Marvel’s Smart Approach to Linking Movies and Comics
Last week Marvel revealed the latest addition to the ever-growing line of X-Men comics, Exiles. This revival of the fan-favorite early 2000’s series follows the same basic premise as the original series, with mutant teleporter Blink leading an eclectic team of heroes in a quest to protect the Marvel multiverse. Perhaps the biggest twist in this new announcement, however, is the fact that the team will include a new version of Valkyrie modeled very directly on Tessa Thompson’s portrayal of the character in Thor: Ragnarok. It’s the latest example of Marvel tweaking its comics to make them more like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But where some of Marvel’s past attempts at superhero synergy have failed, this new Valkyrie suggests they’re learning from their mistakes.
Of the many heroes who have made the jump from the comics to the MCU, Valkyrie isn’t exactly the most comic book-accurate. There’s the decision to cast an African American woman in the role of a traditionally light-skinned, blond-haired character. There’s her drastically altered origin story and status in the larger Marvel Universe. And perhaps most interestingly (even if it wasn’t directly acknowledged in the film), the MCU’s Valkyrie is bisexual, whereas the comic book version is defined by her tragic romance with Siegfried (one of Thor’s mortal incarnations).
For all intents and purposes, Thompson’s Valkyrie is a different character from the Brunnhilde of the comics. And that’s perfectly fine. She works well on her own merits, and Thompson is terrific in the role. For many moviegoers, Valkyrie was the breakout character of the film. Why wouldn’t Marvel want to take advantage of that popularity? And they can do so because the Exiles is a team pulled from various alternate Marvel timelines and universes. They aren’t altering the existing Valkyrie character to make her more MCU-esque; they’re simply introducing a new version of Valkyrie who hails from a different dimension. That’s a key distinction.
The problem Marvel has sometimes run into in recent years is working the more inspired elements of the MCU into their comics in a logical, elegant way. It’s one thing to have the X-Men go through a black leather phase in the aftermath of their first movie or give Spider-Man organic webshooters to mirror the Sam Raimi films. But too often, Marvel seems intent on bending over backwards to arbitrarily make its comics more like the movies. Nick Fury is often seen as the most glaring example. Marvel went out of its way with 2011’s Battle Scars to both introduce a new, Samuel L. Jackson-inspired version of Fury and have him replace the established version of Fury. And to what end? It seems doubtful that having a more MCU-friendly Fury did much to boost Marvel’s comic sales. And few would argue that Nick Fury Jr. is a better or more interesting character than his father.
Similarly, in 2015 Marvel elected to rewrite Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s origin story so that they were no longer mutants or Magneto’s children. That may have helped align Marvel’s comics with the MCU a bit more, but it did nothing to actually improve either character. That storyline accomplished little beyond angering fans of the Maximoff siblings. Three years later, it’s hard to say what purpose that de-mutantification ever served. Now that the X-Men movie rights are within Disney’s grasp again, there’s no reason to downplay Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s mutant heritage any longer.
Writer Geoff Johns set a good example for how to handle situations like this when he brought back the original Wally West in 2016’s DC Universe Rebirth #1. That example has less to do with cross-media synergy, but it’s still a case of a comic publisher tying to reconcile two drastically different takes on a character. With the advent of the New 52, DC effectively eliminated the classic Wally West, the one who had graduated from being a teen sidekick to taking over the mantle of Flash for two decades. The New 52 version of Wally was basically a top-to-bottom reboot of the character, upsetting fans who had grown so attached to the old Wally over the years.
When Johns elected to bring back the classic Wally in DCU Rebirth, he could easily have shuffled the New 52 Wally under the rug. Instead, he made the seemingly counterintuitive choice to keep both versions active in the DC Rebirth relaunch. The younger Wally is now a Teen Titan and learning the ropes of being a speedster under Barry’s watchful eye, while the elder Wally is applying his experience as a member of the adult Titans.
Johns is not a writer to sacrifice a character just because they’re struggling to connect with readers. It would have been easy to sacrifice the New 52 Wally in favor of the classic Wally. But Johns saw an opportunity to make use of both characters. He understood that the New 52 Wally, despite all his detractors, has his fans and has a place in the larger Flash family. Like the saying goes, dying is easy; living is harder. It’s easy to kill off an unpopular character. It’s more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding, to try to fix them.
I see parallels between Wally and Valkyrie in that way. The classic Valkyrie certainly has her fans, but she hasn’t tended to be a major player in the Marvel Universe in recent years. Her last major series, Fearless Defenders, struggled along for a year before being canceled. It would be easy for Marvel to retire or kill off the character and replace her with an MCU-inspired version that might have a broader appeal.
But Exiles proves that there’s an easier middle ground to take. Marvel can give readers a new Valkyrie that channels everything we loved about Tessa Thompson’s take on the character, and they can do so without sacrificing the classic Valkyrie. There’s no reason for Brunnhilde to suffer the same fate as Nick Fury Sr. or the Maximoff twins. These two characters can easily co-exist without stepping on each other’s toes. Heck, if the Marvel Universe has room for four different versions of Wolverine, it can certainly manage two Valkyries.
Thompson’s Valkyrie is on of the most exciting and dynamic additions to the MCU in years, and it’s obvious why Marvel would want to make that character a major player in its comic book universe. It’s refreshing to see them doing so in a clean, elegant way that doesn’t come at the expense of the Valkyrie of old. In this area, at least, Marvel is clearly learning from past mistakes.
“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly column from Jesse Schedeen that focuses on the world of comics. You can see more of his thoughts on comics and pop culture by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.