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Exiles #2, written by Saladin Ahmed, cover art by David Marquez and Matthew Wilson

The evolution of Valkyrie

Contributed by
Mar 18, 2019

Tessa Thompson definitely won more than a few hearts for her portrayal as the rough and tumble Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, an Asgardian warrior turned bounty hunter drinking to forget her troubled past, playing it tough to hide a heart of gold. We stan a complicated woman here at FANGRRLS.

Yet, Ragnarok was far from our first introduction to Val. This is a character that has been a mainstay in Marvel Comics mythology since the ‘70s. Created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema and making her first appearance way back in Avengers #83, Val is one character who has been around for longer than a lot of people think.

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Marvel Team-Up #34, written by Gerry Conway, art by Sal Buscema, Vinnie Colletta, and G Roussos, lettering by Dave Hunt

Amora In Disguise

Valkyrie's first appearances in the Marvel universe were pretty bonkers. In Avengers #83, Valkyrie shows up uninvited in the Avengers mansion, protesting the unfair treatment of women on the team. The women are eventually persuaded to agree with her assessment, and they form their own team, the incredibly badly named Lady Liberators. This team amounted to being a pretty condescending take on the then-current Women’s Lib movement, but they do still pop up in comics every now and again. The Liberators attack the male Avengers (their oppressors!) until it is revealed that Valkyrie was actually the Thor villain Amora the Enchantress in disguise, tricking them for what amounts to pretty much no reason. The story is weird because in the end the Enchantress actually makes some pretty valid points about the sexism of the Avengers, but it’s all dismissed by the end of the issues as feminist extremism. By the time we saw Valkyrie again, she had separated from the Enchantress and become her own character.

Valkyrie’s most consistent appearances were in the Defenders series. She was with the team longer and more consistently than anyone else, and usually acted as co-leader of the team. This is where most of her early personality development occurred, as she discovered she was actually the Asgardian known as Brunhild, a valkyrie and former lover of Thor’s who was in a deep sleep but had been attached to a human host on Earth, allowing her to live once more. The host body, not so lucky, as she was trapped in Brunhild's comatose body for the foreseeable future.

The host body in question was a woman named Barbara Norris, whose incredibly annoying husband Jack hounded Valkyrie for more than a dozen issues trying to reconcile with a woman that was not his wife. This defined a lot of her early appearances, but the story isn't without its upsides. She tells Jack off a lot and refuses to subjugate herself to please him. After Jack vanished back into obscurity and the series changed from The Defenders to The New Defenders, we got a more interesting take on the character. She attached to her teammate Hellcat and was angry when Hellcat chose to leave the team and get married. She was forced to team-up with Moondragon, a haughty demigod. She made impactful decisions as the unofficial leader of the team. Still, when the Defenders series ended, Valkyrie vanished for years, making scant appearances and cameos all throughout the '90s and into the early aughts.

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Defenders #4, written by Steve Englehart, art by Sal Buscema, Frank McLaughlin, and P. Goldberg, lettering by Artie Simek

Val usually appears riding atop a mighty, winged steed named Aragorn. There have technically been no less than three Aragorns, but only two of them are relevant to Valkyrie. The first was created by Nathan Garrett, the original Black Knight, a criminal who used Aragorn for evil before the horse mutated to become the terrible Hellhorse. Not great! While he died after his own villainous hijinks, Garrett implored his nephew Dane Whitman to become the Black Knight and use his inventions for good rather than evil. Dane applied his vague degree in whatever science happens to be relevant in genetically engineering horses to create a new Aragorn. He repeated Garrett’s procedure and experimented on a regular horse until it developed wings and unusually high intellect. This is certainly a bizarre use of one’s time, and under examination, it seems fairly unethical in its treatment of Aragorn, who certainly did not consent to the experiment. Also, the first unnecessary horse experimentation ended with a typical everyday horse being transformed into a tortured demon, so let’s just say that whatever license these guys had that allowed them to experiment on random horses probably needs to be revoked.

When Dane Whitman was turned into stone by Amora the Enchantress, Valkyrie saved Aragorn from a terrible fate and took on the responsibility of caring for him. Even when the Black Knight returned, the attachment between Val and Aragorn was so strong that Dane ultimately had to get a different horse entirely. Valkyrie and Aragorn have been together ever since, making them one of the longest-running team-ups in Marvel history.

