Dropping the Hammer

Two posts in one week? What is this sorcery? It’s been a while since there’s been a multi-post week but there has been a lot of good fodder for nerdy conversation in the past few days that’s just too good to not explore. Of course, the subject at hand stems from Marvel’s announcement on Tuesday that, come this fall, the character of Thor will be a woman.
Verily, 'tis a lady
The announcement itself was fairly light on the details. What better way to drum up attention, interest, and excitement ahead of next weekend’s San Diego Comic Con? In the interim, we can parse out what we do know from what’s been stated and what has been going down in the current Thor storyline. While this certainly wouldn’t be the first time the mantle of a given superhero has passed to a new bearer, the phrasing that Marvel used and the complications stemming from the makeup of the character himself potentially puts this transition in a brand new category. So, after mulling this over and reading what the comic book experts had to say, I think the Thor-as-woman concept boils down to the following:

The Good: This news serves as primarily as a declaration of where Marvel, as a company, plans to go in the immediate future; as far as corporate statements of intention go, this is a pretty positive one. Between this and Wednesday's announcement that Falcon (a.k.a. Samuel Wilson) will assuming the duties of Captain America it’s clear that Marvel recognizes that diversity in their ‘varsity’ lineup is a good thing. It demonstrates that the company is at least somewhat aware that the phenomenal success of their extremely well-planned multimedia campaign has expanded their consumer base and, in order to keep this base engaged, their characters and storylines need to have correspondingly broad, modernized appeal. That’s brilliant in its own right but gets the bonus of seeming even more so given how poorly arch-rival DC has been handling similar subject matter as of late. I mean, it doesn’t take much to outshine DC right now, but good on Marvel for taking that opportunity and running with it. Woot for strong characters that aren’t all white dudes!

The Bad: I really, really wish that the whole post could just end with the above, but that would paint a pretty inaccurate picture. My first real quibble with Thor-as-woman are the mechanics that will likely have to be involved in the transition of power. This all stems from series writer Jason Aaron and his declaration that the change will be both permanent and a complete superceding of the existing Thor. While this was ostensibly done to prove just how dedicated Marvel is to its diversity goals, it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the character of Thor. As mentioned above, the plot device of a given super identity or a set of superpowers transitioning from one individual to another is nothing new to the world of comics or even Thor’s canon. There have been at least 14 other instances in which another character has been deemed more ‘worthy’ of Mjolnir than Thor and thus were able to wield it. At no point in any of those situations did the new custodians of the mythic hammer become Thor. They were able to control the power set of the God of Thunder (since that seems to manifest in Mjolnir) for a time, but never supplanted Thor himself. For whatever reason, this mechanic will not apply to the new character.

But those were all temporary transitions. This is a brand new Thor!
The new 'unworthy' Thor

Except Thor is a name, not a title. There can be a new Captain America because the outgoing Cap will presumably re-assume his civilian identity as Steve Rogers or become a new superhero. Marvel has confirmed that Thor isn’t going to die or otherwise vanish; he’s just no longer worthy. There’s no indication as to what this will mean for present-Thor who, if the handful of reference images are anything to do by, may have fallen victim to the ‘must be unblemished’ rules of the Tuatha DeDanann (because these are comic books and can mix mythologies!), but is still very much alive. Somehow both the powers and fundamental identity of Thor will become concentrated in Mjolnir, which, as we’ve discussed, doesn’t make much sense. This in-vivo transition is unprecedented and it’ll be very interesting to see how Marvel handles it.

But this has totally happened before! Loki became a woman!

That’s not really the same though. Loki possessed the bodies of both Lady Sif and Scarlet Witch for a time, then relinquished them when they were no longer useful to him. He’s a shapeshifter; assuming someone else’s form is just one of his many trickster abilities.

Ok, then this is just like Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica. No one wanted that character to be a woman and she turned to be an awesome and integral part of the series!

This point has been taken up quite prodigiously, helped along more than little bit by an endorsement from Joss Whedon. Unfortunately, it’s not actually an apt comparison either. The reboot of Battlestar Galactica was exactly that: a reboot. In order for the woman-as-Thor concept to be equivalent, Marvel would have to create an alternate timeline or otherwise start over from the beginning of Thor canon with a new universe in which Thor had always been female. While we haven’t gotten much from Marvel, we do know that the upcoming transition doesn’t involve a whole-hog reboot because the present male Thor is still alive alongside female Thor. The only other way to make the Starbuck argument work is if the reboot had included the original male Starbuck who then trained or otherwise somehow gave his skills to the female Starbuck. Speaking of that…

There’s a distinct risk that the Thor-as-woman concept could be just another example of a female character inheriting or otherwise owing all her power/prestige to a man, which pretty much undermines the whole point. Now we’ve talked at length the futility of getting all worked up over something that, for our purposes as consumers, doesn’t exist yet. There is a very good chance that the new Thor will be a current female character (Maxima and Angela are likely picks) who simply will add Thor’s power set to her own, which would render my earlier fear moot. However, if Marvel chooses to have a non-powered woman take on Thor’s abilities then this exercise would pretty much be for naught. The idea behind embracing gender diversity as it appears in comics is to have a female character who is strong and capable in her own right, not because she has those things given to her by a male character. (Note: I use female in the last sentence only because, to the best of my knowledge, unfortunately no plans exist at this time for a trans or otherwise non-cis gendered character.)

