Calm Thine Tits, The Pointless Overreaction to the Least Radical Thor

So, now that the dust has settled on Thor #705, and we’re facing what is effectively a wake in Thor #706, I think now’s a good time to address the very white elephant in the room.

There were some people who were mad about Thor being a woman, especially that the woman in question was Jane Foster. Granted, those people largely lurked in comments sections or behind name-plus-number handles on Twitter (seemingly every single one), but they were there and presumably will continue to scream into the void forever more about “SJW Thor”… even though her arc is over.

I mean, on the one hand…why care what these people think? The critical reception was almost universally excellent for Jane Thor from the get-go. After #705 there were grown men setting up shrines in comic book shops, openly crying in public and praising Aaron and Dauterman’s work directly via Twitter. All the reviews I found of #705 itself were ridiculously positive. The sales were consistently good too: at one point Jane was outselling original flavor Dude Thor by about 30%. She’s been cosplayed. She’s turned up in the mobile games and in the Avengers Assemble cartoon. Whether this particular incarnation of Thor will ever make it to the MCU is up for debate. My heart says yes but years of bitter disappointment say no. Natalie Portman has said she’s willing to come back. If she’s aware of Jane’s story in the comics obviously (if she is, I’ll bet Tessa Thompson told her), it’s not hard to see why. Who wouldn’t want to play a woman struggling against cancer who is also a fucking superhero who can hold up a floating island made of gold with her bare hands?

So, this character—this entire run—has been a success and will most likely be remembered as a highlight not just for Thor but for this era of Marvel and comics in general. So who cares what these bitter, entitled people think? Well….

Honestly, we probably should address them, mostly because we cannot just ignore them any more. Ignoring only goes so far. We live in a political climate that reflects this. We can block them and hide comment sections all we like, but they’re still there. They’ve poisoned the conversation to a point that even honest critique can’t be separated from the sexism. I believe that the only reason that the creative team behind The Mighty Thor seemed to largely escape targeted harassment was somewhat obvious: they are all men, except for the associate editor. Had Jason Aaron or Russell Dauterman been women or even men of color (who have felt the brunt of harassment campaigns as well), this would have been a completely different story.

The funny thing is that this whole firestorm (a tempest in a teapot, really) is founded on two principles: first, making Thor a woman was too radical a shift in representation (and that it came with a ‘radical feminist agenda’); second, making her Jane Foster didn’t make any sense from a story standpoint or changed Thor as a concept too much. How can she take his name?! Thor is a name! Not a title!

Neither of these things is true. Not really, though there is something there, but it only compounds just how myopic these people are. Dr. Jane Foster, aka The Mighty Thor, was many things, but she was neither radical in terms of representation or as a Thor comicsverse “concept.” In many ways, it was not a shocking move, which makes the backlash, as stunted and futile as it was, all the more baffling.

Let’s address the “representation” thing first. When she first arrived, the new Thor’s identity was a mystery, so the focus was just on her apparently being some woman who just marched over to the moon and picked up the hammer. I doubt anything could’ve prevented the inevitable hurricane of boring opinions that followed, but what made it bewildering in hindsight was this: it’s not the first time a white woman has either taken up a male hero’s mantle or become a female-flavored extension of her male counterpart. In fact, it’s one of the oldest tricks in the “mild concession towards diversity” handbook. It’s not even diverse! How can anyone point at yet another cis white woman being the hero and declare “This is too diverse” with no irony?

People in comments sections. And Youtube D-List alt-right pundits (one had to call in an ‘expert’ to help him decide why he needed to hate it because he had no real opinions of his own?). And Tucker fucking Carlson.

It says a lot doesn’t it? That this decision was part of a radical feminist agenda. This surely cannot qualify as “SJW” propaganda? Well, to be fair, things like this didn’t help the idea of an “agenda” at play:

I’m sure a lot of dudes took this personally. They declared it a “straw man” and, yeah it is cartoonishly sexist, but practically every woman has met a man or seen a comment or an article or pundit say similar stuff. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also depressingly real. On the other hand—to be honest—this whole exchange and the baffling conversation with Titania afterwards could’ve been cut without harming the story overall. I found this whole thing cringy as hell and if comments section gasbags were looking to find a reason to write new Thor off all together as “SJW propaganda” then… this didn’t help. It’s problem was this: though it was nice to see Thor (Jane) at least express the (really basic) idea that feminism is a good thing, it felt like it was written by someone who’d only experienced sexism second-hand.

