Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who Was Barbara Norriss?

Long before she was physically and mentally restored as one, an ongoing burden faced Valkyrie. She was living in the body of someone else.

The armored adventurer joined the Defenders with her mind mystically bonded to the body of Barbara Norriss, a woman rescued from another dimension, but driven mad by the netherworldly imprisonment (Defenders #3-4).

With no memory of this other woman, and only a general sense of her own self, the spirited Valkyrie found friendship and acceptance among the Defenders.

But there was still one problem. Barbara Norriss was married. And explaining the situation to her husband was an uphill battle (Defenders #21).

Valkyrie: Must I remind you again, Mr. Norriss? This is your wife's body--but I am not your wife. And my name is Valkyrie--not "Barbara." The personality of Barbara Norriss has been submerged 'neath my own by the magic of the Asgardian Enchantress. I am what I am--the woman warrior. The Defender. And you, Mr. Norriss, are a stranger to my eyes and to my heart.

Out of obligation, Valkyrie tried to play the role of wife to Jack Norriss. But he disapproved of her life as a hero, and she did not love him. The feminist subtext played out topically in the 1970s, with Valkyrie symbolic of a woman forging her own identity amidst social expectations to be someone she was not.

Because of the fragmented nature of her psyche—with the madness of Barbara Norriss and the manipulative intentions of the Enchantress in the mix—Valkyrie often swung her sword when men behaved chauvinistically, only to second-guess her rash behavior afterward.

The inner conflict came to a head in Defenders #64. While fighting a minor villain named Joe the Gorilla, Valkyrie began to hallucinate that all of the nearby Defenders for a Day were Norse trolls. When she realized what had happened, Valkyrie knew she could not continue this way.

An initial trip to Asgard seemed to remedy the situation, with the mind of Barbara Norriss resting safely in Asgard and Valkyrie returning to Earth (Defenders #66-68). But not until Defenders #109 was Valkyrie back in her own body, with her full sense of identity intact.

Along with peace of mind, Valkyrie also gained more strength. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (1983) ranked Valkyrie with the power to lift 45 tons (in her restored Asgardian body).

Though not precisely recorded, her strength level in the human body of Barbara Norriss was much less than that.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Defenders vs. Avengers

The cover of Avengers Annual #11 asked a good question: Why do the Avengers battle the Defenders?

In this case, the heart of the conflict was a lovers' quarrel between Nebulon and wife Supernalia, who tired of Nebulon's ongoing attempts to take over the Earth (since his debut in Defenders #13-14).

While Nebulon psionically influenced four Avengers to come to his aid, Supernalia persuaded four Defenders to prevent Nebulon's latest scheme.

When the super teams faced each other in battle, they seemed destined for a stalemate, with each pair of combatants about evenly matched.

  • Valkyrie vs. Thor
  • Silver Surfer vs. Iron Man
  • Beast vs. Captain America
  • Gargoyle vs. Wasp
Alas, the Defenders and Avengers finally stopped fighting each other and joined sides against Nebulon when Supernalia revealed the Ennui Device that Nebulon intended to use to conquer Earth. The issue ended with Nebulon and Supernalia struck by a deflected beam from the energy-draining machine. The attack was fatal.

The couple's last words revealed that Nebulon finally saw the error of his ways, and Supernalia believed that by sparing the Earth they were dying for a higher purpose.

As a back-up feature, this annual printed the never-before-seen charter of the Avengers, signed by the founding members, with two pages of accompanying by-laws. The informal Defenders, of course, never drafted such a document.

Avengers Annual #11 marked an important turning point for one of the Defenders. Following a trip to Asgard in Defenders #109, Valkyrie returned to Earth near the start of the story in her true Asgardian body (instead of the body of human Barbara Norriss, where her mind had resided since Defenders #4). Now aware of her place as leader of the valkyries, she re-introduced herself as Brunnhilde (her previously-unknown real name). For years the Defenders had treated "Val" as her de facto first name.
Avengers Annual. Vol. 1. No. 11. 1982. "In Honor's Name." J.M. DeMatteis (scripter), Al Milgrom (penciler), Jack Abel and Crew (inkers), Janice Chang (letterer), Carl Gafford (colorist). Mark Gruenwald (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Captain Crossover

Back when there was still only one X-book, any comic that promised to showcase the original X-Men had immediate caché. But beneath the cover of Captain America #264 was the beginning of a storyline with major implications for the Defenders.

