Jul 22, 2014

Women in Comics aka Ragnarok aka Thor is Going to Be a Woman for a While

Women in Comics 
aka Ragnarok 
aka Thor is Going to Be a Woman for a While

"Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." Those are the word inscribed on Mjolnir, the Hammer of Thor. Recently, Marvel announced that sometime later this year Thor would be portrayed as a woman. Essentially, the only thing changing about Thor (according to the sources) would be the character’s shape and appropriate personal pronoun. Grandiose speech, lightning, butt-kicking won’t change. Naturally, such a change produced Internet Outrage.

First off, Marvel was very clear to point out a few key pieces of information I think are particularly relevant:

  1. This new character is Thor, not some female variation of Thor, just straight up Thor
  2. They proudly announced it, this isn’t some gimmick (well, no more than usual promotional gimmicks) or cheap stunt

These are good points to remember because, when all is said and done, this change won’t be permanent. Male Thor isn’t going away and will obviously be back from some reason, most likely regaining his worthiness. That, sadly, is another function of the main universe of any comic, things eventually revert to normal. Very little is “permanent” or even permanent forever (ahem, Barry Allen).

Second, I think the haters have forgotten a few key principles of comic books. The first is that they are a work of fiction, ergo of imagination. The fault of a comic changing and you not being able to keep up is not necessarily a failing of the particular artist or writer, but rather a failure of imagination to follow along. Unless the art and story are horrible (which, lets be honest, happens) the characters and design are there to be shaped, molded and, yes, changed by times and the needs of the story. Whatever a character’s color, shape, size, sex or gender, there is a core truth to the character that a writer and artist articulate to make the character a success.

Spider-Man and Batman are on a quest to right a past wrong. Batman wants to stop other eight year old boys from ever having to lose their parents. Spider-Man is attempting to make up for a single mistake he made that cost him his uncle and father figure. What in these descriptions required the protagonist to be male? Nothing. Superman is an orphan from a distant star, sent to Earth and gifted with extraordinary powers. He choose to use those powers to benefit all of humankind. But Superman does not have to be a man to do this, the character just needs to be Kryptonian.

Third, it might be hard to admit this fact, but comics might no longer consider you a target audience. I don’t think I am. I may infrequently buy comics (very, very infrequently) and primarily seen 2/3’s of the movies (GotG, you’re number 2 of 3 for the year), but I know that there are people who aren’t reading comics who might give DC and Marvel a shot if the person being drawn as Thor/Iron-Man/Batman/Aquaman/Green Lantern looked even a little like them.

Readers want to be able to see themselves in the characters and situations. The true essence of the character remains, avenging a loss, making up for a mistake, flying around in a billion dollar piece of tech you designed to hide your alcoholism. The point is a reader of comics chooses them for a variety of reasons. One is nostalgia, but another is to use one's imagination to live the life of a superpowered being.

Fourth, and to reiterate, the changes to Thor will obviously not be permanent. Why? Because Big Blondey isn’t disappearing, he’s been found “unworthy.” So, you can get all upset that Thor won’t be exactly the same as he’s always been, forever unchanging and never, ever being a crippled doctor. Or, you can give something new a try and maybe, just maybe, it might be good. Now, you’ve just carved out a space for the possibility that comics can be a dynamic medium and not a static one.

Being temporary doesn’t diminish the change being made to Asgard. Rather, it challenges the comic, the story and the environment to welcome something new. Give it space to breath and see if it will work. If a woman being found worthy makes Thor a better book, a better story, a better place for readers to park their eyeballs for a while, who is really hurt by this change?

Finally, comics are escapism in a pretty blatant sense. If you can’t escape into the characters, why would you read and pay money for the stories? Moreover, comics - especially those in the Marvel universe - are about embracing those who are different, imperfect, and (ok, some not actually) human beings. They are about embracing change, with superpowers.

Without change, we would live in a world without Days of Future Past, a world without either Phoenix Saga, a world without any sort of Crisis. Our world, as comic book readers and society as a whole would be less because change was not allowed to happen. There is always going to be a vocal minority that wants comics to reflect an imagined past of art, story and characterizations. They desire the familiar, but it always just makes me think...

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