Though the comics gave us a much more complicated relationship with Thor than she had in Ragnarok, the comradery between Hulk and Valkyrie that appears therein is canonical to the comics, where she and Hulk served on a team in the early issues of the Defenders series. Valkyrie was the only person that Hulk genuinely liked, so when he would go full Hulk she would be the only one able to talk him down. This is a fairly sexist trope that has persisted in genre overall, that of a woman taking on responsibility for a male character’s uncontrollable fury aka the Beauty and the Beast cliche, but it sure is all over the place in comics, too. Especially Hulk comics. Hulk left the team fairly quickly anyway, but they seem to have retained a fondness for one another that made its way into the MCU.

Valkyrie’s friendships tend to be more definitive in her life than her relationships, and even in her early days while her male teammates would pursue her, usually way too aggressively, she seemed much more focused on maintaining a respectful distance and casual friendship than anything. Valkyrie’s central struggle is learning to understand and meld the many contradictory elements of her own persona, and that is usually where her strongest interest seems to lie. That is also what makes her one of Marvel’s most interesting characters. Writers do better by her when they opt not to over-focus on her love affairs, not because they aren’t interesting but because we see so much focus on forced romantic subplots in genre, and so little of independent women attempting to work out their own lives before getting involved with others. Valkyrie has enjoyed highly entertaining friendships with characters like Hellcat, She-Hulk, and Misty Knight, but her attitudes in life make her a difficult person to get close to, which is part of what makes her so compelling.

Valkyrie made a handful of appearances in the Ultimate Universe, but the character that appeared there had very little to do with the one fans had come to know and love. An “ordinary” girl obsessed with superheroes, she gained the powers of an Asgardian and began a relationship with that reality’s Thor before dying and heading off to serve Hela. The Ultimate Universe is not known for having memorable takes on its female characters, and Valkyrie was one of the casualties.

To make matters worse, she wasn’t really appearing in many comics in the regular universe, either. She had made some guest appearances with the Lady Liberators (that name!) in She-Hulk’s solo series, but once that ended, she was MIA once more until the Fearless Defenders series brought her in as one of the protagonists alongside Misty Knight and Dani Moonstar. This story saw her battling her dark side, and even merging with a new human host in Annabelle Riggs. Again, once the series ended, Valkyrie went by the wayside, making guest appearances in various titles.

The Fearless Defenders series reads back a little strange, particularly for queer audiences due to the bizarre body-splitting storyline with Annabelle which occurs after they share a kiss. We're pretty sure that it's going to lead to a fun will-they won't-they dynamic, but instead, it goes incredibly badly and our queer rep is shot. Annabelle does get a girlfriend later in the series, but it's a bit off-putting due to their instant attachment to one another, as well as the fact that Annabelle is still sharing a body with her previous love interest, who was just kind of mean to her through the whole series. Still, all in all, it is the take on Valkyrie that introduced a lot of new fans to her character after years of spotty appearances, and the story did focus on her working out her inner demons above all else, so it's still pretty solid as Valkyrie stories go.

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Fearless Defenders #1, written by Cullen Bunn, art by Will Sliney and Veronica Gandini, lettering by Clayton Cowles

More recently, Saladin Ahmed and artist Javier Rodriguez teamed up for a volume of the Exiles comic, a reality-hopping team of Marvel heroes from various alternate dimensions. The loose premise behind the Exiles makes it one of the most versatile concepts in mainstream comics, and the cast of characters to have enjoyed stints on the team is truly immense. In the new series, a Valkyrie bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Tessa Thompson Ragnarok take on the character made an appearance as part of the core cast. The comic series began and ended very much off the rails and there wasn’t a lot of time to focus in on Valkyrie as a character, but it was still pretty great to see the normally somber Valkyrie get to have a little bit of fun for once while doing a bit of reality-hopping and even having a semi-normal flirtation for once in her life with Captain America’s alternate reality sidekick, Becky.

Who knows what Endgame is going to have in store for Valkyrie? One thing is for certain, however, and that is that Tessa Thompson’s portrayal was true to the comics in all the best ways and gave us the Valkyrie we had sorely needed in the comics for so long. Valkyrie is a character that has been dropped off in limbo and forgotten about more than once, and it’s a shame because she represents a pretty interesting part of the Marvel Universe. Besides, if there is something more awesome than a sword-wielding feminist in cool armor on a flying horse yelling at men all the time, we have yet to hear about it.

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