Thor’s sex changeMarvel Comics has announced that its superhero Thor—you know, the Norse god?—is getting a sex change. Well, not exactly. First off, it is no longer Marvel Comics, it is Disney’s Marvel Comics. Which obviously explains a lot, here. The House of Mouse decided years ago that it would be happy to be the House of Louse if that would help the bottom line and keep its liberal critics happy. As for the sex change, that is more or less true. Except that there will be no actual procedure, just the decision of some craven, empty suits that they might get “more female readers” if they make one of their most popular heroes a poster girl for feminism.

Many of our readers no doubt have little or no interest in comic book characters, and I confess to having only a limited interest in them myself. But comic books and especially their movie and television spinoffs have had a massive role in popular culture for a century or so, which means that their reshaping by the “progressive” left is not unimportant.

Stan Lee, who was the moving force behind Marvel Comics for more than half a century, has devoted his career to making that influence a positive one. He has made a point of presenting believable (we say “flawed,” now) characters whose heroism continues to shine through. From Spider Man to the Fantastic Four to The Avengers, and many, many more, his characters and those he helped develop have become a mainstay of American popular culture. And they have also been decent, good people devoted, not to pushing any kind of political agenda, but rather to protecting the public and especially those who cannot protect themselves. What is more, until recently Marvel refused to follow its rival DC Comics in openly deriding the middle American values on which its fortunes were based. (DC’s Superman years ago declared that he was for “Truth, Justice, and yada yada yada,” pointedly dismissing that character’s previous devotion to “the American Way.”) Mr. Lee’s movies in particular have remained unabashedly friendly toward America and its traditional norms.

Having read this much, some readers relatively unaware of Mr. Lee’s work might sympathize with the decision announced by Jason Aaron, who will be writing the sex change Thor series, in his desire to appeal to a female demographic—and, of course, bring us yet more patronizing “girl power.” Disney suits want money and good press. Geeky writers and artists no doubt want the approval of the few women who will actually speak to them, and probably believe the sex change will get that for them. One part of the demographic they have missed: my own daughter, who told me about this “change” in horrified terms. My son was horrified as well, be we all know by now that the opinion of a thirteen-year-old boy regarding images in popular culture counts for less than nothing in public discourse. My daughter could not believe that 1) people do not remember the many strong female characters already populating the Marvel universe, 2) people would be so stupid as to accept that a Norse god known for at least a couple of thousand years is suddenly female, and 3) women would not feel patronized by this latest bit of self-serving, ultimately empty political correctness.

As to point one, I feel soiled even having to justify an aversion to Thor’s sex change on the basis of nose counting. Obviously, there are fewer female than male superheroes, and most of those, especially in the Marvel universe, are not the fake men called for by today’s “girl power” standards. Black Widow is an assassin, the Invisible Woman is, well, invisible. And the various female “X-Men” (horrors! “MEN?!”) rely more on powers and brains than brawn. But they are there, they are strong, and they are popular.

Point Two is the one that particularly incensed my somewhat precocious daughter. And it is a fair point, I think, that it is particularly disrespectful toward history, common sense, and those with even something less than her ninthgrade education to pretend that Thor can just “be” a woman. The move shows remarkable contempt for readers and any conception of the truth. Of course, Disney/Marvel might have chosen to portray Loki as a female, given that there is actual historical precedent for such a characterization, but then she would be a villain who gets beat up, and the whole point appears to be that of feminizing brawn. Apparently, then, the sex change Thor will be a female who touches Thor’s Hammer and is “found worthy” to become a Norse god. Found worthy by whom? Whoopi Goldberg? Disney’s reptilian suits and/or their focus groups?

Finally, there is the fact of Thor’s sex change being openly patronizing of women. Of course, that mental giant Whoopi Goldberg, who announced the sex change with such glee, will not notice this fact, but many women will. Then again, most women (and girls) really do not have any interest in the world of comic books. And picturing some gal in metal armor carrying a big hammer, while it might interest teenage boys, really is not likely to appeal to girls who are not into that sort of thing. But that is much of the point. Comics, apparently, are “too male” and so must be feminized for the greater good. And if you do not find that creepy, well, I just hope you never get hold of real power because you have the mindset of a tyrant.

The question arises, of course, as to what is going to happen with the Avengers movies that are planned for the next several years. I highly doubt that we are going to see Chris Hemsworth undergo a sex change operation for the role, or that his character will either. Disney/Marvel probably will try to have it both ways by making Thor female for a series of comics, leaving the movies as they are, and perhaps even keeping the actual, male Thor for other comics—particularly when the girl Thor flops as she almost certainly will. Still, Disney/Marvel will have gotten a lot of free publicity from the stunt, along with some goodwill in a place (Hollywood) and a time (the Obama years) of incredible bigotry and hostility toward traditional male role models. So, no doubt the suits see this as a win-win situation, with no downside.

Sadly, they probably are right. My kids have sworn to ONLY buy t-shirts with the male Thor on them, and to ONLY see Marvel movies with the male Thor in them. That “protest” will, of course, continue filling the suits’ pockets. Shall we, then, boycott all things Disney/Marvel? I have some sympathy for that response but find it unrealistic. Thank goodness most of my kids’ entertainment is set at a somewhat higher level than superhero movies. Their instinctive position at least puts them on the right side of the popular culture debate, such as it is. And, while I do not want them fully engaged in those debates, or that culture, I am convinced that as a parent I have a duty to expose them to popular culture, in a measured way, while they are still at home and my wife and I are there to guide them through it and help them put it in proper perspective. I am pretty sure, given their response, that they have done that.