The Ugly: Most of the items in The Bad are there simply because they aren’t logically consistent or because they have the potential to counteract the entire Thor-as-woman endeavor. The things in the Ugly, however, are concrete and definitive in their disappointing qualities.

First up is the costume that the new Thor will be wearing. I’ll admit that I groaned aloud when I saw that it’s yet another set of boob armor. Aside from being needlessly sexual, it’s fundamentally nonfunctional and would probably get the wearer injured or killed.

But don’t you get it? The breastplate is a hammer…THE hammer (or an axe)! See, the little opening in the middle is the handle and the boobs are the head!

That poor, vulnerable sternum
<> I didn’t believe that explanation when it first came out, but it’s all too real and now I'm sorry that you can't unsee it. Seriously Marvel? This is the one arena where DC is actually sort of ahead of you. Yes, you still have to cater to your primary demographic, and yes, she might be an alien and thus not constrained by the limits of the human form, but there are plenty of ways to draw armor that is both reasonably utilitarian and attractive…or at least not hypersexualized.

Which brings me to the last, most irksome, point: how the news of woman-as-Thor was broken. Marvel didn’t reach out to any of the quality outlets that are dedicated to comics news nor did it try to utilize a middle ground like MTV (which covers a surprising amount of nerdy content, especially on its website). It chose to make the announcement on the View. Now, this isn’t to besmirch the View or its watchers but, when you think of places to get news about comics or geeky topics in general, you probably wouldn’t think of the View. It’s understandable that Marvel wants to expand its brand and reinforce the idea that comics are mainstream by making the announcement on a popular TV show, but there are a lot of popular TV shows. There are a fair number of very popular TV shows whose primary demographic consists of women that aren’t quite so chock full of controversy and female stereotypes as the View. The selection of the View as the vehicle for this announcement smacked of a decision-making body that wasn’t really in touch with the population they were hoping to reach. It seemed like:

Producer #1: We need to tell this to a bunch of women. How can we reach a bunch of women?
Producer #2: Maybe a TV show! What do women watch on TV?
Producer #3: I think women watch the View. My mom loves that show!

My intent here is not, as Rob Bricken of i09 put it, to devolve into Comic Book Guy or raging fangirl. I deeply appreciate that a major publisher of comics is making the effort to appeal to all its readers and applaud them for that. It’s just that this effort seems kind of cheap, like a set of semi-formed ideas bolted on to an existing character in order to drive up sales and get people into a frenzy before SDCC/the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. I sincerely and truly hope that I’m wrong in that impression.

What would have been excellent is if Marvel created a brand new character or ‘promoted’ an existing female superhero to have new, badass powers. Since that doesn’t seem to be the case, we’ll just have to sit back and see what the new Thor can do. Hopefully she’ll have no problem putting these fears to rest.


  1. Alex HamiltonJuly 18, 2014 at 7:00 PM

    Well said! I am by no means beholden to any particular comic universe, paradigm, character, or rules. I like Marvel characters more than DC, but that's as far as my affinity goes. It is understandable, then, that I mean it when I say, "Huh...Thor's gonna be a woman now. K. Should be interesting to see how this manifests in the movies." That's it. While I can empathize with folks wanting the transition to make sense, what I don't understand is the level of nerd-rage I'm seeing on some fronts about a) the fact that she'll be a woman now and b) the mechanism by which it's happening. The one strong reaction I had to the whole thing was on the front of how it was announced. The transition of Thor to a female is kinda cool to me. Announcing it on The View, however, makes it feel cheap, gimicky, tacky, and pandering. I couldn't agree with you any more in your last paragraph when you suggest the creation of a brand new badass heroine would have been the better move. Alas, I guess comic-brains aren't creative enough to come up with something new, female, and awesome.

    I do look forward to Thor/LadyThor/whatever and I'll certainly reserve a copy of the first time she shows up. I just think Marvel could have done a heck of a lot better handling this whole thing.

  2. Nerdy CareJuly 18, 2014 at 8:13 PM

    We nerds have a bad habit of working ourselves into a froth before we get all the facts. It's absurd, but it's a practice that's unfortunately not likely to die out any time soon. If anything, the blowback/nerd rage about Thor being a woman just proves how much something like this needed to happen.

    While I'm not hung up on the particulars of the mechanics that allow the transition to happen, I tend to feel bad for the previous authors when their work gets reconned/heavily edited. However, everything is so speculative at this point that all mechanics talk is really just conjecture.

    I'm really interested to see how the new storyline plays out!