In Marvel's "Fearless Defenders" #6, the climactic chapter to writer Cullen Bunn and artist Will Sliney's introductory arc, the all-leading lady team paid a heavy price for the failure of one of their members -- the life of archeologist Annabelle Riggs. Riggs was killed by a member of the Doom Maidens, a corrupt and ancient order of warrior goddesses revived due to Valkyrie's inability to create a counteracting force to their evil influence.
Making matters worse in a twist of fate was the Doom Maiden who slew Annabelle was Valkyrie herself -- but the archeologist's death was not in vain. Annabelle's heroic final stand allowed the Asgardian to break free from the twisted persona she had transformed into. It also made her realize the world needs something larger than a force of mortal women to serve as Asgardian Shieldmaidens -- it needs a team of female heroes to protect the myriad and diverse corners of the Marvel Universe.
CBR News spoke with Bunn about the fallout from Annabelle's death, the future of the "Fearless Defenders" and how Valkyrie implements her new plan for the protection of the Marvel U. Plus, exclusive art!
CBR News: Cullen, lets begin by talking about the character who died in issue #6, Annabelle Riggs. Considering she was first introduced in "Fearless Defenders," can you talk about how she came to be and ultimately, what made you decide to kill her off?
Cullen Bunn: Aside from Valkyrie, Annabelle (or at least the character who would become Annabelle) was the first character I knew I wanted to have in the book. I always wanted a normal person on the team. Her role changed quite a bit as the series was developed and it quickly became apparent that "Fearless Defenders" is Annabelle's story. Her death, I'm afraid, was planned from the very beginning.
She definitely existed under a cloud of doom. That's one of the reasons she came across as so impulsive, lively and joyous in the face of extreme danger -- I didn't want Annabelle to be this dark, dreary character. Sometimes even rays of light must be sacrificed.
Valkyrie's speech at the end of issue #6 suggested Annabelle's death helped her realize she must stop running from her mission to create a force of mortal female warriors. What can you tell us about her mental state going into issue #7?
Valkyrie definitely sees her mission differently in the wake of Annabelle's death, but she is going to define her mission on her own terms. The All-Mother has commanded her to find Shieldmaidens but she's not necessarily ready to do that. She's more concerned with gathering Defenders, whether or not they are worthy heroes in the eyes of a supernatural Asgardian force. For so long, Val has been seen as this by-the-books warrior type. Going into issue #7, she's going to exercise the rebellious rule-breaker side of her personality.
Valkyrie's ally, private investigator Misty Knight, also had a reaction to Annabelle's death in that she punched Valkyrie with her bionic arm and then walks away. Who is Misty more angry at -- Valkyrie for killing Annabelle, or herself for allowing Annabelle to become embroiled in the battle against the Doom Maidens in the first place?
I'm glad you asked this! A lot of readers focused only on the idea that Misty was angry at Val. She was, but she's equally angry at herself. She feels a great deal of guilt for letting Annabelle get mixed up in these dangerous adventures (not that she could have stopped her). Misty needs an outlet for that guilt and anger, and Val was the perfect target.
Val's other teammates, Dani Moonstar and Warrior Woman's reactions to Annabelle's death were a little less clear. Can you talk at all about what they're feeling as they walk off at the end of issue #6?
As different as Warrior Woman and Dani are, I think they are both a little jaded when it comes to losing comrades. Both of these women have seen some pretty bloody times. Obviously, the loss of a teammate hurts, but they may be taking it a little better than Misty or Val. And, yeah, I know Valkyrie's seen a ton of death in her time, but this situation -- killing the person who saved you -- is different for her.
Also in issue #6 you offered up what appeared to be some cryptic hints at the future. The first came in a panel appearing to be from Valkyrie's point of view, showing Storm and Tigra in battle armor. Does Valkyrie already know who will be in the newest incarnation of the Asgardian warriors, the Valkyrior? Does she view the Valkyrior as a separate force from the Shieldmaidens/Defenders?
