A Thor Fan's Take on the New Female Thor
After reading the new Thor #1 (2014), which by the way, is the fourth volume of Thor titles in Marvel history, this long-time Thor fan has a few thoughts to share on the new, female version of Thor who appeared in the last page of this new book.
This is not a review of the story, art, or writing. For that, I recommend you read a great review of the new Thor issue by Nick Tylwalk
. No, this article is about my reaction as a long-time fan of Thor, his Avengers, and Marvel in general.
Thor #1 Variant Cover by Pichelli
A few months ago, Marvel managed to get tons of free publicity for several of their titles by making announcements in popular media outlets of significant character changes due to hit in October of 2014. Captain America would be black, and Thor would be a woman. Omigosh, you would think from all the uproar that ensued that we were discussing real people!
Thoughts on the Captain America switch are best left for another day (especially since I have not read that comic yet), because today, we will talk about Thor. The new Thor. The female Thor who now wields the mystic uru hammer Mjolnir.
First, a little historical background on Thor and Marvel. Way back in 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby conceived and gave birth to the Marvel Comics version of the fabled Norse god Thor. Since Thor was imagined as a superhero (complete with a scarlet cape!) he needed a secret identity or alter ego. Lee and Kirby came up with a human mortal named Dr. Donald Blake, a surgeon on vacation in Norway. Blake, who is physically "lame," (the term disabled was not in vogue in the early 1960s), discovers a wooden stick. When he struck the stick on the ground with force, he was mystically transformed into the Norse god Thor. When Thor strikes his hammer, named Mjolnir, upon the ground, he transforms back into Donald Blake. Both Blake and Thor are aware of this transformation. By the way, this transformation, complete with lightning and thunder, was a clear rip-off of the old Captain Marvel/Shazam theme from the then publisher of that character, Fawcett Comics. In those comics, a kid named Billy Batson spoke the magic word "Shazam," and was magically transformed into the super-powerful Captain Marvel.
Thor vs. Captain Marvel/Shazam
In later issues, it is revealed that Thor had become overly arrogant and full of himself, so his father, Odin, sent him to earth (or Midgard as the Norse gods call earth), in the form of a crippled human in order to learn humility. Thor and Blake shared this transformative relationship for some time, but later Marvel writers chose to mix things up a bit.
Over the years, Thor has been melded with other mortals besides Don Blake. Eric Masterson and Jake Olson have both wielded the hammer and actually have been Thor. And, in several instances, other humans and other beings (most notably the alien Beta Ray Bill), have used the hammer and been imbued with the power of the Norse Thunder god. So, using history as the guide, there is ample precedent in the Marvel Universe for a being other than the traditional Thor Odinson to possess the hammer, powers, and persona of Thor.
Which brings us to the current issue of Thor, in which Thor has been deemed unworthy to pick up the hammer and has to resort to picking up a bladed weapon from the Hall of Weapons to use to defend his beloved Midgard from the bad guys. The last page of this issue shows a woman (I won't say who, in case you have not read the book yet), stating “There must always be a Thor,” and we then see a slender female hand grasp the hammer, and we then see a female holding the hammer, wearing a version of the classic Thor outfit, with an identity-hiding helmet on her head.
Mjolnir Being Stubborn
So what is the big deal here? When Marvel announced that Thor would be a female, a lot of the public, who, because of the hugely popular Thor and Avengers movie franchise, have only a passing familiarity with the character of Thor. Many of these people, however, do not know the history of Thor, nor do they understand the dynamics of the hammer and the fact that it can transform anyone into an iteration of Thor. Thus, we get a lot of uninformed, sometimes bigoted and sexist commentary about how wrong it was for Thor to become a woman. From conversation this writer had with Thor movie fans, and from readings in popular social media sites like Facebook, many people assumed that an actual sex/gender change was occurring, and did not understand that any character, male or female could technically (based on the comics history) become Thor.
Again, the long-time comics reader most likely understands what could happen to allow a female Thor. But most "Thor fans" only know him from the movies and/or Avengers animated shows. It is easy to forget now, that when Marvel started making these movies, they did so with largely second or third-tier characters in terms of actual popularity with the general public. Traditionally, characters like Captain America, Spider-Man, and the Hulk were well known and far more popular than characters like Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, or Hawkeye. Heck, until this summer, the Guardians of the Galaxy were fairly unknown. Marvel probably knew all this when they announced the coming of the female Thor, and this controversy produced scads of free publicity. It will be very interesting to see the sales figures for this book. When picking up this Thor
#1 at the local comic shop
, I was told that this issue had been selling quickly.
As a fan of Thor, and as someone with a passing knowledge of Thor's history, the fact that someone else is turning into Thor is not a shock. Actually, it is somewhat refreshing that Marvel thought of taking Thor in this direction. And, as the storyline in this issue of Thor
(plus the look at the future Avengers in recent issue of that title), the male character of Thor continues, though without the hammer, along with dealing with some other challenges.
Will the female Thor turn out to be permanent? Probably not, given how comic book universes work, but, you never know. One thing that is true though, is that Marvel in the last few years, has produced a lot of very strong (character-wise, not just in strength) female superhero characters, in a very apparent attempt to draw in female readers. The new female Captain Marvel, the new Muslim Ms. Marvel from New Jersey, Black Widow, and others, shows that Marvel Comics is attempting to expand their base away from the stereotypical male fanboy. This is both smart, and logical. With the proliferation of alternate ways to read comics (think digital), it is now easier and more convenient to pick up a new title or new series. Comics readership is picking up among the younger generation, as it has to do for the industry to survive. Adding in a female Thor is smart. Plus, the recent Marvel stories that connect with this storyline (Original Sin, the discovery that Thor has a sister, Loki's younger self), are all very well written and part of a very connected shared universe with the other Marvel characters.
Thor is Unworthy to Wield the Hammer
In the 1960s, Marvel became huge with characters that had real human problems and with a connected universe where something that happened in an issue of Journey into Mystery or Thor, could and would impact events in the latest Avengers book, or in the Iron Man title. Marvel has had problems in the past with maintaining consistency in that area, but as this Marvel fan reads through various current titles over the past couple of years, it is increasingly clear that the editors and writers at Marvel know what they are doing, and are strengthening the whole shared universe concept that made Marvel so powerful in the past.
It will be interesting to see how the old Thor Odinson and the woman who now wields the hammer interact. And how will Odin respond? Stay tuned, and Make Mine Marvel...!