A lot of men don’t get how to protray sexism in much the same way white people don’t understand what a lot of day-to-day racism looks like. I’m not saying it’s not entirely true-to-life, it is; it’s just a little…cheap. It’s the difference between the Penguin in Batman Returns and Kilgrave in Jessica Jones. One is gross but obvious; the other is insidious and terrifying. Jane’s later conversation with a very creepy Loki in Thor #2 is much more nuanced portrayal of misogyny.

If I were being generous, I’d say this moment felt more like a deliberate wind-up, a way to have a laugh at tight-arse fanboys rather than trying to make a serious point about hashtag feminism…and they fell for it immediately. It’s the lowest bar and they tripped over it! Does that make it better? I don’t know. All I know is, the constant fixation on this one particular story beat is very very telling.  But this moment was too beyond the pale, held up as proof positive that this whole enterprise was proof the feminists were taking over…which is a shame, because it’s not representative of the series at all. In fact, arguably, the whole arc really gets going once we find out just who is under the helmet.

So, once it was revealed, did it make a certain kind of man less hostile to this new Thor?

Short answer: not really. How could it? I’m pretty sure nothing could. But there she was and where was the “conversation” going to go from there? Well, it meant that Thor hadn’t “turned into a woman” (as if Thor becoming gender fluid would’ve been the worst thing ever). Someone had taken on a legacy. This was explained in the story before the big reveal, but if you’d only been reading articles or following news rather than the comic itself, then this was probably puzzling. It was probably just as puzzling to those who only knew the movies as well, since in the MCU it’s less about the hammer granting powers as it is worthiness in general. MCU Thor and Odinson both have innate lightning powers and strength, but the title of the Mighty Thor, is something they can lose…or in the case of Odinson, willingly give up.

This is a sticking point for a lot of people: Thor isn’t a title, it’s a name. It can’t just be passed down!

To which I say: (a) it’s both and (b)…yes it can. In fact, it has—lots and lots of times.

Thor is the first name of Thor Odinson, son of Freya, prince of Asgard, brother of Loki…and it is also the title of a superhero, The Mighty Thor. There’s a ton of precedence for this in the comics. In many ways the comic was going back to its roots when Donald Blake was apparently some random human man who was worthy. The comics moved away from this, and it’s been retconned that Donald Blake was an avatar that Odin created to teach his son a lesson in humility. A lesson which has really never sunk in and looks hilariously wrongheaded in hindsight—something Jane addresses in her Civil War 2 tie in.

So perhaps Donald Blake isn’t the best example of a title passing down, since he was, effectively, a skin suit. (Ditto Jake Olson, although he actually was alive prior to that so, effectively, Thor was possessing a dead human which… ew.) However, there were a few others who did take the legacy of Thor: Erik Masterson, Simon Walterson, Dargo Ktor and…of course…Beta Ray Bill. Some of them even got their own hammers once OG Thor came back. While it’s true that, as far as I know, Jane is the only woman in 616 to get Mjolnir, she’s not the first woman to get her own hammer. (Remember Thor Girl?) Outside 616, there’s also plenty of What Ifs that have all sorts of women becoming Thor…including Natasha Romanoff, Storm, Rogue and…Jane Foster. All of them got to be a Thor.

As for main 616 canon, the most relevant character to be brought up in the whole ‘it’s a name not a title’ debate is Erik Masterson– a living human who willingly let Thor share his body and grant him his powers. His and Jane’s story beats are nominally similar- he was Thor during a few major events including the Infinity Gauntlet saga. He wore a mask! He once had a family! Afterwards Erik got to be Thunderstrike for a while.

Incidentally, in the Avengers Assemble cartoon Jane is given the title Thunderstrike which is…nice.

(That mace still looks ridiculous, though.)

Also, the Thor Corps has been a thing for at least two decades: dozens of men, women, aliens, etc. who get to be Thor. Aaron expanded on this in the Secret Wars event series Thors, as if to drive this point home.

Thor is a person’s name, but it is also a title. Kind of like in the real world: it’s a superhero name, a god’s name but also…there are ordinary people walking around with the name Thor. It’s a common name in Iceland. Looking back on it, even if you rule out all other universes apart from 616, most of the mortals that Thor has known in his life have had a go at being him. He is worn like a badge of honor. Outside main canon, not only is this not the first (or even second) time that a woman gets to be a Thor; it’s not even the first time Jane has been worthy!  

So, all of this leads to my other point: Jane being Thor is not some big betrayal of Thor’s story or identity. It’s been part of it since day one. Thor usually has a human-type conduit either on Earth or elsewhere. The only difference is this time Jane Foster gets her own new Thor body and doesn’t have to share it with the soul of her ex-boyfriend. Or Sif. This is her Thor. It’s all her, which is central to the whole arc. That’s what makes it good.

