You guys. I’ve been reading this comic that just launched called The Once and Future Queen, which features a young queer-ish protagonist in a take-off on Excaliber and King Arthur and all of that. I’ll be fangirling it later, once there are more issues out and about.
Anyway, it got me thinking about a too-brief run of another comic that I enjoyed, Marvel’s Fearless Defenders, which launched in February 2013. It got some good reviews, but sales weren’t great (so they say), so it ended in December that year. Fellow author and comics geek Gina Ranalli turned me on to the series and both of us were so sad and pissed when it ended. But dammit, at least we had 13 issues.
ALSO! SPOILERS BELOW!
In a nutshell, Fearless Defenders features a team of women superheroes called the Valkyrior, led by Valkyrie and Misty Knight. Among them is a non-superhero archaeologist, Dr. Annabelle Riggs, who is of the lesbian persuasion. More on the plot in a bit. Just wanted to give you a sense of why I might have enjoyed this series. Another hint: TEAM OF WOMEN SUPERHEROES OMG MORE OF THIS PLEASE
Cullen Bunn is the writer behind this series. He’s also a novelist and short-story writer who is best-known for his work on Uncanny X-Men and also Deadpool miniseries, though he’s got some creator-owned series The Damned (horror noir) and The Sixth Gun (paranormal) for Oni Press. The dude’s got chops, friends.
As the story goes, Bunn came up with the idea for Fearless Defenders when he was working on another comic that also starred Valkyrie (Brunnhilde). She’s been around the Marvel universe for a while, debuting in 1970. Valkyrie’s origins remain somewhat of a mystery, since she claimed to have served something older than Asgard.
For those not in the know, Asgard in Norse mythology is one of the Nine Worlds and home to a tribe of gods. In comics-land, it’s a fictional world that serves as the home of Thor and other gods. At any rate, Odin, king of the Norse gods, chose Brunnhilde (Valkyrie) to lead the Valkyrior, the Choosers of the Slain. They were a group of warrior goddesses went to the battlefields of mortals who worshipped Asgardian gods and they would choose which of the fallen were worthy for Valhalla, the land of the honored dead in the dimension of Asgard. Brunnhilde served Asgard in this role for centuries.
Well, as these stories go, shit happened and Valkyrie ended up doing other things and having other adventures and also ended up having her consciousness stolen and placed in another body. Well, this obviously pissed her off that Odin and Asgard neglected her for so long, so when she was offered a chance to serve Earth with her mortal friends, the Defenders, she did it. More drama ensued, as happens in these larger-than-life superhero/mythological stories.
Back to Bunn. He pitched the idea for another Valkyrie team of warrior goddesses (i.e. superheroes) and someone suggested he do it as a Defenders title. That’s another Marvel comic that launched in 1971. It’s basically a loose-knit team of superheroes (usually individualistic outsiders with their own agendas) who battle whatever needs battling. The membership in the team was never set; the initial volume featured Dr. Strange as the leader. Hulk, Namor, and then Silver Surfer made up the first Defenders.
However, beyond the name “Defenders” in the title, there’s little, if any, relationship to the original Defenders. So Bunn tacked “Fearless” onto “Defenders” and BOOM. Lady goddess warrior superhero ass-kicking freaking awesome team.
As Bunn explained it, Valkyrie is choosing a new team, but she’s choosing now from Midgard (Earth) and not Asgard. And as comics series go, the storyline crossed over into a couple other series, with the primary arc taking up issues 1-6 and then new arcs beginning in issue 7.
Issue one opens with badass Misty Knight stopping mercenaries from smuggling Asgardian artifacts. She takes what she recovers to Dr. Annabelle Riggs, who is excavating a Viking burial site. Well, bummer, but she inadvertently awakens the dead Vikings with one of the artifacts (ooops!). Misty starts battling the Vikings who are probably pissed that they got woken up and Valkyrie arrives to help out because of course, she sensed a disturbance. After the undead Vikings are defeated, she agrees to take Riggs and Knight to Asgardia to seek council on the matter.
But uh-oh, we soon find out that the dead Vikings symbolize the return of the Doommaidens, corrupted Valkyries who are filling a void left by Valkyrie’s inability to create a warrior/superhero team. So OH NOEZ we need more warrior women to fill up Valkyrie’s team, which has to deal with the Doommaidens (issues 1-6) and other threats in later issues as there are a couple of crossover storylines with other comics.
I so dug this too-short series for a variety of reasons.
Strong, smart, kickass women. Not just the superheroes. Dr. Annabelle Riggs was mortal, but helped the team and was also smart and strong and kickass in her own way. I grew up reading comics, and it’s been rare to find comics that feature teams of women doing awesome things (I’ll probably fangirl over Birds of Prey another time). It’s fortunately more common now than it was, but damn, this series was over the top with women kicking ass. Even the female villains were admirable in that regard.
