Big news broke on The View (of all places) that a beloved Marvel comic book hero is going to become a heroine. The new release of the Thor comic book series will feature a woman taking on the iconic hammer in a major shift for the character and the franchise. Details on the exact storyline are few, but two facts seem relatively sure. As Whoopi Goldberg pointed out on the daytime talk show, Thor as readers currently know him has come to the end of his tenure as wielder of Mjolnir and is passing the torch on to a female protagonist. There is no complicated sex change storyline or magic involved in this change, only the simple fact that someone else has been found worthy, as the famous inscription on the hammer says. That person happens to be a woman. It is because of this emphasis on worthiness and the way they are managing the news that Marvel’s new Thor provides a perfect lesson in diversity.
Comic books and superheroes tend to be a very male-centric domain. The main protagonists of Marvel’s Avengers movie franchise are all men, with only the addition of Black Widow and Maria Hill to spice up the gender quotient. Women tend to play supporting roles to the male first rank, but recently they have taken on the main role themselves. This is a fact that the comic book giant itself is touting as an achievement, saying that the new Thor “continues Marvel’s proud tradition of strong female characters.” More importantly, Marvel has set about making sure that no one puts down the character herself. She is being given the full pride of place involved in being a main character and they are making sure everyone knows it. She is not a knockoff character or a pandering concession to diversity training. “This is THOR.”
This wholehearted backing up of the new hero is one of the things Marvel is doing really well. It is part of what makes it such a good lesson in how to handle gender diversity. Half-hearted changes in gender quotas is not change. Marvel’s production staff and directors seem to have completely gotten behind the idea of gender diversity and they are proving it willingly. There is a lot of respect for the new Thor from the Marvel team which they show earnestly in the press release.
There are at least two other reasons that Marvel’s announcement about Thor is a good lesson in diversity. The first is the acknowledgment of women who have long been part of the comic book audience, but who have been largely ignored by the producers of the medium: women and girls. This is part of the stated intention on the part of Marvel in having the wielder of the hammer be a woman, according to the press release. This is not the first time the company has tried to widen its appeal and acknowledge that a love of comic books knows no bounds. They have done it before with Alan Scott, better known as Green Lantern, coming out as gay and Miles Morales who has now donned the iconic webbed Spider-Man suit being portrayed as mixed-race. Ms. Marvel, in a controversial move, is cast as teenage girl Kamal Khan, who also happens to be Muslim. The new Thor is just another step in this revolution.
The other thing that Marvel is doing well is emphasizing the character’s inherent traits other than just her gender. As some commentators have pointed out, a big part of the Thor mythos is the concentration on worthiness. Avid followers and recent moviegoers will be familiar with story of Thor having to prove himself worthy in order to wield Mjolnir again and regain his considerable power. It was a form of punishment on an arrogant guy, but it was also a larger theme of proving oneself that many people could identify with. This concept has been taken to its fullest conception with the new Thor. She is not just chosen because she is a woman. Instead, she is put through the same rigorous process of proving herself as everyone else. Her personal qualities and virtues are what are important, not her gender. In that respect, the Thor character is perfectly suited to gender change and even transcends it. Anyone can be Thor, but they have to be worthy.
There will be backlash against this decision and Marvel producers have already seen some criticism. Editor Ryan Peganos told Twitter that he “was just called a gay slur and told to get cancer because of the Thor news.” Not everyone is going to be happy, but Marvel seems to be taking it rather well and with a multi-million dollar franchise to back them up, they do not have to sink to the level of insulting detractors. For as many people who decide to boycott Marvel because of this news, there will be others who decide to pick up the series for the first time, or at least that is the hope. The October release will be indicative of just how well-received the change is numbers wise. In the meantime, Marvel and the new Thor are giving everyone else a masterclass lesson in how to do diversity right.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury