Thor: Ragnarok – Who is Valkyrie?

The history of Valkyrie from Thor: Ragnarok is a lot more confusing than what we see on screen.

The Valkyrie, gatherer of the bravest of the dead, warrior without peer, Defender, Avenger, staunch ally of Thor and all the heroes of Asgard, and one of the very first feminist inspired characters of the Marvel Universe. With her winged horse Aragorn and her fierce blade, Valkyrie protects both Earth and Asgard. Valkyrie, she of the sharp spear, she of the undying realm, she of the Defenders, she of the really freakin’ confusing history.

Yup, palyed by Tessa Thompson, Valkyrie is coming to the big screen which means it’s time for Den of Geek to give you the skinny on this Asgardian warrior’s history, but with Valkyrie, this is way easier said than done. In fact, Valkyrie’s history is so confusing that the character didn’t even first appear until after she first appeared. What the Hel does that mean? Read on!

The first hero named Valkyrie made her debut in Avengers #83 (1970) and was created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. Thomas and Buscema introduced Valkyrie as a leader of a new group of female heroes called the Lady Liberators. This team consisted of Marvel heavyweight Black Widow, Inhuman queen Medusa, and, eventually, the Wasp. Valkyrie informs the Avengers that her team got together to battle for gender equality and to end male chauvinism (maybe it’s time for a revival of this team, just sayin’?) and told her teammates that she once was a scientist that had to deal with chauvinism at work, and to prove herself to her male co-workers, she exposed herself to a strength enhancing science thing.

If this sounds a little haphazard story wise and kind of generic, it was supposed to because the whole thing was BS. It turns out that Valkyrie was actually Amora the Enchantress who pulled off the whole Lady Liberators thing to mess with the Avengers. So there was no Valkyrie at first, not really, and the whole mess might have been soon forgotten.

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Except for the fact that Roy Thomas dug the idea of Valkyrie and introduced the second Valkyrie in Incredible Hulk #142 (1971) by Thomas and Herb Trimpe. Well, sort of. In this issue, the Hulk meets a young feminist named Samantha Parrington. Parrington is exasperated with her parents’ blasé attitude toward women’s lib and takes part in a feminist march. From Asgard, Enchantress observed Parrington and just to mess with humanity again, the Asgardian sorceress bonds the young feminist with the spirit of the Valkyrie. Hulk and Valkyrie fight until Enchantress takes Parrington’s powers away, leaving the girl confused and wondering if it was all a dream.

Marvel fans also thought it all might be a dream as now the character of Valkyrie appeared twice without actually being a real character. All that was soon to change with the introduction of a woman named Barbara Norris in Incredible Hulk #125 (1970) by Thomas and Trimpe. Before she became part of Valkyrie lore, Norris was trapped in a mystical dimension and was driven to madness by her experiences.

In The Defenders #4 (1973) by Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema, Enchantress once again stepped in and bonded Norris with the Valkyrie and this time, it was revealed that this spirit of the Valkyrie was actually the Asgardian warrior known a Brunnhilde.  As Norris, Brunnhilde joined the Defenders and tried to find the secrets of both parts of her being- human and Asgardian. With no memory of either of her pasts, Valkyrie joined the Defenders and became a major part of that team’s long history.

But who is Brunnhilde?

History nerds will tell you that Marvel’s Valkyrie was based on the Norse legend of Brynhildr (also spelled Brunhild, Brünnhilde, Brynhild), a Norse shield maiden and warrior who is most popularly known as a central figure in Richard Wagner’s opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Thomas was a major fan of this opera and jumped at the chance to include one of the piece’s major players in the Marvel Universe. Yes, a Germanic operatic figure is coming to the MCU because Roy Thomas is awesome and should be elected the President of Everything.

So of course, when given the chance to create a proper Asgardian origin for Valkyrie, Thomas jumped at the chance. In Thor #296-298 (1980), Thomas and Keith Pollard related the tale of Marvel’s Brunnhilde. Sadly, it was not written in operatic verse.

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It was revealed that Odin once transformed his son Thor into the mortal warrior known as Siegmund. When events decreed that Siegmund must die, Odin ordered Brunnhilde, the leader of the soul gathering Valkyrior to retrieve the warrior after his death and bring him to Valhalla. Brunnhilde and Siegmund fell in love and the Valkyrie granted her lover immortality and invulnerability as long as his back was never to a foe. When Siegmund finally died, Brunnhilde threw herself on her lover’s funeral pyre. Odin took pity on the lovers and restored them back to their Asgardian selves with neither Thor nor Brunnhilde remembering the tragedy of the past. Yes, most of this was based on Wagner as Thomas somehow melded classic opera into the Marvel Universe because Thomas is a god and we all should light candles to him on a weekly basis.

Brunnhilde went back to Asgard where she happily returned to gathering souls (as one does) until she met Amora the Enchantress. The two became temporary BFFs, but when Brunnhilde found out that Enchantress was all sorts of horrible, Amora put the warrior in a state of suspended animation and used the Valkyrie’s spirit as a plaything. And that’s how we explain the almost Valkyrie debuts in Avengers and the Hulk. This was all revealed in The Defenders #108 (1982) by J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Gruenwald, and Don Perlin.

The history of Valkyrie and Enchantress is endlessly fascinating, but sadly, it has no resemblance to what is explored in Thor: Ragnarok. However, the third Thor film does feature Skurge the Executioner, longtime lover and minion of the Enchantress so perhaps we are not as far from Amora the Enchantress appearing in live action as we might think. Plus, Amora’s sister Lorelei already appeared on Agents of SHIELD, so maybe we can see the relationship between Valkyrie and Amora play out at some point on the big screen.

Valkyrie seemingly died at the end of the first Defenders series but was resurrected by writer Peter B. Gillis in Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #3 (1989) where the spirit of Brunnhilde bonded with a human woman named Sian Bowen. Years later, and with Bowen all but forgotten, Valkyrie joined the Secret Avengers and also formed a new team of Defenders known as the Fearless Defenders. This reimagined team of Defenders were gathered to be a new grouping of Valkyries led by Brunnhilde.

The gathering of the new Valkyries in Fearless Defenders was Brunnhilde’s last major contribution to the Marvel Universe. But with Tessa Thompson taking up the sword of the Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, you just know that we are ready to experience the Golden Age of this oft-confusing but awesome character. 

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