24 July 2014

On the new Thor

Continuing my series of thinking about trivial matters so as not to go mad.

I heard the other day that Marvel is doing a revamp of Thor.  Thor will now be a female who holds the mighty Mjolnir.  I saw a post over at John C Wright's, who, being a science fiction author and someone who, inter alia, covers news about the realms of the fantastic.  It did not surprise me to see it there.  Indeed, I would have been surprised if he had not posted on it.  He was against the change, which he views as more PC interventions onto all that is good.  It wasn't a surprise, and I tended to agree with him.  So, at first, I did not think much of it.

Then I saw a post over at Fr Z.'s, of all places, wherein he viewed this as an attempting at queering a character, and therefore another sign of further PC interventions into all that is good.  I was surprised, a little, that he would discuss it, but then I remember that he had reviewed- even positively- a few superhero movies on his blog, so perhaps father has an affection for the lowly comic book. 

Then I saw a picture on Frank Cho's site, an artist who draws for marvel at times, wherein he spoofed the idea, and then, this morning, The Toronto Star had a teaser on the top of its front page for an article on the matter inside the paper!  Obviously, this was very big news.

Okay, my question is not "why is it news?", but: "why is it news now?"  Well, among other things, the San Diego Comic Con, the big con, is set to begin.  It is time to get some hype rolling.  A change in gender of a major character- especially with the Avengers and Thor movies- -and announced on The View, no less- is just the ticket.  The comic creators and supporters of this change are touting it as making the comics more diverse and reflective of their audience, just as when Ultimate Spiderman replaced Peter Parker with a hispanic boy, or when Marvel made Nick Fury a black man (and played to perfection by the awesome Samuel L Jackson in the movies, by the way), or Captain America a black man..  Is this true?  Perhaps. Or is Marvel they engaging in social engineering, as some allege?  harder to say, although conservative critics have already weighed in with a resounding yes.

I will make a few points here, but I will begin with saying what the new character is most likely not: she is not a transvestite or transgender Thor.  Long time fans will remember the inscription on the Hammer:  He who holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.  Years ago, when Walt Simonson took over the helm of Thor- and created my favourite series for the character- he began by exploring that idea.  That anyone who was worthy of the hammer would have the power had always been part of Thor's code, but no one had ever done so up until that point.  Simonson thought of how a character could be worthy of that terrible power.  Superman (who was from DC, not Marvel) would never be able to pick it up because the hammer is a killing weapon, and Superman does not kill (at least until last year's disappointing movie).  Hulk is incredibly strong, but he is a rage monster, so he would not be worthy.  Captain America is an American patriot, and his patriotism would interfere with or control his use of the weapon, so he couldn't hold it either.  So Simonson created an alien and gave him a noble backstory of terror and stoic heroism, and made him worthy of the hammer and its power.

What has happened now is that the original Thor has somehow become unworthy, and someone new- a woman- has become worthy.  This isn't Thor getting a sex change, per se.  I actually find this idea intersting.  What could Thor do to demean himself and lose the power of Thunder?  And how would the worthiness to wield the hammer manifest itself in a woman?  This is an idea that could have potential, if only for a little while.  (These are comics.  Sooner or later, everyone comes back) When it comes to writing, any idea, in the right hands, is a good idea.  Similarly, any idea, in the wrong hands, can also be a terrible idea.

So, what about these hands?  What do they have to say for themselves?

This October, Marvel Comics evolves once again in one of the most shocking and exciting changes ever to shake one of Marvel’s “big three” – Captain America, Iron Man and Thor – Marvel Comics will be introducing an all-new THOR, GOD OF THUNDER.

No longer is the classic male hero able to hold the mighty hammer, Mjölnir, a brand new female hero will emerge who will be worthy of the name THOR. Who is she? Where did she come from and what is her connection to Asgard and the Marvel Universe?

“The inscription on Thor’s hammer reads ‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.’ Well it’s time to update that inscription,” says Marvel editor Wil Moss.

