THE DEFENDERS (vol. 2) 4

"Ride of the Valkyrie"

Published: June 2001, $2.25

The Defenders: Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer

Guest Appearances: Hellcat, Nighthawk, Valkyrie

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Pluto, Lorelei (Ice Queen), minions of Pluto

(As narrated by the Silver Surfer)

The Defenders face hell on Earth as they battle the walking dead who pour endlessly from the beneath the fractured ground which serves as the battlefield. The Hulk pounds on several of the dead men calling them stupid for not staying in the ground where they belong. 

The Olympian death-god Pluto had allied himself with the Asgardian sorceress Lorelei, to create a Valkyrie-being, under their control...intending to combine her power with Pluto's, to raise an army of the slain, and turn Earth into a hell-world. But, they have had a falling out. Now, Pluto and Lorelei attack each other over the fallen Valkyrie as the legions of the dead and other creatures of the underworld flood into the earthly plane...uncontrolled and unchecked. And, despite the remoteness of this location, already an innocent life has been lost. The life of a mountain man whose only error was choosing to live in a place tragedy would strike. And now, the Defenders, joined by Hellcat and Nighthawk, fight to stem the Hadean tide. But, their numbers are so great and they have among them even those who can drain the power of the Silver Surfer and those whose strength matches that of the Hulk and Namor. Even now, the Sub-Mariner pounds the walking dead with his fists, while Nighthawk and the Surfer kick and blast these obscenities against nature. Still, that for all their might, they may ultimately be overwhelmed. 

As they battle, the Defenders hear a distant rumble which builds slowly to a thunder. Similarly, a brightness shines in the distance which grows with the increasing sound...Pluto and Lorelei turn to notice the sound too. Suddenly, it becomes clear...the Valkyrior arrive! The Asgardian choosers of the slain fly over the battle field, countless Valkyrie on winged horses. The gateway to Hades was torn asunder when the team destroyed Pluto's temple...a temple that shielded him from the eyes of Olympus and Asgard. That protection it seems, is no more. 

The Hulk struggles to understand what he sees. Uncountable Valkyrie on uncountable flying steeds. Hellcat echoes his sentiments. Hulk scoffs at the puny spears of the new arrivals and exclaims that they need swords to be "sword-girls". Ignoring the emerald giant, a lead Valkyrie orders the Valkyrior on, into the fray, the battle odds now more balanced as they side with the Defenders. She turns to the Defenders and bids them greetings for it has been sometime since they last met. She is, after all, the Defenders' Valkyrie returned! She explains that she and the Valkyrior will hold the line against the risen-dead, while the Defenders pursue Pluto and Lorelei who, it seems, are attempting to escape in all the commotion. Nighthawk is beside himself. He exclaims that first there was a Valkyrie who turned out to be Lorelei who was whammied by Pluto. Then, there was another Val who turned out to be created by Lorelei and Pluto and now...who is this? Hellcat explains to Kyle and the Surfer that it is her, the original Val!

The Valkyrie, the one the Defenders knew, was very important to them, very close. From her origins, as a madwoman named Barbara Norriss was transformed by the Enchantress into a powerful warrior-woman with no past, no memory. She became a steadfast and loyal ally and more...she became a friend. In time, however, her true self reasserted itself...first her memories as Brunnhilde, leader of the Valkyrior, and eventually, her spirit was reunited with her true body. And though she remained a Defender longer than any other member, she became more and more the goddess, less and less the mortal. (NOTE: Okay, deep breath...Barbara Norriss sacrificed her freedom to save the world from the Undying Ones in Incredible Hulk #126, went mad between then and Defenders #3 and was transformed by the Enchantress into the Valkyrie by the Enchantress in Defenders #4. Her memories of being Brunnhilde returned in Defenders #66-68, and she wound up facing Barbara Norriss' insane mind in her true body. In the end, Barbara's spirit was condemned to Niflheim. Later, in Defenders #107-109, Brunnhilde's human form (Barbara Norriss' body) was killed, Brunnhilde was reunited with her true Asgardian form, and Barbara's spirit was bonded forever with the the embodiment of Love (no kidding!), leaving Brunnhilde a whole and full goddess once more. She then died in the final issue Defenders #152 but was then resurrected in a new human body in Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme #3-4. Later, inexplicably, she possessed the body of Victoria Bentley in Black Knight #3-4 and also reappeared as the long-gone, multiply dead Barbara Norriss (this time a drug addict) who commits suicide in Valkyrie #1). 