When the Secret Empire forced a group of telepaths to project false memories into the mind of Captain America, the star-spangled Avenger experienced alternate realities where world history took different turns. Hence the cover scene of Nazis rounding up mutants long after World War II.

One of the captured psychics was strong enough to resist the Secret Empire's controls, embedding enough mental messages into the illusions to help Captain America return to his senses.

In the midst of the Cold War, the leader of the secret organization then taunted Captain America by suggesting that he might support their nationalistic aims to level a psychic assault on the U.S.S.R. That didn't go over very well (#268).

Captain America: You twisted lunatic!!! What I've worked for has been based upon understanding--not death! I present the American Dream! A dream that has precious little to do with borders, boundaries and the kind of blind hatred your ilk espouses!

Also captured by the Secret Empire, Gargoyle, Hellcat, Valkyrie, and Nighthawk joined the fight to stop the extremist organization from starting World War III. In a surprise turn of events, the story reintroduced Nighthawk's long-ago girlfriend (from Defenders #32) as one of the abducted psychics. When Nighthawk merely thought the team needed the help of Dr. Strange, she sent out a telepathic cry for help to the master of of the mystic arts.

The story moved to Defenders #106, as Dr. Strange assembled a rescue team with Daredevil, Daimon Hellstrom, and Beast (one of the original X-Men who appeared in Captain America's illusionary world, and an increasing part of the Defenders).
Captain America. Vol. 1. No. 264. December 1981. "The American Dreamers!" J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Mike Zeck (penciler), Quickdraw Studios (inker), Jim Novak (letterer), Don Warfield (colorist), Jim Salicrup (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Captain America. Vol. 1. No. 264. April 1982. "Peace on Earth--Good Will to Man." J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Mike Zeck (penciler), John Beatty (inker), Jim Novak (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist), Jim Salicrup (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Defenders. Vol. 1 No. 106. April 1982. "War to End All Wars!" J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Perlin, Trapani, Magyar, Abel and Milgrom (artists), Shelly Leferman (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Liberation Lost

Avengers #83 makes great reading for Defenders fans. The Halloween tale set the stage for the heroic careers of Valkyrie and Nighthawk (although neither of the to-be Defenders technically appeared in the issue).

The story began with a meeting of several prominent super-heroines: Medusa, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Wasp. They were organized by a costumed woman calling herself Valkyrie.

But this was not the Valkyrie who later joined the non-team (Defenders #4). Rather, it was the villainous Enchantress using that guise to fashion herself as a new heroine, with a false origin story about gaining super-strength in a scientific accident.

And yet, this fake Valkyrie accurately described how male heroes took for granted or unfairly overshadowed each of the heroines, convincing them to form an all-women's group called the Lady Liberators.

As a backdrop for the story, Black Panther, Quicksilver, Vision, and Goliath (Clint Barton, on a break from being Hawkeye) were appearing at the 11th annual Halloween Parade in Rutland, Vermont. Sporting a Nighthawk costume (before the character reformed in Defenders #13-14), parade organizer Tom Fagan explained that it was okay to dress like a villain on Halloween.

When a group of real super-criminals showed up, the Liberators and Avengers worked together to defeat the Masters of Evil. Then the Liberators took out their pent-up frustration against the male Avengers, revealing some of their chauvinistic beliefs.

Black Panther: Stay Back! I don't know what's going on here--but I don't fight women--even super-powered ones!
Black Widow: Then you had better learn to Avenger--if you wish to survive!

After learning that the so-called Valkyrie was the Enchantress in disguise, the heroes overcame the Asgardian spell-caster's plans to turn them against each other. But it's a shame that it took a supervillain to raise feminist consciousness in the comic book—and that the impact was relatively short-lived. The issue ended with the heroes giving only lip-service to women's liberation.
Goliath: You birds finally learned your lesson about that women's lib bull!
Scarlet Witch: That's what you think--Male Chauvinist Pig! One of these days the Liberators will stage a comeback--right, Jan?
Wasp: You know, Wanda … they just might, at that.

For continuity buffs, this story took place one year before Marvel Feature #2, which showed Rutland's 12th annual Halloween Parade and a one-panel flashback to Avengers #83.
Avengers. Vol. 1. No. 83. December 1970. "The Revolution's Fine!" Stan Lee (editor), Roy Thomas (writer), John Buscema (artist), Tom Palmer (inker), Herb Cooper (letterer).