by Taylor Anderson
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
When it was first announced that a woman would take up the mantle of Thor a couple years ago, people were shocked. The uproar about this wasn’t so much about a different person being labeled Thor, but the fact that a this person was going to become Thor while using the Odinson’s signature hammer, Mjölnir. (I would be remiss not to mention that blatant sexism and fragile male egos also contributed to the backlash against a woman being named Thor, but that’s a different discussion entirely). There have been plenty of versions of Thor in the Marvel pantheon, but the idea of Mjölnir going to someone else seemed to agitate fans. That this bothered people raises a question: if a person is Thor, or a version thereof, based on which hammer they wield, who is actually the hero, the hammer or the person who uses it?
This questions is addressed head-on by Jason Aaron in Mighty Thor 21. Enraged by the deaths of innocent children at the hands of Muspelheim Flame Riders, Volstagg takes up the hammer of the Ultimate Thor and becomes the War Thor! On a quest for vengeance, the War Thor destroys an entire army of the Muspelheim in the bat of an eye. However, all of this bloodshed seems to not sit well with Volstagg.
In a fit of passion, Volstagg seems to remember his humanity (divinity?) and questions his bloody actions. However, the call of the Mjölnir is too much for him and he picks up the hammer once again. With the hammer in hand, he renews his vow of vengeance and blood, even though it seems it is something he doesn’t want.
This calls into question the nature of the Thor hammers. Volstagg seems to not control Mjölnir so much as it controls him, which is as set of circumstances I’m not use to considering. Generally, it’s believed that the person who hold Mjölnir also controls its power. This explains why Jane Foster makes for such an amazing Thor — she is an amazing woman only made greater by the powers Mjölnir grants her. However, in Volstagg’s case, the hammer has a mind of it’s own (more blood!) and Volstagg is a servant to its lust. This is a new crinkle to the Thor mythology and now that Jane has transformed into Thor — perhaps forever now — it calls into question the reliability of the Thors. Do they bend to their masters or do their masters bend to them?
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
This feels like the beginning of a story, and hard to discuss without knowing the rest. THe important idea is that Volstagg has lost control. That the hammer is controllign Volstagg, but the why is still unknown (this didn’t seem to happen to the Ultimate Thor on Doomworld, who has levelheaded). But I think it is worth noting the importance of agency and active decision.
Regardless of whether the hammer is controlling Volstagg or something else, the big value is the act of choice. What makes Jane seen as heroic (even the narration confirms this) is that at the end of the day, despite the cost, Jane always chooses. THe War Thor, regardless of the truth of why VOlstagg is like this, is not heroic and shows no agency/decisionmaking. And that is a very important differentiation. Jane isn’t a hero because she picked up the hammer, but because of the choices she makes. There is more to being Worthy than the hammer.
(Also, I missed Dauterman this issue, especially with Enchantress. Dauterman is one of the few people that can pull Enchantress off. SHe just looks weird and stupid under other people’s pen)
(Also, also, how much agitation was there really when Beta Ray Bill, Captain America, Superman, Eric Masterson or a random frog picked up the hammer? I think all of those were essentially approved of. It is only with Jane that there is actual, meaningful agitation)