My tendency to pick first issues and my fondness for a certain Norse goddess mean that there are spoilers ahead for…
Asgardians of the Galaxy #1
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Matteo Lolli
Cover: Dale Keown
“It beats Hel.”
In my most recent Spotlight post about Thor, I mentioned that I was interested in seeing what Jason Aaron would do with Valkyrie, as she is a personal favorite of mine. I did so having forgotten – despite the fact that there was an ad for this comic in that comic – that Val would be popping up in a book not written by Jason Aaron.
Then again, it’s not like she can’t appear in Thor…
It’s been a while since I’ve read anything in which Val has appeared – not counting her alternate universe version in Exiles – so I wasn’t up-to-date on her current circumstances, circumstances that are somewhat like the circumstances of her earliest days in the comics.
For quite some time, Brunnhilde the Valkyrie’s spirit was separated from her body and was being controlled by Amora, the Enchantress, who would periodically place Brunnhilde’s spirit into a host body that would transform to take on the Valkyrie’s powers and appearance. For quite some time, Val occupied the transformed body of a mortal woman named Barbara Norris, eventually being restored to her own body after the body of Norris died, and then her body was turned to ash, and her spirit was transported into another host body, and then she and all of the other Asgardians died.
After being restored once again, she eventually ended up in the state in which we find her now…which we’ll get to in a minute.
Not really being up on things that have happened in most Marvel comics over the past decade or so is a common theme for me when it comes to this comic, which ties in to Infinity Wars, which I haven’t been reading, and features characters with whom I’m only vaguely familiar in some cases, and not at all familiar with in others.
It starts out at some unspecified point in the recent past with two of the latter, a woman named Annabelle Riggs, a human archaeologist, and her girlfriend, an Inhuman named Ren Kimura. The two are enjoying a lovely – and, we learn, all-too rare – day together, and Annabelle is clearly about to ask Ren a very important question.
Annabelle is whisked away, and we skip from then to now, finding the rest of the Angela-assembled team on some faraway world engaging in battle with various alien menaces as Annabelle attempts to read the runes on a container to discover what their as-yet unnamed opponent had come to this planet to find.
As a troll moves in for the kill on a distracted Annabelle, we learn – although people who, unlike me, have been reading all of the other stuff already know – that there is more to Annabelle than her archaeological skills. Annabelle, it seems, has something of a timeshare arrangement with the Valkyrie, who takes over and enters the fray, in the process accidentally smashing the container.
In addition to Val/Annabelle, Angela, and the Destroyer (being controlled by an unknown pilot), the rest of the team consists of Skurge the Executioner, whom we last saw in Hel, Thunderstrike, the son of Eric Masterson (who had been Thor for a time), who wields his late father’s enchanted mace, and…
Throg wields a hammer made from a shard of Mjolnir, and is a character who ultimately emerged from the classic storyline during Walter Simonson’s iconic run in which the Odinson had been transformed into a frog by Loki. (That wasn’t just a throwaway gag in the movie.)
We jump back in time again to shortly after Annabelle was “recruited” and find the team aboard a ship, powered by a fragment of the Rainbow Bridge, and learn that there are secrets that Angela is keeping about who’s behind this team she’s put together and what it is they’re supposed to be doing.
The discussion is interrupted by the autopilot disengaging as they reach their destination and are greeted by the site of dead Dwarves from Nidavellir floating in space, their bodies chained together, and all of their fingernails removed.
They beam down to the planet below, and that brings us nearly back to the present, where it’s revealed that their enemy is Nebula, looking much more like the movie version than I ever knew her to look in the comics.
Having gotten what she came for, Nebula, with the help of the axe provided her by the Dwarf which can cleave through dimensions in the same way that Skurge’s axe can, she takes her leave, and we find ourselves back in the now.
With their leader gone and having been routed by the Asgardian and Asgardian-adjacent members of Angela’s team, Nebula’s forces decide that cheesing it is the better part of valor.
Val takes her leave as well, transforming back into Annabelle so that the mortal woman may resume looking at the runes on the ruins of the reliquary that contained the strange horn that Nebula absconded with.
Before doing so, she asks Skurge not to tell Annabelle that she was the one who broke the reliquary.
“I tried to stop Valkyrie from destroying the stone. Alas, she was lost to a berserker fury.”
Annabelle discovers that the horn relates to the Nagflar, the Ship of the Dead, built from the fingernails of the dead.
And not just one ship, an entire armada.
It gets worse from there.
Ragnarok is a cycle of death and rebirth for the gods, but when they’re reborn, they get new bodies. Their old bodies remain as lifeless husks, waiting aboard their Nagflars for someone to take command and lead them in battle to inflict the pain and torment they’ve known in death onto mortals through the power of the horn that Nebula just absconded with.
Even worse, Asgardians don’t have a monopoly on Ragnarok. There are countless gods throughout the cosmos who have gone through their own cycles of death and rebirth countless times.
As Annabelle tells the others aboard the ship what she’s learned, and speculates about how many other similarly-shameful secrets the gods have kept throughout the ages, we see Angela discussing their next move with the mysterious pilot of the Destroyer, who is also her mysterious benefactor:
Given that there are so many Marvel books that I haven’t read, reading this one will likely require a lot of diving into Wikis, but I am at least passingly-familiar with everyone involved, so that makes it a bit less of a daunting task for a book that draws heavily from a deep bench of obscure, minor characters with convoluted backstories.
I’m probably least familiar with Angela, at least in this incarnation, who has an especially convoluted backstory both in fiction and in real life. Co-created by Neil Gaiman, Angela first appeared in Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. The rights to the character ended up with Marvel as part of a tangled legal case that involved not only the rights to Angela but also the rights to Miracleman (or Marvelman, as he’s known outside the US), which also ended up in Marvel’s possession.
Once brought in to the Marvel Universe, she was revealed to be the daughter of Odin and Freyja, and her introduction brought with it the revelation of a heretofore-unknown tenth realm, a place called Heven.
It’s all…well, you can’t spell complicated without comic (books).
Still, Bunn does a good job of letting you know what you immediately need to know, and the fractured, non-linear approach to the story keeps what might otherwise be an exposition-heavy infodump interesting and entertaining.
I’m generally not a fan of the body sharing trope – and honestly, what would be so bad about letting Val just have her own body? – but there is a bit of a twist on this implementation, in that prior to sharing a body Val and Annabelle had been an item, so I imagine that Annabelle has moved on and found new love will lead to some kind of tension.
(Unless, of course, that’s already been dealt with in some of those comics I haven’t read.)
I’m not familiar with Lolli, but while I like the art overall – it’s reminiscent of Marc Silvestri or Whilce Portacio – there are places in which the inking seems a bit too loose, and others where it’s a bit too clumpy.
The coloring by Federico Blee seems oddly retro, in a way, harkening back to the earliest days of digital production, and in combination with those loose/clumped inks, the whole thing looks a bit rushed.
(I say this from my own experience with inking and coloring in a hurry.)
If it were up to me, given the tone of the book and the cast of characters, Art Adams would be handling the art chores. It’s a good fit for his style, and I have a fondness for the way he draws Asgardians in general and Valkyrie in particular.
The trend of attempting to create some alignment with the movies continues here, with Nebula’s movie look – though here they retain the original granddaughter of Thanos identification – and with the scene with the slaughtered Dwarves.
It’s an auspicious – if uneven – start, and it’s enough to prompt me to pick up the next issue, though we’ll give it a couple of more issues to see whether I ultimately add it to my pull list as floppies or trade-wait.
The Simonson run on Thor, which includes the original “Frog of Thunder” storyline.
(I will never not recommend the Simonson run.)