16 July 2014

Seven Quick Notes on Thor Being A Woman

For the record, I take no issue with Thor being a woman. I am, however, puzzled by the decision, and worried about its implications.

1. The last time Marvel did this was with Ghost Rider, when sales dropped and the book was in danger of being canceled. It did not help. In business, this is called the glass cliff. It's a kind of "last resort, pandering while thinking outside the box" sort of synergistic effort in which a business that's not doing well will promote someone they wouldn't normally give the job to, the hope being either 1) They turn the company around, and they get to look progressive in the process, or 2) The company fails, and they get the protection of being able to say, "We tried the woman, and the woman didn't work out. Oh, well... Que Sera Sera." Speaking of intentions...

2. This is where matters get really touchy, so let the record show this a very broad generalization with a lot of assumptions which are most likely wrong. When a fictional character typically portrayed as white and male gets a race or gender swap, there's an issue of "why/why not?" that inevitably comes up.If the decision to make Thor a woman is "Because we can, so there!" Then it's arbitrary and therefore token, a stunt (see point 1). If, however, there's meant to be a greater significance to Thor being a woman, a comment on gender roles or a criticism of women in western mythology, then the risk is that the message overshadows the medium, Thor the character being traded in for Thor the statement. Granted, there's nothing wrong with that, Wonder Woman is a similar kind of statement, but she's also an interesting and compelling character in spite of the socio-political connotations attached to her. Similarly, when it came to Loki...

3. When Loki became a woman, it was in Lady Sif's likeness (she'd been killed in a recent story arc) to taunt Thor and play on his feelings of guilt. In other words, there was an in-narrative reason for the change that was in line with the original character, not merely a swap for swap's sake. Speaking of Lady Sif...

4. The comic Thor actually has a surprisingly good batting average when it comes to gender representation. There's Lady Sif, Amora the enchantress, Hela of the underworld (Loki's daughter), Brunnhilde and her Valkyrior troops, to name a few. Really, it's not like Thor was hurting for female characters, apart from a touch more variety outside of a love interest for The God of Thunder.

5. The idea of someone else being able to wield Mjolnir (by essentially the law of averages) was already explored with Beta Ray Bill, which makes the passing of the hammer seem all the more token. Thor doesn't work nearly as well as a legacy hero compared to, say, Green Lantern or The Phantom or even Batman (Knightfall, Beyond, Incorporated...).

6. What exactly will this mean for the films? It wouldn't be surprising if Tom Hiddleston passed on the role to Jaimie Alexander since there's a precedent for it in the comic. However, while we don't know the context for this change in the comics as of the time of this writing, Chris Hemsworth's commitment to his role plus the task of finding someone to take up the role in his place (given what a hard time it's been to bring Wonder Woman to modern audiences), it would make more sense for Marvel/Disney to leave the comic to its own devices and maybe consider following suit if the movies were to show a drop in box office returns. Given how the films have fared thus far, that sort of change would be years away even in the worst case scenario.

7. Does all this have anyone else thinking of the Silicon Knights' game Too Human, or is that just me?

As I've said, it doesn't bother me in the least that Marvel wants to make Thor a woman. It's piqued my curiosity, and I think it could be pretty cool. I simply wonder piquing interest and looking cool is all that's gone into the mission statement behind this venture. If so, that will be sad, so here's hoping I'm wrong.
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