Hellcat explains to Nighthawk that this Val is, indeed their Val as she talked with her a while back (Brunnhilde and Hellcat met most recently in Hellcat #3). Nighthawk, watches stunned at the stern and commanding Valkyrie, then acknowledges that he has missed a lot since he spent those years in a coma (from Defenders #106 to Nighthawk #1). The Silver Surfer suggests that the team does as Val requested, that is, intercept the escaping villains. With a moderately over-dramatic urging on by Nighthawk, the Defenders pursue the Asgardian witch and Olympian god. 

Meanwhile, despite Val's indication that the pair were fleeing, the Defenders come across their quarry engaged in a power struggle over their created Valkyrie. Their magic pulls physically on Val with equal force. Pluto curses the White Queen but explains that all is not yet lost, he still has time to reassert his power over the legions of the dead if she just releases the Valkyrie. However, things have gone too far for Lorelei. She refuses to relent and explains that she created the woman-warrior and she wishes to control her for her own objectives. Pluto reminds the Asgardian sorceress that it was he who provided her with a certain item of power which enabled the creation of the Valkyrie in the first place. The two then resume their childish squabble while the Valkyrie kneels dazed between them.

It is Nighthawk who interrupts the battle, chastising the pair for acting like pre-schoolers. He tells the squabbling pair that the Valkyrie is no one's property but her own. The villains turn to find themselves facing the Defenders who are prepared to do battle. The Hulk pipes up telling all that he wants to smash bald-man and orange-hair girl if they don't let sword-girl go. Hellcat awaits their reply. Pluto, however, replies by ordering the Valkyrie to attack the Defenders. However, Lorelei orders the Valkyrie to destroy Pluto. Each orders the Valkyrie back and forth, back and forth; each issues a louder and louder command to the Valkyrie to slay the other. The Hulk and Namor prepare to intercede but are stopped by Dr. Strange who asks them to watch what is happening....Eldritch energies bombard the new Valkyrie from both sides, pulling her this way and that. She fights a battle within, for win or lose, stand or fall, this moment comes down to her inner strength. The Valkyrie's face grows red from the inner struggle as the commands around her grow more urgent. Suddenly, she snaps! Yelling "ENOUGH!!" and using her spear, she sends both villains to the ground with a mighty sweep! Regaining their feet, both Lorelei and Pluto are incredulous at what has occurred, and indignant at how they were just treated. They prepare to attack Val but the Defenders stand ready at her side. The two sides square off for battle!

Suddenly, as they raise their hands to attack...a deafening roar is heard as a projection of Zeus appears in the sky over the startled villains! Zeus is enraged at Pluto's violation of the Covenant Eternal which was set to bind Pluto to the Shadowlands. The great god demands an explanation and asks Pluto if her really thought he could get away with it. Pluto stands speechless then realizing he has failed, he quickly begs for forgiveness from the great lord Zeus and asks for mercy. Lorelei stands back smirking at Pluto's behaviour and awaits his punishment. However, Zeus notes her smugness and roars that she is just as guilty and will be punished as the cowering wretch Pluto as she has shamed Asgard and brought hellfire to Earth. His voice booms with thunderous power, and his eyes emit lightning, sending pieces of earth and rock scattering. Using this interruption as a diversion, Pluto quickly asks Lorelei to put aside their differences...taking his queue, Lorelei tells Pluto to cast a spell to cloud Zeus' gaze while she transports them from the battlefield to safety. As the pair vanishes, the Ice Queen yells out with malice that she will remember the Defenders' role in this failed venture...and with that, they disappear and the visage of Zeus does as well, though whether in pursuit or not, the Defenders cannot know.

