that Strange's rash albeit well-intentioned intervention made little difference in regard to her fate--but hold that thought for a bit.

When the Defenders return to Earth (with Barbara), they fall into a plot by the Enchantress to reclaim her partner, the Executioner, from a rival sorceress, Casiolena--and when the Enchantress decides to conjure some backup, the Valkyrie makes her debut appearance in the book.

Following that episode, and abandoned by the Enchantress, the Valkyrie decides to cast her lot with the Defenders, her persona continuing to completely suppress that of Barbara. Yet we know that, by the time of the book's cancellation thirteen years later to the month, the Valkyrie had fully reclaimed and embraced her Asgardian heritage.

Which bumps Niflheim to the top of our travel itinerary, in order to resolve yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

Whatever became of the consciousness of Barbara Norris?

Skipping well ahead in the book's history, the time eventually came when the Valkyrie was compelled to travel to Asgard in order to take a stand in the "civil war" playing out between Hela, the Goddess of Death who had annexed Valhalla to her own domain, and Ollerus the Unmerciful, who wished to conquer Valhalla and supplant Hela as the new God of Death. In the process, the Valkyrie falls into a trap where her persona is split off from that of Barbara, with the Valkyrie trapped in Barbara's mortal body while Barbara resides in the Valkyrie's original godly form and joins the forces of Ollerus. Cutting to the chase, Hela prevails in the war--but chooses to release Valhalla from her rule and banish herself, Ollerus, and Barbara to Niflheim (or Niffleheim, as Marvel calls it), the realm of the damned from which there is no return.

At this point it may help to have a look at a flashback which explains just how the Enchantress has been able to infuse the essence of Brunnhilde (the Valkyrie) into the body of mortal women whenever it suited her purposes--a plan set in motion when she met with Brunnhilde in a pub and took advantage of the boredom she was experiencing following Odin's dispersal of the Valkyrior. The Enchantress offers Brunnhilde "all the excitement--all the wonder--all the challenge" now missing in her life--though in order to succeed in her deception, she has kept certain details from her future pawn.

And so with the resolution of the war between Hela and Ollerus, Brunnhilde is no worse off than she was before--her essence still trapped in Barbara's body, only this time Barbara's persona resides in Brunnhilde's body now in Niflheim (where she likely endures unceasing torment--not being a scholar of Niflheim, I couldn't say for certain).

But that bizarre status quo is eventually altered when the Defenders and Captain America help to foil a plot by August Masters to use a collection of psychics to launch a lethal telepathic attack on the Soviet Union. With the dust still settling, not all of Masters' men have been accounted for.

The Valkyrie's death hits the Defenders hard, having already lost Kyle Richmond (Nighthawk) in the struggle against Masters. Particularly heartbroken is Patsy Walker (Hellcat), who was close to both individuals and who is both aggrieved and bitter at losing them, and within less than a day of each other.

Soon thereafter, a memorial service unlike any other honors the fallen dead, and consoles the living.

Yet imagine Patsy's elation when she discovers the Valkyrie's wraith attempting to make contact, confirming that she is "alive" in some way--only to have her hopes for her friend's salvation dashed by the sorceress whose machinations have been at the root of the Valkyrie's misfortunes for a millennium.

This time, the Enchantress is after the Rose of Purity, in order to use it to purify her soul so that she may merge with the embodiment of Love itself--and with the Valkyrie now in spirit form and unavailable to her, she instead enlists the Defenders to obtain it by holding the Valkyrie hostage in order to ensure their cooperation. Should they refuse, she will destroy the Valkyrie's true body and leave her spirit to dissipate; and though it's irrelevant to the Enchantress, the soul of Barbara will be sacrificed in the process.

To fulfill her part of the bargain, the Enchantress has already retrieved the Valkyrie's body from Niflheim, placing it not only in a hidden location but also under her mystic protection and guarded by fierce harpies. But as for the Defenders, it's Barbara's life which is now a point of contention among them.

Hellstrom is correct in pointing out that, should the Defenders refuse to help the Enchantress, the lives of both Brunnhilde and Barbara will be lost. Nevertheless, the group splinters in half, with Strange, the Gargoyle, Spider-Man, and the Beast adamant that a way must be found to preserve both lives. It's all the same to the Enchantress, as long as there remains a sufficient number of personnel to secure the Rose.

To make a long story short, Patsy's group eventually comes to have misgivings about the choice they've made, and refuse to retrieve the Rose from its location. The Enchantress, enraged, reacts accordingly--but she discovers that there is another that has been working against her agenda, one who has also had second thoughts on what he should do, and who he should be with.

And so Barbara Norris finds peace at last, and much more.

Yet two of those remaining now thirst for vengeance: one being the Enchantress, at seeing the one thing she wanted the most slip from her grasp... while the other fixes her eyes on the vile sorceress who will pay in full for enslaving her for centuries.


Who's taking bets? I hate to say it, but my money's on the Enchantress!


Colin Jones said...

Valkyrie joined the Defenders early in the book's run but it was a long time before Val's face joined the other male Defenders in the corner box - what was the justification for her lengthy omission? Seems like pure sexism to me.

Big Murr said...

Good to know Barbara had a happy ending. I had dropped the title years before the Defenderes and their "ex-X-Men" (with Gargoyle) phase. This is all new (if convoluted) information. Cheers!

But, Valkyrie/Brunhilde is once again back in the "sharing the body" situation. I don't know the particulars, only what I glean from reading Asgardians of the Galaxy. Valkyrie and archaeologist Annabelle Riggs are roommates in Adventure Land.

Tiboldt said...

Val didn't appear on the cover box until #40 while Nighthawk, who joined after Val, replaced the departed Sub-Mariner only a few issues after he gained membership.

They also didn't replace Nighthawk's face with a brain in a punch bowl when he spent a number of issues as a brain in a punch bowl. And we never found out what happened to Bambi.

Comicsfan said...

Tiboldt, I'm frankly surprised Steve Gerber didn't insist on that brain-in-a-bowl picture inset!

Probably the only character who could count on his pic being in the corner in perpetuity was the Hulk, who seemed to be counted on to sell the book. Sales-wise, if someone had to be excluded, I don't think the Valkyrie could compete with even Nighthawk (and that's saying something), perhaps because she had nothing setting off her neck or her face as the others did (with the exception of the Sub-Mariner, who's of course been around much much longer than Val.

Anonymous said...

Val was one of my favorite, ah, "regular" Defenders.
Compassionate yet serious, and apparently lacking anything resembling a sense of humor, she was a perfect counterweight to Hellcat, who used humor to deal with pretty much everything, and Nighthawk, a spoiled rich kid playing super hero and desperately trying to prove himself.
One of my favorite scenes was when she tore a wheel off a taxi cab with her bare hands and bounced it off an enraged Hulk's head, just to get his attention. It worked, much to the horror of Moonknight, who was desperately wishing he was someplace else and said so.


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