There are a few constants in life. Death, taxes and comic book fans being mad at something. In recent years one of the most common sources of fan fervour has been the trend of changing certain aspects of existing comic characters in film or in the comics themselves. While this is by no means a new trend it is one that has gained a certain level of attention it didn’t have in the past. For instance, a number of the most popular comic book characters alive today have gone through a number of changes over time to arrive at the status quo many of us know them for today. These changes include the characters origins, power set or any other number of things.
The types of changes that seem to cause an outcry nowadays though fall into three broad categories, when a character’s sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity is “changed”. For instance the modern incarnation of Batwoman has had her origins changed to include the fact she is Jewish, for which there was seemingly no backlash, and that she was queer, for which there was a predictable and vocal backlash. This anger arose before the comics featuring the character actually being shown to be having a romantic relationship with a woman even hit store shelves and yet cries of “political correctness gone mad” and “social justice warrioring” were filling many comment sections and fan boards.
Yet for someone who is a more casual fan of comics, rarely picking them up weekly as the stories are ongoing and instead looking over arcs sometimes years after they’ve finished, I would say now is the best time to be a comic fan because of trends such as these minor alterations to existing characters. My favourite of these and the focus of this article is a topic I have legitimately gotten into more than one heated debate about. As it stands in Marvel Comics mainline continuity, Thor is a woman. While initial reports on this change to the character were met with disturbing vitriol I personally believe this has been the most interesting thing to happen to the character in quite some time.
To clarify, the Thor you know from the popular Marvel movies has not suddenly been transformed into a woman in the comics. Instead for reasons that have yet to be explained Thor has lost his ability to wield his hammer Mjolnir, the source of a large amount of his powers. His father Odin who placed a mystical enchantment on the hammer is also unable to wield it and as such for a brief period there was no active Thor in the Marvel universe. Then however a mysterious, and for a time unknown, woman placed her hands on Mjolnir and raised it thus being granted the powers of the God of Thunder. An interesting thing happened when she gained these powers though, the famous inscription on the hammer changed:
Whosoever holds this hammer, if She be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.
A one letter addition to this inscription which went unchanged for decades in comic history has given us a completely new take on what it means to be Thor. And while we know that Thor Odinson (the son of Odin, portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in the films) will return to his mantle of Thor at some point in the future, for now the only new Thor comics anyone can read feature a no nonsense, feminist, amazingly powerful woman as the title character. While some will say this isn’t a big deal, that a woman has wielded the hammer in the past, I disagree. Sure Storm of the X-Men (as well as a frog named Throg, a horse alien named Beta Ray Bill and even Superman) has held aloft the hammer in the past but these stories have never been as big or as continuous as the current change to the Thor mainline continuity has been.
Some will argue that rather than “change” Thor to be female a new character should have been created for people to enjoy. While this is a lovely ideal it’s not a realistic one, new comic books are extremely hit and miss in terms of building a readership and staying afloat financially. Even Marvel and DC are constantly launching and killing new comics that fail to gain a foothold on the sales charts. Instead if our best option is to find a way to reimagine existing characters into new and interesting variations then that’s the type of comic I would like to read.
While sometimes these changes can be somewhat token, a character like Alan Scott (a Green Lantern) who was originally straight suddenly being gay in a new continuity, even these smaller changes that are given less attention or importance can be positives as we find ways to bring better representation to comic books. While these changes don’t work at times, successes like the new Thor show they are worthwhile risks.
On a final note I would like to point out that Marvel is relaunching a series that nobody has seen for a number of years, Devil Dinosaur. Originally the large red dinosaur character was paired with a young caveman friend Moon Boy. This time around though the T Rex look alike will be paired with a character called Moon Girl, a young character of colour, in a series designed for all age groups. This is just one of the new line of Marvel comics designed with representation in line, the most notable of these being the runaway reimaging of Ms. Marvel as a young Islamic-American girl.
Now, where’s my big screen Devil Dinosaur and Moon Girl movie Disney??