Comic world shocked as Thor turns female

Thor and after: On the left is an early teaser of the new look, new gender Norse superhero.

Fans are flabbergasted as Marvel Comics announces a new series in which the hammer-wielding Norse god changes sex. Is making a superhero a superheroine an effective way to achieve equality?

As the muscle-bound, bearded son of Odin with a penchant for smashing frost giants using his oversized hammer, comic characters do not come more macho than Thor. Yet in a huge shock for fans, Marvel Comics has just announced its trademark Norse superhero is to become a woman.

From October the company will publish a new series of Thor with a female version of the character. ‘This is not She-Thor,’ said Jason Aaron, the comic’s writer. ‘This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is Thor.’

The gender change is consistent with the world of the comic, as it is the hammer of Thor itself which decides who is worthy of wielding it. A horse-faced alien named Beta Ray Bill was the chosen to be Thor at one time, a frog at another. In this context a female Thor is not so strange.

Marvel says it is trying to engage with a female readership who are under-represented in the superhero comic world. Yet comic website Comic Beat reckons women make up 47% of fans in a industry worth around $780m in North America alone.

Multimillion-dollar hit action films such as ‘The Avengers’, ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Iron Man’ have also helped to bring superheroes into the mainstream in the last decade, and each year thousands of fanatics around the world dress up as characters at ‘comic-cons’.

Comic book characters have always reflected their society. When Superman launched in the 1938, his love-interest Lois Lane was a strong and successful woman, reflecting the new-found freedoms women enjoyed in the years before the second world war.

As the feminist movement grew in the 1960s, ‘Sue Storm’, who first appeared in the ‘Fantastic Four’ with the ironic power of being able to make herself invisible, developed greater offensive powers.

In recent times comics have witnessed a flowering of diversity. There was a mixed-race Spiderman in 2011, a gay Batwoman and a gay Green Lantern, as well as a new female Muslim teenager superhero, Ms Marvel.

Yet while fans have welcomed diversity and female characters in the past, is changing the gender of one of the most famous superheroes of all a good idea?

Thor and against

Many have reacted with fury. The director of ‘The Avengers’, Joss Whedon, complained on Twitter: ‘What the hell made them think THAT would be cool.’ Changing an iconic character’s gender is outrageous and it would have been better to create a new female superhero altogether.

Others welcome the move and say the female Thor will make a fantastic role model. It will show that women can play the strong warrior role just as well as men. An entirely new character would not show the same commitment to breaking down the current status quo, and Marvel should be admired for its bravery.

You Decide

  1. Is making Thor a female a good idea?
  2. ‘It is harder to relate to a superhero of the opposite gender.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In pairs, design a superhero whose appearance and powers would best fit in with your school or local community. Compare with the class.
  2. Often, comic books superheroes either directly or indirectly fight the major evils of their time. Draw and/or write a comic book story in which your superhero battles with one of the pressing issues of the modern day.

Some People Say...

“Comic books are just fantasy and nothing to do with the real world.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I care about comic books?
Even for those who are not interested in pop culture, the diversity of superheroes can be another way of viewing diversity in our society generally. Superhero films have been criticised for their portrayal of females, with men striking masculine poses while women appear much weaker. If films follow Thor’s example, perhaps this will start to change.
Where does the ‘Thor’ character come from?
In Norse mythology, Thor is the (male) god of thunder and the son of Odin, the king of the gods. He is mostly recorded in Icelandic material that has its origins in Scandinavia. In the Poetic Edda, Thor does battle with the giant serpent Jörmungandr in the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarök, and although he slays the snake, he dies of his wounds.

Word Watch

Films
The gender change will not affect the Thor films, at least for a while, as actor Chris Hemsworth is still contracted to star in three more of them.
Comic-cons
Comic conventions. One of the oldest of these is the San Diego Comic-Con, which has been running since 1970. In 2010, over 130,000 people came to meet other enthusiasts and some of their favourite writers.
Lois Lane
Disappointingly, after the war a new editor joined Superman and her character became far more submissive to the comic’s male characters.
Green Lantern
In 2002, the Green Lantern’s sidekick was almost beaten to death in a homophobic attack.
Ms Marvel
Ms Marvel, the alter-ego of Kamala Khan, is Marvel’s first Muslim character to feature in her own comic. She is a teenage Pakistani American with shape-shifting abilities.
Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon is a screenwriter, comic book writer, and film and TV director; a major figure in the world of sci-fi and comics. He is the creator of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and his film ‘The Avengers’ made over $1.5bn at the box office, making it the third highest-grossing film of all time.

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