So I’m about to put my foot in the latest fan mess on the internet: let’s talk a little about Thor.
OK. So a lot of people are mad Thor’s going to be a lady now. I can’t empathize with the rage, but oddly enough this make slightly more sense than being mad about, say, Batman or the Flash being ladies or something. In the latter cases, the characters are just superheroes, you know, whatever. If the person in DC that runs really fast is a lady, who cares? They made the character up. She should invest in a STAR Labs sportsbra probably, that’s about it.
However (and mind you, I don’t know that anyone’s said this, but I assume so), Thor isn’t made up entirely. He’s based on Norse mythology, and that dude was, well, a dude.
OK. Sure. And like I said, I can get why people would be mad. But, you know, I mean, there’s that time Thor dressed up like a pretty princess to get his hammer back, that’s the first thing I thought of when I heard the news.
Did we not know that? Yeah, seriously. Here, I know, pics or it didn’t happen:
“Tor såsom Freya” by Carl Larsson (1853-1919) and Gunnar Forssell (1859-1903) Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
That’s Thor being dressed up by Loki (who, in turn, dressed up like a bridesmaid). They do this because a giant named Thrym stole Mjolnir, and he wants Freya, the super-hot goddess of Asgard Street, to marry him or he’ll keep it. Now, given at least one group of giants are kept away pretty much because Thor once dented a guy’s head, which was so hard it was a mountain basically, using this hammer, this is bad news. This is “some fucking douchebag stole all our goddamn nukes and wants to marry Jennifer Lawrence” bad news. But instead of Jack Baur the Norse gods had Loki, and so naturally he dresses Thor up to look like Freya and takes him to Thrym’s hall. Thrym thinks “Freya” is even hotter in person, and proceeds to try to feel Thor up all evening until Thor asks to see this fancy hammer Thrym got. Thrym hands it over and Thor beats the holy shit out of the giant.
Now, am I saying this is obvious evidence of an ancient Norse comfort with fluid sexuality? No – I mean, that existed in some stories, particularly those to do with the gender dynamics of wise men and women, who were often described with boy and girl parts. But no, Thor’s pissed, dude, and he wants to beat up some folks. It doesn’t help that Loki just makes fun of him the whole time.
However, here’s the big deal: this was the most popular story among the common folk about Thor. Thor was the most popular god, and this was the most popular story. Imagine some rural Christians laughing it up at night as some poet talks about Jesus walking into Mary’s house in drag, just go ahead and try that on (am I accidentally stealing an Eddie Izzard bit here?). So there’s a very real strain of gender fluidity to the Norse myths that manifested in a bunch of different ways.
I suppose this is an obvious point two, but let’s get it out there: while not quite so common in practice, there are quite a few stories about “battle maidens” in Norse myth, too. Brynhild is one, though, you know, she’s famous for all the stuff that happened after she was kicked out of the Valkyrie club for pissing Odin off.
Point three is rather stranger. You should know by now of my affection for Kack Kirby’s Fourth World. You may see it here and here, for instance. Jack Kirby was instrumental in creating the character of Thor. In fact, with the historical perspective Kirby’s later works provide, Thor can look a lot like the Lee/Kirby title where Kirby had the greatest influence on the themes and issues. It’s about a complicated hierarchy of occult worlds passing through and interpenetrating our own. Gods stride among humankind, learning the value as well as the risks of the human condition while the humans grow closer to the gods.
In the Fourth World there’s a character from Apokolips called the Black Racer. I already talked about him in that first post I linked up there, but in short he’s Death, and when he comes to Earth he suddenly, inexplicably enters a Vietnam veteran who’s been in a coma-like state for years, because he called out to the Black Racer, his natural liege. They become one, they basically become Thor and Donald Blake.
That is, despite the thing where Blake is just Thor without his memory, Donald Blake served as a sort of avatar of Thor on the Earthly plane. The thing with the Black Racer takes that concept more literally. So Thor manifests on Earth as Donald Blake (not literally but figuratively), and each side of his persona gains something from the manifestation. That means that in a practical way the Norse gods within the Marvel comics are as the Fourth World gods are: creatures of another world altogether who sometimes link up with humans. In Final Crisis Darkseid must do the same; his worshipers brainwash and physically alter a detective to become a vessel of Darkseid, and in one of the more horrifying scenes of the story Darkseid manifests directly into him, arguing with him about the utility of simply giving up and allowing Darkseid complete control of the physical form.
What does this have to do with female Thor, one might ask? Well, if Thor can be conceptualized within the comic itself as a higher level creature with an avatar extended into Earth, then why the hell can’t it be female? Abstract godforms don’t really even map to humanity on a 1:1 scale, so, you know, fuck it. There is enough within the Thor mythos to support a further extrapolation of godhood and godhead into the avatar state that Kirby himself used in other, very similar comics, and therefore the physical manifestion of the being makes no difference. In fact, this is actually pretty much how every good hero works. Dick Grayson was an excellent Batman because the concept of “Batman” is an abstraction, like James Bond, performed by a series of actors to continue the image/concept in the gestalt mind.
(biographical note: I’m still annoyed with Elementary, the American version of Sherlock, for making Watson a woman. However, in that case I feel it was done particularly to avoid the homosocial/homosexual undertones that Holmes fandom has built up over the years and that has made its way subtly into Sherlock itself and more overtly [and hilariously] into the Robert Downey Jr. movies. In this case I don’t think it was anything but a whitewashing of an interesting but slightly subversive theme).
Also, as a footnote, let me just remind you that a bunch of people were really mad that Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall. They look really fucking dumb now, don’t they?