AMBER LOVE 15-JUL-2014 If you were nowhere near social media today, you may have missed Marvel Comics’ big announcement that in October, Thor will be a woman. They chose to make this announcement exclusively on ABC’s women-hosted talk show The View. No, I am not happy about the new female Thor and here’s why.
1. The View
This was a terrible choice for the media outlet with which to give the exclusive. The only pop culture related thing on the show is Whoopi Goldberg. She counts because of her STAR TREK work which was decades ago. Otherwise, it’s a show where several women sit around arguing and yelling at each other. They can manage to make intelligent women look bad and yet give credence to ones like Jennie McCarthy who are misinformed soapbox puppets that create platforms for themselves.
McCarthy is quoted as giving this brilliant two cents on the news: “She’s got super powered boobies.”
Besides McCarthy who is strongly considered a poor choice to speak for women on feminism, in the past, the show has also been the home of Rosie O’Donnell who kills endangered sharks for fun with her kids and Elisabeth Hasselbeck who opposes the easier over the counter accessibility of morning after pill even in cases of rape. These are not ideal women to be the faces of feminism. Therefore, they are not the kind of people I think an allegedly feminist comic book series should be associated with. Perhaps, the past hosts don’t matter to today’s viewers but I think they should. It’s about The View as a brand. Since, in my opinion, the announcement itself is a failure, I guess the show was the right fit.
Nobody else really cared that it was on The View because we all knew that the second an actual comics website watched and heard the news, the story would be out of the confines of The View and propagate on Twitter. It was just a stupid move to have it announced there. As someone pointed out to me, they are owned by the same parent company so it was likely a freebie. Can’t argue with that.
However Dan Abrams, one of the ABC consultants and contributors, owns The Mary Sue website which quickly covered the story as it broke; the site which is still claiming to be feminist and geek girl focused despite recent changes merging with Geekosystem. Marvel could’ve worked something out. Or they could’ve gone on Good Morning, America where there’s a bonafide “pop news” segment usually hosted by Lara Spencer.
1a. Can’t call it “feminism.”
In the official Marvel press release, they carefully managed to avoid dropping a single “F-bomb” – ya know, FEMINISM. They’re taking a male character and giving his role to an unknown female character and making the announcement on an all female show but fail to acknowledge it being a feminist maneuver. Why, Marvel? Marvel is the house that has stable and laudable feminist characters like Black Widow, Storm, Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel. Marvel was clearly trying to pretend this was a feminist announcement.
2. “Thor” is not a mantle. Thor is a name. Names matter.
Thor is the name of the male character, son of Odin. Thor did not take on the name Thor the way Tony Stark took on the name Iron Man. Thor is not a title that gets passed from person to person. Just because you can possess the power of Thor, that doesn’t make you Thor.
People argued this. “But Thor was a frog! Captain America was a werewolf! It’s speculative fiction!” You really don’t need to defend one terrible choice with another. Saying Thor was a frog as a way to back up the decision to make a random new female character Thor is hardly a leg to stand on.
If you don’t think a woman taking on a man’s name because she suddenly in possession of an accessory, then you really need to talk to more women about identity. Women who give their identities up when they get married and then struggle to get them back when they are divorced. A name matters. Calling her Thor because you can’t come up with some other plausible name for someone holding Mjölnir is old fashioned, weak, uncreative, and insulting.
I’m sure they’ve got the new inscription worked out already so it no longer reads, “He who is worthy…” but I doubt they’ll do as well in pulling it off like Tolkien did with Eowyn taking down the Witch King since “no man” could defeat him.
We can be grateful they didn’t go with “Lady Thor” or “She-Thor” this time around, I guess, but they lost me on belittling her enough to not give her a name of her own. They already have Thor Girl and fans seem to like her.
There might be a financial explanation for this. (More on this in #3.)
I’ve seen a ton of commentary about how Angela was the speculative choice of fans to wield Mjölnir. There’s also Valkyrie and the aforementioned Thor Girl. And what about poor Sif. The fans love Sif. Step aside, ladies, clearly none of you are worthy.
