Marvel Comics have made Thor a woman, thank Odin

It's a bold and significant move, but not without precedent

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Thor, God of Thunder, is set to become a woman. British Scandimania might mean that we shouldn’t be surprised that our liberal Nordic cousins would countenance such a move, but Tuesday’s announcement from Marvel Comics really is a bolt from the blue.

Why is it such a big deal? Well, Thor is one of Stan Lee’s big boys and a Marvel mainstay since 1962. Thor is one of those superheroes that has become deeply embedded in our popular culture. Most people without the slightest interest in comic books would be able to name Thor in a way that they wouldn’t be able to name any of the hundreds of more obscure Marvel heroes and villains (Ralph Roberts: Cobalt Man, anyone?)

So making such a significant change to the character is a brave and bold move from Marvel, but it’s not without precedent in the increasingly disparate and infinitely expanding canons of both Marvel and DC Comics titles. Remember when Batman was in a wheelchair and Azrael had to fill in for him? What about when Superman was killed and replaced by clones? Ok, what about that time Captain Britain and Gordon Brown were fighting vampires in Westminster?

Even if these key moments passed you by, most people are aware of Frank Miller’s seminal ‘Batman: The Dark Knight Returns’. Rightly or wrongly, this is the title regarded by many as making the breakthrough for comic-books into serious, respectable popular mainstream culture. Written in 1986, Frank Miller presented a female Robin alongside a broken, aged and increasingly authoritarian Bruce Wayne. This wasn’t just a critical success; it was culturally significant.

Comics can do discursive politics well. In 2006-7, Marvel’s ‘Civil War’ series introduced a storyline whereby its most recognisable heroes fought against each other following the introduction of the Superhero Registration Act by the U.S. Government. It was pure political allegory based upon the post 9/11 introduction of the Patriot Act. Its essential theme is one we are labouring with right now: should we abandon our liberties to ensure our security?

 

But for this nerd at least, the understandable desire of the big comic book houses to both allow its creative teams to innovate and to grow their market share has too often resulted in characters and brands becoming weakened, and story arcs becoming incoherent. And this is where the all-new Thor is different. Thor is a brand new hero, not a spin-off, not a title in a ‘different universe’ and not a sop (She-Hulk anyone?). Nor, thank Odin, is she a ‘femme fatal’. The writers are clear: this isn’t Lady Thor, this is the one and only Thor. Scholars of Nordic mythology are unhappy of course, but they miss the point.

The new Thor is important – let’s just hope the product matches the promise. And consider for a minute Marvel’s ‘third way’. On announcing the new Thor, the company was explicit: “THOR is the latest in the ever-growing and long list of female-centric titles that continues to invite new readers into the Marvel Universe. THOR will be the 8th title to feature a lead female protagonist and aims to speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for super hero comic books in America: women and girls.”

The power of female purchasing power driving gender equality in one of our greatest art-forms? Fantastic.

Jamie Reed is the Member of Parliament for Copeland and Shadow Minister for Health

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