BY MATT TUCK
In one day, Strange Tales #159 has jumped in FMV by an astounding 355%, and it is all thanks to the debut of (SPOILER ALERT).
SPOILER ALERT FOR EPISODE FIVE OF THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER. DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW.
After John Walker’s dishonorable discharge from the military, the downtrodden ex-Captain America got an unexpected proposal from Contessa Valentina “Val” Allegro de Fontaine. In case you weren’t aware, Contessa is Italian for Countess, so she is a very important person who had a brief conversation with Walker before handing him a blank business card and walking away. While Julia Louis-Dreyfus, best known as Elaine Benes from Seinfeld fame, had little more than a cameo, the implications for her character are massive, and that is why Strange Tales #159 has absolutely blown up.
WHO IS SHE?
In the comics, the Contessa is an ex-SHIELD agent who once had a romantic relationship with Nick Fury. She would generally play a small role in the Marvel Universe until Brian Michael Bendis elevated her status by making her the second Madame Hydra in 2007. Now her MCU debut is fueling a multitude of fan theories.
Remember three years ago when the word on the internet was that Marvel Studios had commissioned a script for Dark Avengers? Nothing has come of that news so far, but when we connect the dots, it leaves us wondering if the Contessa will introduce Dark Reign to the MCU.
The other theory is that she is piecing together that long-awaited team, the Thunderbolts. As of yet, we still don’t know who the Power Broker is, and some are wondering if it could be Thunderbolt Ross, who has a direct connection to the super soldier serum that has been at the heart of FATWS. If that is the case, Val could be forming the Thunderbolts at Ross’ request.
While those are both interesting theories, I predict we will see her reform Hydra around herself as Madame Hydra, and that is why you will want two other comics to go along with that rapidly-inflating Strange Tales #159.
STRANGE TALES #159
As soon as Val appeared in Episode 5, this issue immediately spiked. While Strange Tales #159’s main significance comes from the debut of Contessa Allegro de Fontaine, you get a bonus first appearance as well in the debut of Nick Fury’s younger brother, Jacob. He would become a super-villain in his own right, Scorpio, before changing his name to Kraken. With Nick Fury starring in the upcoming Disney+ Secret Invasion series, there is a likely possibility that Jacob will appear in that show.
Just 24 hours after Val made her MCU debut, seven different grades of Strange Tales #159 have sold online. At the top, we have a 9.6 that sold for $1,985, which is a mighty step from the $525 the only sale netted last year.
Meanwhile, the most popular grade has been the 9.2, trading hands four times this year. What is impressive is its jump in fair market value. In February, one sold for $288. Yesterday, that FMV caught fire, selling three times. The first was for $565, and hours later, another brought $1,200. Both of those were eclipsed with the most recent sale of $1,600.
With the excitement surrounding the FATWS appearance, all the grades are inflating by the hour, but the mid-grades have not gotten out of reach just yet. The lowest grade sold yesterday was the 6.0, and it earned $200. Of course, that is a huge step away from last year’s high of $58, but it is much more reasonable that $1,600 or more.
SECRET WARRIORS #2
This is the sleeper pick of the lot because it was in these pages that the Contessa took up the name Madame Hydra. It is likely this is where she is headed in the MCU, and once she is given the name, this will become a hot comic. Another thing that we could very well see in the MCU, possibly as soon as the sixth episode of FATWS, is the High Council of Hydra: Madame Hydra, Baron Strucker, Viper, Gorgon, Kraken, and the Hive. I fully expect to see the conglomerate on the screen in one fashion or another, but obviously with some changes in members.
Granted, Secret Warriors #2 will not likely reach those Strange Tales #159, but this could become very popular, especially if we see the Contessa become Madame Hydra and form the Hydra High Council. Right now, you can get near-mint copies for practically nothing. There has been very little sales activity to speak of, and the ones that are selling have been bringing less than $5. For that price, what do you have to lose?
CAPTAIN AMERICA #110
It is always fun to include Jim Steranko art in a blog post, and today I get to spotlight two, but there’s more to this issue than just the cover. This comic featured the first appearance of Madame Hydra. This was not the Contessa, but instead it was the first super-villain name for Ophelia Sarkissian, better known as Viper. If my theory is correct that the Contessa will become Madame Hydra, then I see this issue getting much more popular.
I am not the only one making the Madame Hydra connection, it would seem. Yesterday, an 8.5 more than doubled its 2020 FMV as it sold for $395 after averaging $177 a year ago.
THE BIG PICTURE
The introduction of Val may not seem like much at first glance because she has not been a major character in the comics. Now, that could all change. The implications for her character are huge, and it appears she will be a puppet master, pulling the strings of the MCU for quite some time.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.