The air becomes quiet as the dust settles. Brunnhilde announces that matters are now resolved as the rift between Hades and Earth was sealed by Zeus and the Valkyrior have dealt with the restless dead as they are charged to do. Dr. Strange gives his thanks but the new Val speaks up, "No, it is not over". She moves away from the Defenders and kneels beside the mountain man who was mercilessly slain by Pluto. Using her bare hands, she moves aside snow and earth and digs a shallow grave. Laying him there, she remarks that he loved the mountains from what she observed and she wishes that he will sleep peacefully here. The Defenders had forgotten him, he who represented the people they have been cursed to defend. The Valkyrie stands over his grave and shames the Defenders with her silence and respect.

Aside, Hellcat asks Brunnhilde what will happen to the new Valkyrie, but Val over hears and reminds Patsy that she is her own woman and although she does not know where she is headed, she will not beg for anyone's help. Brunnhilde notes her pride and independence and explains that there is no need to beg. Val may find a new home with the Defenders as she had once. The Sub-Mariner speaks up and remarks that there are no Defenders as there is no team to join. Once the curse is lifted, they go their separate ways and there will be no home to have with them. Brunnhilde recalls Namor saying that once before ( see Defenders #4) but reminds him that things have a way of following their own course. Turning to Val, she remarks that she understands how she feels because she felt it once herself. Val will require friends and a place to belong and, to help her cope, a weapon...Dragonfang. Brunnhilde presents Val with her magical sword (which was once presented to the original Val in Defenders #12). Finally, she also presents to Val, Aragorn (created by Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, prior to Avengers #48) her winged horse whom she notes is of the human world and properly belongs in Midgard (having eaten the hay of Valhalla has kept him young and strong). Val is stunned and not sure of what to say. She turns to the Defenders and asks if she is truly welcome in the assemblage. Nighthawk welcomes her with an extended hand and Patsy offers Kyle's stables for Aragorn. While Namor "hmphs" the remaining Defenders offer no comment. With that, Val mounts a nearby Valkyrior's horse and takes flight wishing them well. The hooves of the Valkyrior thunder once more, thunder and fade...returning to Valhalla.

Namor interrupts the fading thunder abruptly by commanding the Defenders to return with him to his kingdom where, no doubt, the hordes of the barbarian Attuma have overrun (see Defenders vol.2 #2). Dr. Strange says that they will, but first they must study, then break the curse. Otherwise, traveling to Atlantis would be pointless because as soon as another crisis arises, they would be swept away once again. He suggests they all return to his sanctum in New York. Namor calls Strange mad and then turns to ask if there are any others willing to help. The Hulk does a raspberry right in the Sub-Mariner's face as there is no way he is going to help fish-man. Enraged and with a mighty leap, Namor leaves the Defenders wanting nothing more to do with them. The Hulk follows his lead and leaps off in the opposite direction. Strange turns to the Silver Surfer and asks if he will aid in his research. The Surfer remarks that he will not at this time as he is heartsick and tired of humanity. He feels that time has changed Stephen Strange...made him as cold and distant as the menaces he faces. The Surfer then mounts his board and soars off, thinking that perhaps he should join the Sub-Mariner and offer some help. Val stands stunned wondering what sort of madhouse she has just joined. Kyle however, explains that what she just observed is more the norm for the Defenders. The team then mounts up, and heads for home. 

And so, it came to pass that a new Valkyrie joined the ranks of the dynamic Defenders. There were many battles yet to be fought, many dangers yet to be faced...but face them, the Defenders shall...for as long as the curse endures!

NEXT: Namor vs. Attuma, Dr. Strange vs. The Curse and oh, about the Headmen?! Be there!  "Headhunt!" in Defenders (vol. 2) #5

Front Cover: The Defenders (vol. 2) Issue 4

Cover Defenders (vol. 2) 4