Female Thor: Another Marvel Comics Gimmick

Do women really want to see all male heroes supplanted with women as the Doctor or even Thor?
on Jul 18, 2014 · 13 comments
“Thou mortals surely jest.”

“Thou mortals surely jest.”

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.

Adam Graham is a recovering politician and journalist, living in Boise, Idaho with his wife and fellow author, Andrea Graham. He is the author of the superhero comedy Tales of the Dim Knight (November 2010) and the follow up books Fly Another Day (March 2013), and Powerhouse Hard Pressed (May 2013). His current projects include the next book in that series, Ultimate Midlife Crisis as well as his first mystery novel Slime Incorporated. Adam also hosts The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio and Old Time Radio Superman podcasts. You can follow his blog, Christian Superheroes, and follow him on Twitter @Idahoguy.
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  1. notleia says:

    I think it’s interesting if only as an experiment, though the quality is very your-mileage-may-vary. Take the in-universe Rule 63 from Adventure Time. I think Fiona is a very well done genderswap of Finn. The plots take a more overt romantic angle, but Fiona retains more interest and skill and confidence for fighting than twu wuv.

    I think the kicker is how much gender essentialist bunkus the author believes. Such a person would make Fiona awful by removing her kickbutt because s/he thinks girls can’t kick butt or it isn’t girls’ “place” to kick butt. Or amputate her confidence as well as her competence because it’s supposedly cuter/more feminine to be shy and mostly incompetent.

    But Thorette (ugh, that seemed less awful in my head) Fem-Thor shouldn’t have to lose the kickbutt or the (over)confidence to be 63’d. Though I’m not sure how the tendency to smash mugs in enjoyment (ANOTHER!) would translate.

  2. I think the outcry here has nothing to do with the caliber of a female character’s kickbutt and everything to do with the fact that Marvel chose a lazy shortcut in order to give us a kickbutt female character. They took the power of an established and beloved male character and just transplanted it to a woman. Not only is that unimaginative, it’s incredibly dismissive of males (how would you react if you learned that Wonder Woman’s powers had been plucked from her and given to a male character who’d henceforth be known as “Wonder Woman”?). It plays into the hands of those who argue that feminism has to put men down in order to raise women up. It demonstrates weakness, not strength: why can’t Marvel create engaging heroines who stand on their own instead of piggybacking off the credibility established by their male predecessors? Why can’t they launch a series called The Mighty Sif or The Ingenious Freja, or something? Why do they have to throw The Male Character Formerly Known As Thor out on his heel in order to make a sociological statement?

    Because they’re lazy, that’s why.

    •  how would you react if you learned that Wonder Woman’s powers had been plucked from her and given to a male character who’d henceforth be known as “Wonder Woman”?

      Here’s how Duncan Jones would react: pic.twitter.com/E1zJjdU80h.

      Seriously, I second everything Austin said. As a woman myself, I’m far more on board with new original female characters. Mary Russell is the best counter example I can give in this case. Her creator, Laurie King, describes her as “Sherlock Holmes if he were a woman,” and indeed, Mary Russell studies under the great detective in her debut novel The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. But she is so much more than a “female” Holmes: she’s a fully fleshed out character who works tangentially with Holmes, has her own desires and fears and goals, and adventures that at times seem to have nothing to do with either him or anything in Holmes cannon.

      For the record, gender swap can be a challenging writing experiment, and generate some decent stories. I actually started a fan fiction story in which Jane and Bingley from Pride and Prejudice were switched. It’s amazing how much that changes things all the way around, in unexpected ways. I hope to finish it some day, but I don’t by any stretch of the imagination wish to supplant/replace the original.

      Maybe I’d be more on board with this move (and the others cited) if it were in a separate, spinoff series meant to serve as an homage to the main source, an alternate universe riff so to speak. Otherwise, it really comes across as an attempt to steal DC’s thunder in the press (pun firmly intended).

      • notleia says:

        Maybe it helps to think of Thorine as a spinoff, even if Marvel isn’t labelling it as such. It wouldn’t be the first time the fandom has declared “okay, that doesn’t exist in my headcanon.” Like that theoretical fifth Star Trek movie that Shatner wrote and directed. Man, wouldn’t it be awful if that existed?

  3. Julie D says:

    I’m slightly more comfortable with them making Sam Wilson into Cap’s replacement than I am with the Thor switch–because they kept the original, but shifted him into another role. I’m still not really comfortable with either.

    I’m not very familiar with comics–I’ve read most of the Civil War arc and bits and pieces of other groups–and from what I’ve seen, character reboots rarely are received well.   But I’m glad to know this won’t effect the MCU–leave the films out of this, they’re great as they are.

  4. dmdutcher says:

    Edit: posted in wrong topic.

    It’s the typical comic book gimmick to drive up sales. It sucks, but if you’re a comic book fan they do this all the time. Everybody gets killed off or depowered at some point, sadly.

  5. merechristian says:

    About what the author and Austin said, it can be done to create or upgrade a female character without hurting the male character directly. Batman – Batgirl, Superman – Supergirl, and others. The most prominent case for me is Ms. Marvel. Carol Danvers was created as a female counterpart (though she’s far more powerful, as strong as the Hulk upon first transforming, which makes her equal or stronger than Abomination, so on) to Captain Marr-Vell. Now, she is the new “Captain Marvel”, yes, but that is because he was killed off and she has long eclipsed him in popularity.

    In other words, building up female characters without getting rid of, or nerfing, male ones, is possible. As the writer pointed out, this is just laziness on Marvel’s part. Well, that and the desire to appear “progressive” or “feminist” in what are really bastardizations of those words.

    • Adam Graham says:

      When Carol Danvers took over as Captain Marvel, Mar-Vel had been dead for 30+ years, which I think made things easier in terms of the rebranding. Through rebranding was nothing new for Danvers who had been under several names including Warbird.

      I like Batgirl, Supergirl, and Spider-girl. That said, I think that it’s probably a good idea to have female superhero who aren’t tied to any specific male hero in any sort of derivative way.  It’s something I’m working on in my current Work in Progress where the wife of my superhero Powerhouse takes on a secret identity that’s very different in look and feel to that of her husband.

      • merechristian says:

        Yes, when that can happen, it’s a good thing. But there is some help to having an established character “help” the new one. This isn’t just women to men dynamics, either. Look at the (overused a lot to the point of being a meme almost) “Wolverine Publicity” thing. Using an established character helps. I also think that it does make some sense to an extent. If you are in a world with some super-powered bloke (whatever- man or woman) and someone very similar comes up, you would naturally call them a similar name. Unless you are X-23.

    • dmdutcher says:

      The second Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau, was a good example of how to do this as well. She even wound up leading the Avengers. What’s funny is that a lot of feminists go on about how hostile comic culture is to female characters, but you can tell they never really read comics. There’s a surprising amount of female characters that are done respectfully and even lead superteams.

  6. dmdutcher says:

    Another note that made the decision puzzling is that they already had a character in-universe they could use as a blank slate if they wanted a Norse female superhero. Valkyrie has been around since the seventies, and was most notable for being in the Defenders. She could be adapted with little trouble to fit into that role, and a lot of fans would probably be hooked if characters from the Defenders did cameos.

What do you think?