“Secret Avengers” #14 bounces back in time between the life of Brunhilde and the origin of Valkyrie, to one of the many battlefields of “Fear Itself,” as a handful of soldiers march behind Valkyrie to their likely deaths. The story begins with a pair of soldiers avoiding preparing for a battle related to “Fear Itself” and then draws comparisons between their day and Brunhilde’s journey from princess to Odin’s Valkyrie.
Nick Spencer set us up with a pair of soldiers in love (or something resembling love) and canoodling prior to going into battle, and then draws parallels between the lovers’ story and Brunhilde’s story of losing someone she loves in battle just prior to being offered the mantle of Valkyrie. Spencer doesn’t do a terrible job at it, but it’s pretty emotionally bankrupt and movie-of-the-week territory to begin with. We know the soldiers are redshirts from go, destined to die or teach us some kind of lesson, operating as ciphers and nothing more, so it’s impossible to feel anything for them even if their dialogue wasn’t stunted and banal (which it is).
The Valkyrie stuff on its own is not entirely uninteresting, but it’s hard not to feel we’ve been here before. I would have been more interested in a tale of Valkyrie as she is today, showing something of her personality and soul beyond the cliched weary battle warrior with a heart of gold angle. This story, though it attempts to delve into Valkyrie’s origin, really holds her at quite a distance, showing us a sliver of who she was as Brunhilde but showing us very little of who she is as Valkyrie. Valkyrie is a character I have unlimited interest in, but every story I read treads the same uninteresting ground that does little more than scratch the surface of the character. Additionally, Valkyrie has a very unique voice, and I’m not sure that Spencer quite captures it here, in the past, or present.
Scot Eaton draws a wonderful Valkyrie — beautiful and powerful, heroic and bold, brutal and cold — and he finds some stunning moments in this issues, sometimes just in his depiction of Valkyrie. But most everything that isn’t Valkyrie, though well-rendered enough, isn’t particularly moving or spectacular. The soldiers in question feel basic and hard to distinguish from one another. The battle, itself, with the exception of one splash panel, feels much the same. Maybe that was deliberate to show us that war is war is war? If so, it works at cross-purposes with Spencer’s efforts to make us feel something for our cipher soldiers.
I pick up pretty much any comic featuring Valkyrie (well, depending on the artist) but they rarely have much insight to offer on the woman herself. This issue was, unfortunately, no exception. And thus Valkyrie remains a mystery to me, one I wish some great creative team would come along and solve.