In the new "Fearless Defenders" arc, Cullen Bunn and artist Will Sliney pulled together an impressive roster of superheroines to fight Odin's Doom Maidens, who had been called upon by Caroline Le Fay for world destruction. With the stakes so high, such a story should have no less than a spectacular conclusion. The issue starts out strong, developing Valkyrie in a refreshing if violent way, but spirals into disrepair with an unfortunately anticlimactic ending.
Bunn handles Valkyrie's character superbly. With her past as a Doom Maiden revealed, Valkyrie is faced with some unsavory choices. Through her choices, however, she shows her strengths; by willingly accepting her role as a Doom Maiden to protect her friends, she sacrifices her sanity and -- potentially -- her life for the sake of her comrades. Even though her choice ultimately results in some terrible consequences, it emphasizes how far she is willing to go to defend the world. Her mistakes show that she is inherently good, if flawed. Her real strength lies in her ability to overcome her pride and her addictions for the greater good. Valkyrie becomes wonderfully complex under Bunn's guidance, making her the best part of the series so far.
However, the ending leaves a lot to be said. When one of the characters begs Valkyrie to forsake her bloodlust, she is brutally killed by Valkyrie's berserker side. The death, in itself, seems as though it occurred for the shock-factor alone. It happens off-page, so that readers next see Valkyrie carrying the body back to her friends. This jump feels abrupt and intended to startle. In the series so far, the death doesn't contribute to the plot; the character's actions before her death, which snapped Valkyrie out of her rage, are what matter most in the scenario. The death exists only to create a guilt complex for Valkyrie -- a device that could have been easily executed in a different way. Although the death feels trite and contrived, the buildup surrounding the character is not. Bunn created a truly fantastic, multifaceted character for whom the readers genuinely cared, making her meaningless death all the more tragic.
Sliney's art for this issue is a little touch-and-go. On one hand, the level of detail in each panel is amazing; he handles the plethora of characters wonderfully, managing to create scenes that have a lot to look at but don't feel busy or overcrowded. On the other hand, however, his characters suffer from twisted and forced posing. From spines that bend too far back to waists that swivel a little too tightly, his femme fatales occasionally look pained and uncomfortable in their postures. Veronica Gandini's beautiful coloring thankfully distracts from this effect. Her color schemes really accentuated the different settings of the issue, from different eras to imagined scenarios.
For their sixth issue together, Bunn and Sliney provide a middle-of-the-road conclusion that neither wows nor disappoints. With Bunn's knack for character development, however, the book stays solid and maintains its potential. The very last page of the story certainly sets up for a foreboding new arc that will be sure to hook new and old readers alike.