Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Female Thor? Awesome! But It's Not Enough


Unless you have been hiding away under a rock without wifi, you've probably heard about the big news Marvel Comics announced on The View last week: Mjolnir is about to choose a new bearer, and this time it will choose a woman. That's right my friends; a woman will be taking on the role of Thor.

Personally I think this is a pretty awesome development and I genuinely look forward to seeing where her story takes her. The concept art (above) is crazy awesome and is what really got me excited. Because she looks so fierce and her armor actually looks like it was designed to be functional instead of to show off as much skin as possible, which on it's own I have to consider massive progress for comics because it shows that artists are starting to shift the way they think about their audience. There is a reason female characters have traditionally been drawn the way they are, and I am so excited to see comics slowly (sloooowly...) moving away from it. But the male centered heteronormativity of comic book art is a conversation for another day.

It is nothing new for a new person to put on the mask (or in this case, helmet) of a popular hero. The title of Green Lantern gets passed down with the ring, there have been plenty of Robins running along side batman, and four different men have claimed the title of The Flash. This is how these stories survive for so long. It makes sense that Thor would be one of the heroes eligible for such a reboot considering the source of the character's power, Mjulnir. And honestly it wouldn't make any sense for the title of any character to be passed down to only white men (I am very not subtly looking straight at you Doctor Who), so in my opinion Mjulnir choosing a woman to become the next Thor makes complete sense. Why wouldn't a woman be able to be deemed worthy to wield it?

I also think these types of reboots are a great way to work towards diversifying a previously very straight white male dominated cast of characters. Modern comics are still highly representative of the time in which they started; they still drip with the sexism and racism of the 1950s and that is simply not acceptable in 2014. Rebooting characters and passing their titles down to characters of different genders and races is a good way to acknowledge the need for diversity in pop culture and to start taking steps in the right direction towards correcting the extraordinarily problematic history that the comic book industry has in terms of representation.

However, that is all this is: just a step in the right direction. If you've read my post about the media reaction to The Fault In Our Stars, you know that I am a big proponent of both celebrating progress, which this is, while at the same time acknowledging that there is still work to be done. And there is still a lot of work to be done within the comic book industry in terms of diversity and proper representation. Recycling the same cast of characters over and over and just altering some characters from time to time to accommodate calls for diversity is not enough.

What we need is the introduction of diverse original characters. We need empowered women of all sexualities and races proudly displayed on the front covers of their own comics and graphic novels. Because no matter how fantastic a Thor this woman might be, she is still building upon a precedent already set by a man. No matter how we try to fight it, she will always be known as "the female Thor" rather than simply "Thor."

As awesome as I think that it is that they are doing this, I am not content with being given female versions of already established characters. I want more original characters that are women, with their own history and stories, and without a history of being sexualized to appeal to an assumed-to-be exclusively male readership that simply does not exist. And I want the original characters that we already have to be treated better by the industry. How many times are they going to reboot Superman and Spiderman before they finally give us a Wonder Woman movie? We are on the third Iron Man movie, the second Thor movie, and the second Captain America movie, all without Black Widow getting the standalone she so obviously deserves. (Supposedly a Black Widow movie is in the making, but it has yet to be confirmed as being in even pre-production according to IMBD. So while I am excited- and I mean really freaking excited- I'm hesitant to throw a party just yet.)

Making the next Thor a woman is definitely an interesting twist, and a sign that Marvel is paying attention to the growing demand for diversity in comics. I am very much looking forward to seeing where this new Thor's story will take her. But so far Marvel has attempted to diversify its cast by simply altering already existing characters- a female Thor, a black Captain America, etc- and while this is definitely progress it is not enough. I hope that in the near future comics, Marvel and otherwise, start working to diversify their casts by creating some awesome original characters and by treating the female original characters they already have with the respect they deserve.

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