You might say that this was a terrible idea back then when it was Masterson and is still a terrible idea now that it is Jane, but you’re still basically shrugging off a core concept of Marvel’s interpretation of Thor: he’s a god who has to be mortal sometimes. He as a person and as a concept. He has to be humbled. He has to learn to be weak and vulnerable. Jane, on the other hand, never had the learn those lessons, since she’d been that way from the beginning. There were lots of possibilities, but Aaron has said over and over that Jane was the only one who they even considered.

But why not Sif or Freya or Angela? They make more sense as Thor!, some may ask.

With this question, I would argue here that it being Jane, specifically, was a bone of contention for some in that she was ordinary. A mortal human who had been a nurse then a doctor who dated Thor Odinson a years ago. But againif you look back over Jason’s Aaron’s time on Thor you see the theme that has been covered over and over again: Are any gods worthy?

Short answer: no. Jane was very human—small, brave to the point of suicidal (she’d punch or yell at a literal god who is five times her size, regardless of canon), and, most importantly, closer to death than any Asgardian could be. The gods could never truly know this. That’s why Thor himself has to learn the same lesson over and over again. It’s why Gorr started killing Gods, it’s why Odinson dropped Mjolnir, and it’s why Jane becomes worthy. In the flashback at the beginning of #705 she says something is calling to her from the moon. It’s the hammer. It wants her to be its champion. Specifically her.

Another concept Aaron brought in is Mjolnir’s sentience: it’s a living storm trapped in the hammer. The implication is that it accepted Thor Odinson only after a lot of persuading (and wearing a human skin suit), and when Thor heard Watcher-empowered Nick Fury’s whisper, confirmed from knowing all the knowledge of the universe, it too realized it needed an upgrade. No god would ever be worthy, because they are capricious and arrogant by their very existence.

So it couldn’t be Sif or Freya or Angela. They are gods, and the gods are not worthy (although they were not arrogant or capricious, but that’s neither here nor there). Would them being Thor have appeased the people in the comments sections? Probably not. I think the sticking factor is obvious at this point, but it might have been easier to justify to some people if Thor had secretly been a mighty warrior goddess already. Strong, conventionally gorgeous women—i.e., born to be warriors—make sense as heroes to them. Jane was not a warrior, not in the traditional sense. She wasn’t warrior goddess gorgeous; she was merely movie star pretty. She was a small mortal who once existed as little more than a damsel in distress and, as much as I stan Jane Foster…I would agree. Early comics Jane is so bad—so bad—but Aaron gave her a backstory, a voice, and a particularly human warmth that she had never really gotten before.

Remember, also, that she’s sick and she looks sick. Dauterman’s depiction of a bald, pale and skeletal woman is painfully real. She’s not easy t ‘n’ a. That annoys a certain type of man at the end of the day: why are these women even here if I can’t even fantasize about them? Even her Thor mode is not easy fantasy material: she’s gorgeous and muscular, and her armor is decorative but not overtly bikini style. She looks magnificent and beautiful, which isn’t always the same as sexy. I don’t think some men liked the idea of a sick human woman getting that kind of power, even for a few years, but especially if they cannot easily fantasize about them. It didn’t sit right with them. The term “Mary Sue” came up a lot in regards to Jane, which y’know what…if any character deserved a time as a Mary Sue, it’s Jane Foster.

To me, Mary Sues were “self-insert”‘ characters created by authors to let them live vicariously through them and, seriously, why the actual Odin-fried hell would you want to live through pre-Aaron Jane Foster? A cursory glance at her characterization will tell you that she has had if not the worst time as a superhero girlfriend, then she’s at least in the top ten. Living vicariously through human superhero girlfriends leads only to misery my dudes. Trust me.

Jane Foster has been the opposite of of a Mary Sue for years. Plus, her worthiness is not unprecedented if you actually engaged with the theme of Aaron’s run from God Butcher onwards. But even if she is a Mary Sue while she’s Thor…it’s fine. Yeah, she’s unbelievably awesome and people love her (people she’s literally known for years I might add! She used to date Thor!) and if those things alone make you a Mary Sue, then fine. She’s a Mary Sue.

But she can control the hammer better than Odinson!

