Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Thor 8, originally released May 13th, 2015.
Taylor: Motion is an important thing to people. Most of us don’t like to be stagnant for any set amount of time whether it be an hour, a month, or a year. We visualize our lives as having a narrative that is always moving forward. Likewise, as a society, we like to think that we are also making a steady motion forward. In other words, we like to think of our society as making progress. And while most of the country can get behind progress (just look at how rapidly gay marriage became acceptable) there are always going to be those who oppose it. Thor 8 recognizes this dichotomy and in doing so makes a strong statement about the need for acceptance of progress and just how hard that can be for those who don’t want to see things change.
Thor, the Odinson, and an armada of women warriors from across the Marvel universe are in the fight of their lives against Odin, Cul, and the Destroyer. Despite their awesome, assembled power, all of these fighters are no match for the Destroyer. However, Odin orders its retreat and with it the battle ends. In the aftermath the Odinson wishes to reconcile with Thor but she flies away before they can reveal their darkest secrets to each other. As Thor retreats to her sanctuary, her identity is revealed. This isn’t Roz Solomon — it’s Jane Foster!
This issue of Thor is among one of my favorite issues, of any series, all year. It’s emotionally staggering, exciting, and as always, beautiful to look at. That being said, what impresses me most about this issue is how thoughtfully it tackles the issue of gender discrimination in our society.
The way this charged issue is handled really is a thing of beauty in itself. The very idea of a female Thor offers ample opportunity for writer Jason Aaron to write dialogue and scenes where Thor touts the power of women both verbally and physically. While there’s nothing wrong with that approach, Aaron goes for a subtler touch that pays huge dividends for me.
When Thor and her new-found allies are battling the destroyer, it becomes clear that whatever might they can muster simply won’t be enough to defeat the god-powered machine. The only thing that stops its rampage is when Odin orders its retreat. The reason this happens is simple: Freyja, his wife, dares him to kill her if he’s so hell bent on retrieving Mjolnir from Thor. He relents, but it is not an easy decision for him.
As Cul notes, Odin’s father would never yield to a woman, even if she was his wife. However, as is depicted in the panel above and others throughout this scene, Odin can’t bring himself to hurt his wife. This is because Odin is not his father and cannot bring himself to kill his own wife simply for going against his wishes. In other words, Odin is more forward thinking than his father, he has made progress when it comes to balancing the scales between man and woman.
Of course, Odin fails in fully supporting his wife as later he refuses to speak to her. He also fails in that he can’t bring himself to fully endorse a female Thor. However, where the father fails, the son succeeds, in a way. After the battle, Thor and the Odinson share a moment wherein they seem on the verge of divulging their darkest secrets to each other. Of the many things said, one line of Thor’s stuck out to me in particular.
The Odinson of course is speaking about Mjolinir, or more precisely, about his being unworthy to wield it. What strikes me about these lines is not the Odinson’s honesty about how he’s jealous of the new Thor. I’m impressed by what this reveals about his character. The Odinson wants to know why Jane is fit to be Thor and he is not. Translated into other words, I see this as the Odinson wondering why a woman is fit to wield Mjolnir as opposed to him, a man. However, this question isn’t asked in a way that suggests the Odinson views the mantle of Thor as being unfit for a woman. Rather, he seems to be struggling with how such a thing came to be. Like many modern men, Thor seems to wondering what his new role will be in a world where he is no longer the dominant sex (or superhero). It’s not that he begrudges women for their new power, he simply doesn’t know what to do with himself now that he’s not in the alpha role.
While we can sympathize with the Odinson, I find he’s not one to emulate. Hopefully we all reach a point where gender isn’t an issue at all, much less the cause of a life crisis. I think that’s what Aaron is hinting at in this issue. Odin recognizes equality better than his father, the Odison recognizes it more than his father, and hopefully for the next generation of Asgardians, it’s a non-issue. What Aaron shows us here is not only a mirror on our own culture, but also a statement about where he hopes we are in the future. That seems like progress to me.
DREW! I loved this issue. Your thoughts on some of the gender dynamics? Also, Russell Dauterman’s art is spot on as always. I especially liked the page where we get a first person point of view of Thor flying home. Did you like that as much as I? Also, JANE FOSTER?!
Drew: I’ll admit, I was definitely in the Roz Solomon camp, but that’s exactly where Aaron wanted us to be. He devilishly sets up that red herring by witholding information, rather than throwing out misleading clues — our biggest lead was that we hadn’t seen Roz since the series began — but Aaron is able to thoroughly disabuse us of that notion simply by putting Roz and Thor in the same place at the same time. As soon as that happened, Jane was really the only option left, since we had seen almost every other woman in the Marvel Universe fighting alongside Thor at the start of this issue. The letters page features a well-reasoned argument from a fan for why it had to be Jane, and while their evidence is solid, I was just as easily thrown off the trail as the Odinson was.
And I think the Odinson makes for a great audience surrogate elsewhere. Taylor, you suggest that his acknowledgement of gender isn’t something we should aspire to emulate, but I actually think his approach is exactly what the world needs right now. I don’t want this to turn into a debate on whether we could ever truly be “gender blind,” and whether that would actually solve all of the gender-based inequalities we see in the world today, but the fact is, we don’t currently live in a society where we can ignore gender. Perhaps more importantly, none of us were raised in a world where gender didn’t matter — no matter how progressive we may be, we still have ingrained expectations of men and women.
For his part, I don’t see Thor as celebrating that fact, so much as acknowledging it in hopes of being better — he feels entitled to Mjolnir, but he recognizes that Mjolnir is a kind of idealized meritocracy; if someone else deserves it more than him, he can’t hold it against them. That may seem like too pedantic a point to serve as any kind of rolemodel, but based solely on the world’s response to a female Thor, people may be closer to Odin’s mindset than we’d like to believe.
Moreover, even the most progressive among us feel entitled to something, especially when it comes to identities. In the simplest terms, we might identify ourselves as “the smart one” or “the funny one” or “the one who reads too many comics,” and it’s threatening to have someone come in and outdo you in whatever your “thing” is. In that case, the threat isn’t a gendered one — anyone can make you feel inadequate — but it’s a situation where something we may have felt entitled to is stripped away. We should all be so lucky to be as reasoned and egalitarian as Thor, but it’s not so impossible to think that we might lash out to defend our identity the way Odin does here.
In that way, the Odinson also represents the idealized response to the new Thor. Odin throws an ugly fit, aiming to defend what has always been, looking for all the world like folks who bashed this series before ever reading an issue. Meahwile, the Odinson acknowledges that he did like things the way they were — something any fan of Thor: God of Thunder would have to admit — but that he understands that the new Thor is worthy when he is not. To push that audience surrogacy a bit further, all he really wants is to know Thor’s identity. He’s totally wrapped up in the mystery of this series, gender be damned.
And it’s easy to see why. Aaron expertly diverts our attention from Thor’s real identity, while Dauteman utterly dazzles us with page after page of gorgeously rendered battles.
Dauterman is tasked with cramming far more characters into this scene than most other artists would ever dream of, but manages to give each of them a dynamic pose that somehow represents their personality. And did I mention that it’s gorgeous? Colorist Matthew Wilson definitely deserves some credit here — look at how that background says everything about the rainbow bridge we really need to know. Page after page pops with these bright colors, giving Dauterman’s inks an extra vitality.
Which is to say, I can absolutely get behind calling this issue one of the best of the year. Smart, thoughtful writing, beautiful, dynamic art, and a character arc that’s just starting to reveal its depth? I only wish this creative team could continue on through Secret Wars, but alas, as every issue this month has reminded us, “there is only Secret Wars.”
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