Valkyrie: The Comic History of the Breakout Star of ‘Thor: Ragnarok’
Hardcore comic book fans complaining that Valkyrie—the breakout character in Thor: Ragnarok played by Tessa Thompson—isn’t the blonde, white goddess of Marvel’s comic book mythology are missing an important point: Valkyrie’s only constant is that she’s always evolving.
Indeed, the first appearance of Valkyrie didn’t actually feature Valkyrie at all. In 1970’s Avengers #70, Valkyrie is just a disguise for the Enchantress, a Thor villain who was trying to lead the female members of the team astray. The next incarnation wouldn’t show up for another year, when The Incredible Hulk #142 introduced a student zapped by the Enchantress who became a reincarnated Valkyrie who yells—in the unmistakable parlance of the time—”Up against the wall, male chauvinist pig!” at the Hulk before fighting him. (As if to prove 1971 was a strange year for Marvel Comics, real-life journalist Tom Wolfe is present at the fight, commenting, “I’d compute that the radical chic season for the year 1971 just ended on the Upper East Side.”)
The Valkyrie that comic fans know now first appeared in 1973, when Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema debuted Brunnhilde—one of Odin’s finest warriors—in the pages of The Defenders #4. The third take on the character (all of whom shared the same visual, in addition to the same name), Brunnhilde was the first Valkyrie to fight alongside the good guys, instead of against them. Technically a ghost, she possessed the comatose body of regular human Barbara Norriss in order to fight crime alongside a group of heroes that included the Hulk, Doctor Strange, and the Silver Surfer.
Although never a massive fan-favorite, Valkyrie nonetheless managed to stick around in the Defenders comic until it was canceled in 1986 with a final issue that featured her apparent death. This being comics—and the fact that Brunnhilde had started out as a ghost in the first place—that didn’t stick. She returned three years later, possessing another woman before returning to Asgard. That didn’t stick, either. She came back soon thereafter, again possessing the student from 1971 in a revival of The Defenders. After being killed again, she returned as a member of 2010’s Secret Avengers team. Most recently, in 2012’s Fearless Defenders comic book series, she formed a new group of all-human valkyries at the behest of the Asgardian ruling counsel.
Suffice to say, if there’s one thing the comic book Valkyrie and her cinematic counterpart have in common, it’s that nothing and no one can keep her down. And for those still hung up on the idea that Thompson doesn’t look like the Brunnhilde from the comics, there’s a simple explanation: She’s just possessing a different body this time around. And why not? She’s got a history of such behavior.
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