A different kind of opportunity is the one for the creative team, Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman. It’s a great opportunity for them because there’s probably a clause somewhere that they get to have their names on future books and movies with that delightful clause “based on a character created by…” and maybe even royalties. Or maybe it leans in Marvel’s favor. By using the name “Thor” rather than giving her a unique identity, it’s possible that Marvel’s ownership of the character is retained 100% without granting any equity to the creators of her.
There was something recently that addressed this in an article about properties by Janelle Asselin. She was able to specifically address DC Comics and their character ownerships since that’s where her background lies. I have no idea if the Marvel contracts have similar standards of ownership to DC. However, Asselin’s discussion of creator Alan Brennert and the character of Barbara Kean Gordon, the eventual wife of Gotham’s Commission Gordon from the Batman universe, is the sort of research that makes me pause and wonder what kind of stipulations Marvel has granted.
It’s entirely plausible that the creators are planning for their future in case new femme Thor ends up becoming a mainstream success like Cable or Deadpool.
4. The lazy plot.
We might not know much yet but they did give us a concept from 30,000 feet up. People swear by Aaron’s writing. You have my attention there because I’m not familiar with his work. I only know his name and glowing reputation. What we do have the right to form opinions on is what we know so far from the announcement: Thor makes mistakes. He is deemed “unworthy” to possess Mjölnir (as described by the inscription on it). Thor has saved a new female character. The new female character takes Mjölnir and becomes known as Thor.
That can absolutely be criticized. It could be a poorly written press release or poorly scripted sentences on The View that their cast members had to recite. It could be the restrictions that the press office was under by management. It could be a variety of things but it is most definitely a weak pitch for a character you are making a big deal about as a groundbreaking “feminist” icon.
At this point, she had to be rescued. Ok, one trope down. The hero has fallen. Another trope down. She has no identity of her own and has to take on that of a male. Yet another trope.
That’s kind of embarrassing to have to point out given that this is a conversation about comic books which are built on the landscape of tropes. But when there’s evidence of break out stories that are in comic form, all of us who read them see that it can be done better.
One way that this differs from instances where a female version of other characters like BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA’S Starbuck is that this isn’t some genderbent reboot. It’s not a new launch with a new premise that reinvents the character for today’s feminist audience. It’s a female character absorbing one of the most successful male identities of all time. It’s saying right off the bat that she wasn’t interesting on her own. It’s saying that the “real” Thor is still out there somewhere and as is tradition, will probably be back in 12 or 24 months. Can you see the distinction? Not a female reboot. A female assimilation while the male character still exists.
Few have been successful in making a female character go through this type of identity theft. Captain Marvel is the only one I can think of. But again, “Captain” is a title and “Marvel” can be argued about being a simple moniker of initially taken by someone named “Mar Vell.” Carol Danvers continued to have her own identity. She also wasn’t the first since Monica Rambeau was also “Captain Marvel” before.
5. The costume.
At least she has pants.
Boob armor needs a break. It should be cast aside along with chain mail bikinis. These aren’t metal bedazzling accents on a fabric. This is supposed to be battle armor and battle armor should not have boobs. Metal embellishments that are purely decorative get a pass on this but not something supposedly worn by a warrior. There are some great tumblrs about women in reasonable and unreasonable armor.
All of the above things make me unimpressed and, in fact, insulted about how this announcement was supposed to be a groundbreaking feminist character. If she lasts, I can picture her getting appearances in an all-ages series with an annoying Snarf sidekick.
At this point, with some exceptional examples of representation available, we know that there should be more than making a female character a knockoff derivative of a male icon. We can do better in motivation and execution than the old days when Batwoman and Batgirl were first created. We can do better than “she,” “femme,” and “lady” shells of weakened male characters that have vaginas and boob armor or bikinis. Characters like Black Widow (Marvel), Starling (DC), Baroness (IDW), Princess Ugg (Oni) and others are feminist beacons these days.
But, no matter what I think, s/he isn’t mine. It’s not my character. It’s not the only Thor out there either. It’s the moniker of a Norse god and the Marvel movies virtually stripped all the Norse out of it. It’s just a name to them. How they write and illustrate their books is up to them. I don’t have like it and I don’t have to buy it or promote it either.
People who get it:
- PRINCELESS by Action Lab Entertainment
- PRINCESS UGG by Oni Press
- GI JOE by IDW
- RAT QUEENS by Image Comics