So, the Internet is all abuzz about the announcement by Marvel that there’s going to be a female Thor.1
Due to the media coverage, there’s quite a bit of confusion and misinformation out there. A few key issues are worth clarifying.
1) Thor is not getting a sex change. The person who is Thor will still be around with his gender intact, but the powers of Thor will be wielded by a woman.
When it comes to the confusion, the media is at fault for reporting this “story,” because it’s a pure PR gimmick as anyone who follows the comic book world knows. The average person has a view that most heroes are defined by one person: Peter Parker is Spider-man, Bruce Wayne is Batman, Steve Rogers is Captain America, and Tony Stark is Iron Man. However at different times, Ben Reilly was Spider-man, Bucky Barnes was Captain America, Dick Grayson was Batman, and Jim Rhodes was Iron Man. Comic companies like to imagine that a costumed identity can be passed on. Usually, the character people associate with the identity end up returning, as will no doubt be the case with Thor.
Thor is an odd case. While we can imagine a female Captain America, Thor is not an androgynous name. Marvel does have some precedent to justify this, going back to a What If? alternate universe story for the 1970s as well as both the Young Avenger movies, and the MC2 Universe featuring teenage girls wielding Thor-like powers.
2) This will have no impact whatsoever on the upcoming Avengers movie. The movies and the comics exist in separate universes, though it’s probably fair to wonder if this will all be resolved by the time the movie comes out.
3) Why is Marvel doing this? Because gimmicks are Marvel’s 21st century substitute for writing good stories that people want to read. Through stories like Civil War, One More Day, Avengers v. X-Men, Shadowlands, and the entire Superior Spider-Man saga, Marvel has made a habit of telling stories that violate the characters they’re writing but attract controversy and sell books. Thor is going through this change due to weak sales. In June, Thor: God of Thunder #23 ranked #55 with less than 40,000 copies sold.
As if to emphasize this strategy, the day after word of the female Thor came out, it was announced that the #71 ranked Captain America will feature African-American superhero Sam Wilson as the new Captain America.
Marvel especially likes it when they can start a book off with a new Issue 1. Marvel will have collectors rush to grab it in the hopes that it’ll someday be worth something and will lead to a bump in sales. That’s why they did a new Issue 1 for Daredevil after 36 issues, for the Incredible Hulk after 20 issues, and Captain Marvel after 17.
Like Superior Spider-Man, this is a gimmick that will run until Marvel feels sales slipping, then they’ll go back to the original Thor.
The other thing that drives this is the same thing that drives the, “They should make the next Doctor a woman,” calls that occur whenever Doctor Who is being recast. There’s a belief that women want to see all heroes supplanted with heroines. However, Doctor Who showrunner Stephen Moffat said of the decision not to have a female Doctor, “Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it — and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this — were women.”
Having a woman take over the lead in an existing TV show or a comic represents an attempt to grow market share among women that’s seen as less risky than investing the time and marketing budget to create a brand for a new character, but there’s little evidence women are really interested in female characters that are derivative substitutes for male characters. While a female Thor may be a great gimmick, what is more likely to excite readers and viewers are unique and well-written female characters.