“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!”

Series writer Jason Aaron emphasizes, “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

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. This female THOR is 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.
From where I stand, without going into a detailed fisk,this announcement can be read as new story idea, cheap hype, or new attempt to send a message.  Or it could be what they say it is: an attempt to draw in new and varied readers.

I am curious at this point as to how big a percentage of the readership of the comic books are young women?  The books girls and young women tend to read are romances- Twilight, or Shades of Grey- whereas it is the boys who tend to read about people in spandex smashing things with their way-cool powers.  Will the girls come to this new Thor? Maybe.  Will the boys leave?  Maybe.  Probably, but they may stay if the new Thor's boobs are prominent enough.  So marvel is taking a big risk here:  They may be alienating a large part of their readership with no guarantee they are attracting a new one.  And, from what I have read elsewhere, Marvel, despite its success at the movies, is losing readers of its comic books.

I see this radical shift as an attempt to stir up some hype and temporarily gain a few new readers, but other see more sinister (as in Left) (that's what sinister means-left) motives.  John C Wright quotes Sarah Hoyt on this point:

I have, some years ago, identified the process by which left-leaning institutions die. Someone had asked me why an sf editor I will not name, having killed three magazines, got given yet another to kill, and why each magazine was successively more leftist. This was compared to the process by which news magazines and media when in trouble because too leftist for the general public, go hard left just before they die. (Also known as the left-leaning-death-roll.)

Because I was in a field where this (then)worked, I had to explain to the people I was talking to that this happens because in fields that are 90% or more left, this works. See, if your magazine/newspaper/tv station goes under because you’re incompetent, no one is going to give you another job.

But if your magazine/newspaper/tv station goes under because you’re “too far left” then the left – aka the rest of your field. Aka those who give awards and jobs – perceive you as a hero, suffering for your convictions, and promptly give you another job.

So, if you’re an incompetent idiot, and your business is failing, your best way to cover it up and assure your survival in the field, is to run as far left as fast as you can. This has been trained in at the back of the brain of most people in the media and entertainment by DECADES of this strategy working just fine.
What did you expect of Marxists? Contact with reality? If they had that, they wouldn’t be Marxists, a theory that requires you to be a blind fool who believes in wishcasting.
There are many who wonder why Marvel doesn't create a new character if they want more strong female characters,  or hispanic or black characters, or doesn't play up another strong female character from the Thor stories, like Brunnhilde, or Sif if they want more varied heroes for their more varied audience.  The answer is that they are secondary characters, and this is Thor.  It's  sort of the reason why authors write about whether or not Shakespeare wrote his own plays, rather than arguing whether it was Tourneur or Middleton (two of his contemporaries) who wrote the Revenger's Tragedy.  They're not big enough for anyone other than a few scholars to care.  But any news on Shakespeare is Big News Indeed.  And so it is here.  Thor continues being a blonde guy with a hammer? No hype. They create a new, strong female character and give her a new line? No hype.  Thor replaced by a woman?  Now that's news.  And, what the heck, if the idea tanks, someone else will give you a job, because ti was no fault of yours and wasn't because your story sucked that you failed, it was the neoposteurocarnivorophallologocentirc hegemony that stopped you, and it must continue to be fought at all costs, even if every title in the Marvel canon must go belly up for the cause.

Are they trying to do social engineering?   It's possible. I find it hard to say without some of the actual comic books in front of me. All I know of the writers right no is that they aren't inclined to leave well enough alone and have decided to change Thor's code in the language on the hammer.  I am not a mind reader who can say why they undertook this risk.  Whether it is because they thought it would be a cool story vehicle, or cheap hype, or  to send out a message, only time will tell.  If they put story first, they may be successful.  If they put message first, they will almost certainly fail.  No one, neither male nor female, likes to be preached at, even if that is what passes for much fiction these days. And, as I said, this is comics.  If the idea flops (which I suspect it will, but I have been wrong before) a resurrection of the old Thor is but a pen stroke away.

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