Queer rep. And you see it in issue one. Riggs is of the lesbian persuasion and puts her swerve on Valkyrie. LOL Drama ensues, but neither woman loses sight of the larger issues at stake. Like, you know. Saving worlds and all of that. Also, another lesbian character was introduced, Ren Kimura. More on her below.
WOC rep. Misty Knight and Dani Moonstar. Mercedes “Misty” Knight was a New York cop and was injured, which caused her to lose her right arm. BUT! she was fitted with a super-cool cyber-arm (developed at Stark Industries). She’s also trained in martial arts and she’s an excellent markswoman. She debuted in the Marvel Universe in 1975 and has been around since. If you watch the Netflix series Luke Cage, Misty’s in there, too, but she’s not (yet) being all superwoman. Meanwhile, Danielle “Dani” Moonstar (codenamed Psyche and later Mirage) is a fictional Cheyenne superhero who first appeared in the Marvel universe in 1982. She’s a mutant and served with the X-Men’s junior X-Men team, the New Mutants, in the 1980s. possesses psyonic and energy manipulation powers. Basically, she creates illusions of opponents’ fears or wishes.
Fun, engaging storylines (caveat below). I enjoyed how Bunn tied Valkyrie to both Riggs and Knight through the Asgardian artifacts Misty recovered and then from there, they all had to sort of become a team to deal with a threat. I also enjoyed the potential romantic element between Valkyrie and Riggs, and then, later, the introduction of another lesbian character in issue 10 Ren Kimura (MOAR WOC REP!), who ends up gettin’ a little somethin’ somethin’ from Riggs. Ren is also a mutant with certain powers, and she ends up joining the team.
Sassy, snarky, and serious about kicking ass. Exactly how I like my women superheroes. LOL
Well-drawn. THANKS, Will Sliney, and to the colorists and inkers and alla that. Because, hello, comics are a visual medium, as well, and if you don’t have good art to go with a good story, it just doesn’t work.
Dead lesbian trope. AAAARRRGGGHHHHHHHHHH. This one is a major downer, y’all. I mean, come on. In issue 6, Annabelle Riggs is killed off. But wait, you say, how then did she do the somethin’ somethin’ with Ren in a later issue? It goes like this. In issue 6, Annabelle is killed while trying to stop Valkyrie from doing heinous-ness. Valkyrie has discovered that she is actually one of those icky Doommaidens. Annabelle manages to get Valkyrie back to her senses, but not before she’s killed. So Valkyrie feels really awful and horrible about this terrible turn of events (and I myself threw the comic across the room and yelled “WTF WITH THE DAMN DEAD LESBIAN TROPE JEEZIZ FREAKING…I CAN’T EVEN…” or something approximating that) and she asks for help from sorceress Clea, who generally dwells in the Dark Dimension and has ties to Dr. Strange.
So Clea restores Annabelle to life. BUT there’s a really big freaking catch. She now has to share a body with Valkyrie, so they switch back and forth in terms of consciousness (though it was actually Annabelle’s consciousness that did the deed with Ren). Remember, Valkyrie’s history includes conscioiusness-sharing like this, so it sort of fits her arc, but DAMMIT dead lesbian trope! WHYYYYYYYY.
Sigh. Even though she was brought back from the dead (which you have to admit is a plus), it’s still a bummer, though I get the plot twist — sharing a body with Valkyrie. Which is also a bummer in itself, too, because…well, now they can never get together in the way Annabelle might’ve hoped. And it felt like Annabelle’s character was basically back-burnered after that, so that was a pretty big drawback for this reader.
Some of the covers. Comic series often release an issue with variant covers. Some of the variants had me going, huh? Like the variant for one of the covers features Valkyrie as a paperdoll cutout with various paperdoll cutout accessories nearby. Which was a bucket of WUT for this reader. But fortunately, there were other covers.
Some disjointed storylines. Though I did enjoy the overall writing, some of the characters and storylines felt like they were cobbled together and weren’t integrated as strongly as maybe they could’ve been. I would have liked a little stronger reasoning behind these women forming a team. However, that could be a function of the fact that the series was cancelled and Bunn didn’t get a chance to deal with some of the arcs as he was planning to, so I’ll do a benefit of the doubt on this one. There are others with this opinion, as well.
ENDED TOO SOON! For me, anyway. Not through any fault of the writer or other people who worked on the series. I recently ran into Cullen Bunn on Twitter. He’s got some other projects in the works and I gave him props but then told him that I missed the Fearless Defenders and he Tweeted back that he did, too. So thanks, Cullen, for at least giving us 13 issues. Thanks for the strong women, strong WOC, and queer rep (but please don’t kill the lesbians off…). Maybe some day you can resurrect this team. And maybe more Ren… 😀
Anyway, friends, my fangirling does slop into the comics world. If you’re interested in this series, you can probably still order from your local comic shop (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL COMIC SHOP!) or, if you must, you can go online. It’s available digitally, too, in collections of several issues in the series.
Happy Friday and may The Force be with you.