Thursday, July 17, 2014

Four Color Culture: Problems With the New, Female Thor

Thor by Russel Daughterman
Hello, Readers Mine! Well, I've been thinking about starting a regular comics column or two here for a while now, but I didn't expect to begin quite like this. So on Tuesday, Marvel took to The View to reveal that, come October, there will be a new, female Thor in town.The announcement, followed by an official press release, included a sneak peek of the new Thor by artist Russel Dauterman. Jason Aaron, current writer for Marvel's ongoing Thor: God of Thunder title will also be writing the new Thor (which will be an entirely new volume, titled simply Thor.)

Aaron also commented that "This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR or the Marvel Universe. But it's unlike any Thor we've seen before." (Except for, you know, that AWESOME time Storm picked up an uru hammer, or that time Wonder Woman did, or Rogue, or Jane Foster, or You Getting My Drift Yet?) Of course, the argument is that the latest female Thor is not some temporary storyline, or alternate reality/continuity, but the actual, official Thor of the Marvel Universe (MU). Except no.
Also Thor, also by Daughterman.
You see, Marvel also released another image of the now unworthy former-Thor, sans most of his left arm and hefting a great big axe. Readers of Thor: GOT or Uncanny Avengers will recognize the axe as Jarnbjorn, the dwarven-forged axe wielded by Thor in his callow youth, before he originally became worthy of the hammer Mjolnir. Importantly, the missing arm also connects the image with Aaron's King Thor of Asgard, the familiar male Thor as he will be in a far (and I mean FAR) future, where his left arm has been replaced by the arm of the Destroyer. (King Thor is made of equal parts awesomesauce and whup-ass, BTW) So this all appears to fall in line with Aaron's long-term arc where Thor is definitively male.

Here's the thing that grinds my gears, though: Aaron and Marvel's disingenuous language about the new take. Thor isn't like Captain America or Iron Man, where if a different person puts on the uniform/suit, they can still claim the character's title. Thor is a unique, discrete, individual entity, and even without the hammer, he is still a God, still the next best thing to immortal,and STILL FREAKING THOR!!!! Thor is his name, not his title, not his nom de guerre, but his very own name. Over the decades a lot of people (Seriously. No, seriously A LOT) have proven worthy of Mjolnir  
and the power of
King Thor, by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic.
 Note the left arm - and the hammer.
Thor, but none of them has been Thor, because, you know, Thor's his name.  Look, Thor has always been a drama queen, so maybe as he goes on his quest for redemption and worthiness he renounces his name or something, leaving it to be picked up by the next person who can use Mjolnir. Could be. But make no mistake, somewhere along the way, this story WILL be about the original Thor redeeming himself and becoming worthy of Mjolnir again. That's not to say that the female Thor won't continue. After all, Beta Ray Bill is still out there with Stormbreaker. But mark my words, Marvel simply will not get rid of male Thor forever, just as they will not kill off Wolverine for good, or Professor X, or Jean Grey, or Gwen Stacey, or Peter Parker, or Bucky, etc, etc, etc. Plus, Jason Aaron himself has called this a "Beta Ray Bill-style story about someone else wielding the hammer for awhile" (emphasis added). In the same interview Aaron also carefully refers to Thor Odinson to differentiate male-Thor from female-Thor, and hints that Thor sans-hammer is just not up to snuff. Against Ice Giants. Yeah. Ice giants, the big blue guys whose butts Thor has been kicking since he was the Asgardian equivalent of 5 years old. Because the hammer isn't where all of Thor's abilities come from. He should still have basically super-strength, super-toughness, be able to survive in the vacuum of space, swing a mean axe, and let's not even get into his girdle of strength and his chariot pulled by the goats Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder. My point is, even without Mjolnir, Thor of Asgard ain't exactly Caspar Milquetoast, Esq. Plus, again, still Thor. So, sorry Aaron, but just because some one has the powers of Thor, doesn't make that person Thor, because that just not how identity works.

Finally, there's a whole other level where I'm raging about Marvel's idiocy in ignoring a pre-existing, truly great Asgardian female character with a built in audience: Sif. Do you remember Journey Into Mystery? It was one of Marvel's longest running (albeit often interrupted)  titles (and where Thor first appeared waaay back in the Lee/Kirby days), and Marvel cancelled it last year in the wake of Marvel NOW! Well, the last arc in JIM starred Sif. Lady Sif, the warrior woman of Asgard, played to tremendous fan acclaim in film and on TV by Jaimie Alexander. In the last 9 issues of JIM, Kathryn Immonen (scripts) and (mostly) Valerio Schiti (pencils) were giving us one of the most beautifully realized, kick-ass, complex, female heroes that Marvel has ever done. So of course, they cancelled the series - not because sales were particularly bad, but because, in the wake of the films, they wanted to concentrate on Thor and Loki stories. So why not relaunch JIM with Sif, or giver her her own title, rather than gender-swap Thor?

Alls I'm sayin'.... The Lady Sif in Journey Into Mystery by Immonen and Schiti.

Well, because Marvel is still the same "readers don't buy comics with female leads" place it always has been despite the phenomenal success and stories in Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel. They are unwilling to gamble on Sif's name recognition to sell, so they are trying to cash in on Thor's, and to garner some free press (mission accomplished!) and attention to their supposedly newly progressive attitudes. The new Thor will run for a while, likely usually in tandem with an accompanying subplot dealing with unworthy Thor's search for meaning/redemption/worth, and eventually Thor will either spawn two ongoing titles (a la the multiple X- and Avengers books), or female Thor will quietly fade away. This isn't a breakthrough, or a new direction, or a significant shift. It is merely the latest Mighty Marvel Marketing Magic. I plan to continue reading Thor: GOT, male, female, or neuter Thor, because I'm a fan. But I'm also not a fool.

UPDATE: Marvel has just announced that "Superior Iron Man" will be joining Avengers NOW! , so the pattern has become crystal clear: new and sometimes clashing personalities in traditional character roles. We say it with Spidey/Doc. Ock (marketing test-run anyone?), and now we'll have Sam Wilson's Captain America, female Thor, and Superior Iron Man. So, yeah. Excuses for more #1 books, yet more short-lived volumes, and More Money For Marvel!!!

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