Yup. Because, as was pointed out on Another Panel podcast she’s smarter and used it in a way he hadn’t thought of. Being smarter than Thor Odinson, doesn’t make you a Mary Sue, it literally makes you 80% of the Marvel Prime universe (I love Odinson, not saying he’s a complete dunce, but he isn’t beating Bruce Banner at 5D chess any time soon either). Jane has been an ER nurse and doctor, plus she has been in the middle of several inter-hero battles in her time- she’s learned to think quickly on her feet and remain calm in a crisis. Her strategic wit and skill as Thor reflects this, it didn’t come from out of no where. Not to mention… she’s a selfless person by nature, she cares deeply about her fellow humans- her dedication to her career surely reflects this as well. The hammer liked her enough not only to make her worthy, but to show her an aspect it had never revealed to Odinson (see The Mighty Thor #11 and #12)!

But you know what? Let’s say that all this does make Jane Foster a Mary Sue. Who cares? Let this woman just rule at everything for once. It made for great comics and people enjoyed it. Besides, all this ultimately cost her her life, so I think it’s fair tradeoff that she gets to be the very best version of Thor. (Actually, no I don’t, but that’s a whole other article.) Again, all of this is subjective, but you have to ask yourself, if all of this was centered around a white dude, would you be as upset? Probably not? Well then.

So…where does that leave us? With an obvious point: even the most conventional choice, the most vanilla option, is too spicy for the dystopian wailing wall of comments section trolls. Jane becoming Thor was not a radical change, no matter how you slice it. Calling her an SJW proves just how meaningless the term is. Getting mad because heroes are concerned about the welfare of the downtrodden is like complaining the musicals have too much singing. Like, bruh, why are you even here? And when said hero makes the mildest of references towards inequality of specific groups of people, it again should not be a shock. Every superhero is ultimately a Social Justice Warrior. Literally. Jane’s scope just happens to be in relation to more esoteric inequality—i.e., gods vs mortals, rather than gender—although it gets brought up because sexism exists and continues to exist. If you didn’t want feminism-lite in your comics, you shouldn’t treat women and female characters like garbage, because then we wouldn’t need it.

Saying she shouldn’t inherit “someone’s name” in the context of Thor’s specifically comics-based backstory is a slippery slope, but if it’s a personal hang-up, I get that. It might not come down to sexism, but given the atmosphere and that sexism is a constant background noise to a good chunk of Earth’s population, it’ll look like it regardless.

And as for Jane Foster, the character, the woman who’d been in Thor’s circle since pretty much day 1, she’s earned being effectively the last Worthy Thor. We’re getting into broken-record territory here, but this was long overdue. Without her at the center of it, this story wouldn’t have worked. This had to be her. I wouldn’t say it’s all that empowering except maybe in a literal sense for Jane Foster herself. This story was focused on one woman and her given strength to be a hero. This isn’t really feminist on a macro scale, but could be on a micro one.

Empowerment is subjective, and it’s not a given. Besides, just because a white woman is at the center of a story shouldn’t automatically mean it gets feminist cred, not any more.

The story was worth telling, even if it wasn’t all that radical. And if you see it as a threat, then…fine. You probably stopped reading by now anyway.

Regardless, it’s over now and if the continuing positive response is still upsetting to you, you’re missing out. I don’t know what to tell you, so I’ll leave the last word to Jane Foster.

I’m a thirty something British nerd-mum and wannabe author, fueled by tea, poor decision making and a need to be distracted. Cursed to watch favourite characters die and ships sink.

Send help.

I’m a thirty something British nerd-mum and wannabe author, fueled by tea, poor decision making and a need to be distracted. Cursed to watch favourite characters die and ships sink. Send help.

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Adam Paul
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Adam Paul

Awesome article!

Paul Obembe
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Paul Obembe

I disagree about you saying the reaction is pointless. It does have a point. Marvel itself proved the point byo taking Thor’s name away from him and re-naming him another -non name- Odinson (Yuk). Odin had many sons, to which do you refer when you say Odinson? The Vikings never worshipped Odinson right? The point is that the norse god of thunder is Thor, not Odinson. How does this matter? it’s that I feel manipulated. For decades Marvel carefully cultivated… Read more »

Dexter Buschetelli
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bruh you act like Thor hasn’t been

a) a whole other dude
b) a horse faced alien man
3) a damn frog

Paul Obembe
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Paul Obembe

How/when was Thor a whole other dude? If you mean Don Blake, that was clearly Odin’s intervention and he (Thor ) was never replaced by someone else. A horse faced alien? If you mean Beta-Ray Bill, again they were two completely different entities, and Bill joined the hall of worthy individuals to share Thor’s power. None of these individual replaced him or took on his identity. A frog. Loki once transformed Thor into a Frog. An act of Magical attack.… Read more »

Dexter Buschetelli
Editor

For someone accusing another of being less than informed on the lore of Thor you sure don’t seem to remember Eric Masterson, who assumed the role and title of Thor for a full two years.