Val has discovered her Valkyrie Death Sight gives her the ability to see those who are "worthy" to be Shieldmaidens, but she still has a lot to learn about what this means. She'll be surprised where it leads her. There's nothing to say that someone who was deemed "worthy" once will be seen as such again.
When Valkyrie was talking about the Defenders we were given glimpses of female Marvel heroes battling evil around the world. Were these glimpses merely to illustrate an idea, or are they hints of some of the adventures you have planned for this book?
A little of both. I wanted to get the idea across that there are endless possibilities for stories and team-ups ahead -- some you might expect, some you wouldn't. That sequence originated with me thinking, "Hmmm. I sure would love to tell a story where Black Cat and Hellcat have to break into a haunted house."
Valkyrie's not the only one with big plans for a super team -- the final page of "Fearless Defenders" #6 revealed the team's arch-enemy, Caroline le Fay, wants to field a squad of her own Doom Maidens made up of lady villains from across the Marvel U. Can you hint, tease or talk about when we might see this team, who their members might be and what Caroline ultimately wants from them?
Starting with issue #8, you'll start seeing members -- or potential members -- of Caroline's team coming together. Some of these characters will be new to the Marvel Universe (although they might be legacies of other characters). So, the next arc sees Caroline's Doom Maidens coming together and harrying our heroes in a major way. The individuals seen on Caroline's screen at the end of issue #6 might not end up on her dream team. They're possible recruits -- but there are many other candidates.
In "Fearless Defenders" #7 and #8 you deal with the aftermath of the first arc, begin a new story and introduce a new team member in the form of Elsa Bloodstone. What made you want to bring her into this series?
I don't think it's any secret I'm a huge fan of Elsa Bloodstone. She was a guest star in one of my "Wolverine" arcs, and I've always had plans to see her again. She's a kick ass lady. Her attitude and demeanor adds to the team dynamic, but more than that, she's privy to some clandestine information that makes her very nervous about Caroline's new Doom Maidens.
I also want to mention that Issue #7 is illustrated by Stephanie Hans and features the return of Clea to the Marvel Universe -- and a big, shocking game-changer for the Defenders.
"Fearless Defenders" #9 appears to be an especially fun and interesting issue in that your main cast is interacting with their significant others. What can you tell us about this issue and some of its guest stars?
Issue #9 is a little off-beat -- we'll be following a couple of different stories. In one, the Defenders are squaring off against a group of supervillains who are unleashing all sorts of chaos on the streets of New York. In the other, their significant others (or ex-significant others) are gathered together and lamenting being stood up. The fellas have an important agenda item to discuss with the girls, but they may never get the chance. Guest stars this issue include Venom, Hercules, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, Werewolf by Night, Cannonball, Nate Grey -- and a very special guest for fans of Irish heroes.
Then in "Fearless Defenders" #10 you kick off the book's tie-in to "Infinity." In terms of plot and themes what is this arc about? What are some dangers the team will face?
When I started thinking about an "Infinity" tie-in, I said to myself, "What does every major event really need? Oh, I know! Dance!" So, issue #10 is a tribute to many of my favorite dance movies. No, I'm not kidding. Aside from this, though, we're also going to be introduced to a new character I think readers are going to love. We'll also be taking a look at how frightening supervillains -- and superheroes -- can be to the average person on the street.
Artist Will Sliney is bringing most of the stories we discussed to life -- what can we expect from him on these issues?
He's a great collaborator. I'm very excited about the project and what we've got cooking. He's getting better and better with every issue. I can't wait for readers to see the awesomeness he's putting on the pages in upcoming issues.
Finally, you've completed your initial arc on "Fearless Defenders" and you have big plans for this series. Can you offer up a grand overview of what people can expect in this book for the rest of the year?
The book can definitely go in any number of directions, and we're going to showcase that in issues #7–11. Every issue is mostly a self-contained story. There are ties to a bigger story arc, but every issue has a different feel, setting and style of adventure. From street level to otherworldly, from New York to New Amazonia to -- I can't say without spoiling something big. I really want to show off a wide range of stories in the days to come.
"Fearless Defenders" #7 by Cullen Bunn and Stephanie Hans goes on sale July 31 from Marvel Comics