Who knew that, in this day and age, a woman could cause so much controversy. When Marvel announced that Thor was now going to be a woman Twitter the internet at large spent the next three days discussing how this was a complete travesty and it was going to ruin the character. As usual, the internet went a little bit overboard in its reaction to a simple gender change. This is not an abomination of the character. At worst it is a publicity stunt; at best it is a genuine attempt at Marvel to move away from male centric and dominated characters and stories in order to provide a more well rounded and appealing landscape for their comic books.
The latter seems more likely than the former. Marvel editor Wil Moss stated “The new Thor continues Marvel’s proud tradition of strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Storm, Black Widow and more. And this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!” There is a sense that this is being done with female readers in mind and that is no bad thing. Comic books have long been seen as the domain of men, with women being busty and slim in order to appeal to male sensibilities. It is reasonable then to accept that including more well-rounded and interesting female characters will draw female readers and provide worthwhile role models.
A lot of comic book fans are peeved to say the least. They feel that by changing Thor in order to appeal to a specific demographic that Marvel is derailing the character. I might agree if there weren’t an element of mystery to the new character’s identity and origins. It’s not like Thor just woke up one day with breasts, although that in of itself might make an intriguing one-shot. No, this is a completely separate character. One that just happens to have picked up the hammer and taken up the mantle of being the god of thunder while the original is on leave. This is not just about an aesthetic change; it is about telling a story.
Still, that potential for storytelling isn’t enough for some people who decry the fact that Marvel are ruining Norse mythology by turning Thor into a woman. Last time that I checked though, there was nothing in Norse mythology about the god of thunder teaming up with a patriotic super solider with a shield and a businessman with robotic armour in order to fight crime and galactic evil. While they are certainly messing with the source material, Thor has long deviated from that origin. And honestly, if Marvel has mutants who can nigh rewrite existence and a radiation afflicted scientist who becomes a large, green brute when angry, why can’t the the god of thunder be a woman? It boggles the mind that to some people the former two are accepted with gusto and the latter is to be ridiculed.
Many supporters have also noted that this is not the strangest character to ever hold the mantle of Thor. I put up a picture on Twitter referencing the brief time that Wonder Woman held Mjolnir during the 90’s crossover series DC Vs. Marvel Comics. One of the most referenced changes, however, was the time that Thor was transformed into a frog by Loki. And if we can be accepting of Thor as a frog, why can’t we at least give a female version the benefit of the doubt? Even if it appears like a cheap trick to lure in female readers, accept it for the story-telling potential because, man or woman, aren’t entertaining and interesting stories the reason that we read comic books?
Hot off the heels of the announcement that a woman is taking over the role of Thor, fans also got the announcements that Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon, would be taking over the role of Captain America from Steve Rogers and that, similar to the recent Superior Spider-Man storyline, a tough to root for Tony Stark as Superior Ironman would be joining the Avengers. Both of these storylines stirred up additional controversy, although possibly least of all was Superior Ironman. Tony Stark has always been a deeply flawed character despite being a genius at both business and science and was even an enemy of some of the Avengers in the Civil War storyline. That he could go to some dark places isn’t surprising but it could make for a fairly interesting story.
No it was the black guy becoming Captain America that got people riled up, though it is probably the same people who were up in arms about Thor being a woman now. Of course we know the storyline reason for this one, at least in part. Steve Rogers’ super soldier serum is failing him and so his genetics have aged rapidly and his buddy Sam Wilson takes over the role. This isn’t the first time the Captain America costume has been worn by someone else; Bucky Barnes played the role when Rogers was thought to be dead. To me, this suggests Marvel aren’t just looking for cheap ways to lure in readers. Instead, they honestly want to diversify their characters in a very real and potent way. And, as I said on twitter, I wouldn’t mind if this carried over to the movies.
That is what I think is really annoying most fans. Rather than seeing the storytelling potential of these changes what they see is a publicity stunt to herald the coming of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. That’s what is putting the bad taste in their mouth. And I agree. I just don’t see why we can’t have our cake and eat it. Sometimes life imitates art but most of the time art imitates life. If there is going to be a big event that might get a few people to think “wow, that’s pretty cool, I wonder what the comic books are like” then why shouldn’t Marvel create diverse, interesting characters and stories that will keep readers coming back long after they’ve picked up that first issue? The film franchise has been challenge to the comic books to up their game. I’d say Marvel Comics have met the challenge and more.