What about you, Stan? For lo, these many decades, you have stood up for decent values and a clear respect for your audience. Does not Thor’s sex change strike you as a betrayal of the folks who helped you build the Marvel empire? Are you really okay with this kind of patronizing stupidity—this attack on the myths and legends that helped shape our culture? Or are you on board with the DC-ization of Marvel?

Say it ain’t so, Stan, say it ain’t so.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. 

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6 replies to this post
  1. In my southerly neighbour, India, boys read superheroes and girls read Archie. I’m helping design the first-ever comic books for Nepal, but American superhero sex changes (and race changes,
    Captain America is shifting from white to black) are too weird for South Asians of any country. However my favourite bad-taste email exchange happened in the 1990s when management wrote to all employees banning them from referring to Disney Corp as “Mousechwitz.” Within nanoseconds, Disney staffers began referring to their employer, in emails, as “Duckhau.” Some issues are better left alone.

  2. Radical changes in super-heroes have become a cliché since the 1990s. Everybody who has followed the Marvel/DC universes for some time (I have for 30 years) know these changes are publicity stunts, designed to be temporary. There is a very strong history behind these iconic characters, and it’s not prudent to mess with this mythology beyond a certain point. I give you two instances, both with the same character: in the 1990s, Spider-Man was “revealed” to be a “clone”, so the Peter Parker we all know would be a fake. Of course, it caused strong reactions and, after some time, the change was undone and old Pete returned as the only authentic Spidey. More recently, he swaped bodies with Dr. Octopus, who killed him and became the “Superior Spider-Man”. It was a very interesting saga, but it lasted one year and a half only; now, Peter has returned again.

    So, Mr. Frohnen, my suggestion is: do not take this radical changes very seriously. Yours is the kind of repercussion that the “suits” want to cause. However, I’m very happy to read something about super-heroes and comics here in the blog. I have the impression that they have been a very powerful cultural force, mostly for good, but conservative cultural commentators have never given them their due. I congratulate you for changing this.

  3. While well written and certainly a passionate appeal, this article seems to make an incredible number of assumptions and assertions which don’t have a lot of basis when you take the time to do even basic research (beyond reading the title of a news article). I was very sad to see someone so upset with comics that were such a big part of my childhood. Condescending phrases like, “sex change Thor series” and “Geeky writers and artists no doubt want the approval of the few women who will actually speak to them” really don’t prove your point and only highlight your lack of anything other than anecdotal evidence. Time is at a premium for myself and anyone who reads, so please forgive me for picking the low hanging fruit to respond to.

    Before I get to Thor, something you need to be aware of is the history of Marvel itself, especially recent history since you make claims about it that are “obvious” (and wrong) in the first five sentences of the article. Part of what made Marvel so distinct was that all the way up until the early 90s, it had one of the most expansive, yet cohesive shared story lines of anyone. You could have something happen in X-men whose impact reverberated all the way through the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. What Leland Chee does with the Holocron continuity database for Star Wars pales in comparison to what must have been done to make everything flow. Through the continuity of story Marvel was able to build up each character in such a way that they could survive bad writers and a disappointing plot point or two. It also meant that when a major change (which was done sparingly) did occur, readers knew it would affect the character for years to come and could even change a comic forever.

    Unfortunately, that attention to detail didn’t last forever. In the 90s Marvel ran into financial trouble and eventually into bankruptcy. Instead of a phoenix rising from the ashes, a different beast emerged. The focus shifted away from attention to detail, expansive story lines, and the legacy of the hero. Instead, Marvel preferred to drop a publicity stunt of some form whenever a title seemed to wane. The stunt is rarely related to the current political climate, and even less impacted by a personal agenda. Kindly note, all of this happened BEFORE Disney acquired Marvel in 2009. I fail to see how, “it is no longer Marvel Comics, it is Disney’s Marvel Comics. Which obviously explains a lot, here.” The last 5 years have brought no significant change from where it was.

    There are a litany of example across comics that show that Marvel has little regard for the confines of physics, time, or even its own story as of late (if they don’t respect their own plot line, do you really think they care about the Norse mythology on which the comic is very loosely based?). I will focus in specifically on Thor to help illustrate the above. In the past ten years alone, Thor has DIED twice. Everyone gasps, then a few years later they bring him back again. The last decade and a half has been turbulent at Marvel and this is no exception. Throughout the article you refer to the change of hero as a “sex change” with disgust. This is simply not the case. I would encourage you to explore a character named Beta Ray Bill, an alien who was able to wield Mjolner to Odin’s shock (“whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall posses the power of Thor”). In other words, someone wrote a “species change Thor series” (horrors! “CHANGE?!”) where an alien was Thor while the human male hero we know and love was unworthy of wielding his hammer. At the end of the story arc, Odin forges another Mjolner for Bill and the character continues on in the Marvel universe. Thor can be an alien, but God forbid it’s a woman holding the hammer.

    So what is happening here? Jason Aaron (who has done a fantastic job of revitalizing Thor recently) has decided to take the story down a different path, get some headlines, and see what readers think. It’ll bring some buzz to the strip, get fans talking, and if people like she-Thor enough, perhaps she will headline her own strip. Bottom line, this is about profits, not a message. The only tragic thing here is that this change is irrelevant in the universe, filled with split timelines and inconsistencies.

  4. My daughter’s and I go to the Thor movies to watch the hunk in action. We are not going to see a woman as Thor. Didn’t anyone think that the women enjoy seeing gorgeous men do their thing?

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