Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Valkyrie. The Norse with the horse.

Avengers #83, the Valkyrie makes her first ever appearance, John Buscema, the Lady Liberators and the New Masters of Evil
In his song Woman, John Lennon implied that Yoko Ono was the other half of the sky. Well, I've had a look out the window and she isn't. He did however have a valid point that women make up half the population of the Earth. And that means that even the macho world of comic books'd be a strange place without them. As my recent campaigning for Red Sonja to be allowed to stay conscious throughout an entire adventure shows, I've always been a fearless champion of super-heroines' rights, and this raises the obvious question of who's my favourite Marvel super-heroine.

The truth is that, from the time-frame this blog deals with, there isn't actually that much to choose from, principally because most of Marvel's early heroines were co-created by Stan Lee and therefore spent more time worrying about their hair and love-life than they did trying to fight villains. Sue Storm was always trying to decide whether she wanted to marry Reed Richards or the Sub-Mariner, the Wasp only seemed to be fighting crime because her fiance did, the Scarlet Witch just seemed to be tagging along with her brother, and Medusa's super-power was her hair.

To redress this - and to try and double Marvel's profits by getting girls to read comics - the early 1970s saw an influx of new heroines like Red Sonja, the Cat and Shanna the She-Devil, designed to fall into the feminist mode by running around half naked and being a bit grumpy.

There was one "feminist" heroine, however who always stood out for me from that pack.

That woman was the Valkyrie.

If the others were meant to be Women's Lib, the Valkyrie pushed it off the dial, her first incarnation coming in The Avengers #83 as, carrying a grudge against men, the Enchantress took the guise in order to turn a bunch of fed-up super-heroines against the male Avengers before defeating those male Avengers.

Incredible Hulk #142, Samantha Parrington, the Valkyrie, Herb Trimpe
Next she was the short-lived alter-ego of full-time protester Samantha Parrington in The Incredible Hulk #142, literally handing the Hulk a defeat before reverting to her original form.

And finally, in The Defenders #4, we got the finished article as the spirit of the Valkyrie took possession of sometime occultist Barbara Norris.

While her first two incarnations were short-lived, her third wasn't. It well and truly stuck and The Valkyrie became easily for my money the most interesting of Marvel's 1970s' attempts at feminist heroines.

For me, like a successful piece of origami, the reasons she worked were multi-fold. One, she was a lot more powerful than those others. In her first incarnation, she'd taken out the Avengers. In her second, she'd taken out the Hulk. The likes of Red Sonja, Shanna and the Cat might have been touted as a new breed of heroine but they were still feeble compared to their male equivalents. But here was a woman who could throw cars around, smash her way through brick walls and bend lamp posts. Given the existence over at DC of the likes of Supergirl and Wonder Woman, a super-strong woman might not seem that ground-breaking but, for whatever reason, Marvel had traditionally stayed clear of the concept.

Defenders #4, the Barbara Norris Valkyrie makes her first ever appearance
Secondly she was slotted into the Defenders, a team ideally suited to a character who didn't fit in. Her status as not quite human and not quite goddess, leading her to need refuge amongst a group of misfits and outcasts. It also enabled her to be given a string of fish-out-of water story lines, whether they be set in a woman's prison, a university or what was left of her host body's marriage.

Thirdly was the perverse but correct decision to have her not talk like she should have. Realistically, being an Asgardian Valkyrie, she should've spoken like Thor, all, "verily, " this and, "varlet, " that but she didn't. For the most part she spoke like a normal if slightly stilted person.

The fourth reason was an inbuilt dichotomy of her combining ultra-masculine and ultra-feminine traits into one package. She wore an outfit that on one hand - with its bare legs and steel breast cups - was sexualised but on the other, forbidding. She had the physical power of a man but rode around on that little girl's fantasy a flying horse. She had a warrior's mindset but, if a super-team is a family, filled the role of being the group's maternal figure.

But in the end, let's face it, there's another reason the Valkyrie grabbed me.

It was the hair.

As a hairstyle, it made no sense. She was a warrior woman who thought it was a good idea to go into battle with zero-depth perception and a total inability to spot an attacker coming at her from the right. Somehow it didn't matter. Why? Because it made her look cool. That might not seem important but imagine Spider-Man with a Superman cape, or Batman dressed as Robin. How a super-hero looks counts. So maybe those Stan Lee heroines who spent all their time worrying about their hair had it right. Maybe hair really is the secret of success if you're a super-heroine.


Doug said...

Great commentary! Val has always been a fun character, and when you look at the artists who drew her several appearances -- that's a hall-of-fame in itself!



Kid said...

I don't like feminists and they don't like me. I've been called a male chauvinistic pig by them. There's one thing worse than that however - a woman who won't do as she's told.

Okay - I'll make an exception for the Valkyrie.

Steve said...

Thanks for the comments, Doug and Kid. What depresses me is I spent about two hours and a zillion words just basically to say, "I like the Valkyrie's hair." Why didn't I just write, "I like the Valkyrie's hair," and save myself all that work? Will I never learn the art of succinctness?

Darci said...

Excellent analysis! A lot of people have pointed to Ms. Marvel being Marvel's version of DC's Supergirl (down to the same last names!). This discussion makes me think of Valkyrie as being Marvel's version of Wonder Woman. Too bad DC didn't think of this before handing Diana to J. Michael Straczynski, and then Brian Azzarello.

dbutler16 said...

Valkyrie is indeed a good character, though the other strong feminist superhero of the time was Ms. Marvel, though I found her obnoxious at times.
Good points about Valkyrie's appeals, by the way.

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