Who is Thor?
No, really—who is she, because we’re five issues in and so far Jason Aaron isn’t telling. On the one hand, it doesn’t really matter “who” she is, because, in the end, she is the Goddess of Thunder and worthy to wield Mjolnir. However, on the other, who Thor actually is matters a great deal.
We’ve seen a lot of new characters acting as legacies before. In DC, for a period we had Dick Grayson operating as Batman. For Marvel, Bucky Barnes spent a long time as Captain America. In both these examples, the change was relatively fleeting. Bruce Wayne eventually became Batman once again just as Steve Rogers regained his role as Cap. Of course, not all these changes have to be semi-permanent. Carol Danvers is the definitive Captain Marvel, with no sign of her turning back. John Stewart is arguably the most recognizable Green Lantern, given his appearance in animated series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. This new Thor may very well be the Thor for years to come while the Odinson becomes something different.
But I’m worried—and, I think, rightfully so after five issues of mystery. The actual identity of Thor matters because it lets me know how committed Marvel really is to this change. Context clues seem to suggest that she’s a young Midgardian woman, but that’s about all we have to go on. A solid origin story and explanation for who she is and why Mjolnir trusts her would show me that there’s something real here, but instead, we’re meant to trust that this new Thor goes beyond a publicity stunt. Needless to say, especially in the face of a possible summer reboot, I am watching this story very carefully. I want to trust it, but so far, I don’t just yet—and I think that’s part and parcel of who I think this story belongs to thus far.
At this point, because I still don’t know who Thor is or why she does what she does, I very much feel as though it’s the Odinson who owns the tale. It’s his relationships that are being explored and his investigation into Thor’s identity that is the primary theme of the issue. Yes, Thor is involved and yes, she does act—but I never have the sense that she is the protagonist. There is more made of the Odinson’s past with Lady Sif, of his father’s willfulness, of his mother’s diplomacy, than there ever is of Thor’s goals or desires. By my reckoning, she is a MacGuffin that we are curious about but not a person in her own right.
Of course, that’s not to say that she isn’t a useful MacGuffin in that she generates discussion. In this issue, we get some very direct engagement with the feminist discourse. Aaron raises questions about the naming of differently-gendered legacy characters, positively affirms the feminist movement, and really addresses a number of fan responses about Thor’s gender in the plainest way possible. I’m in two minds about this. I’m not sure that I love moments where I can feel the writer basically telling me what’s up, but this kind of narrative support is relatively rare in comics so I feel that I should appreciate it. I think, in all, it comes off just a little bit heavy-handed for me despite the fact that I admire what’s being said. I prefer just a touch more subtlety in my media, even if I’m enjoying the subject matter.
Still, even if I think Thor herself isn’t written as strongly as I would like, I was very much appreciative of this issue’s portrayal of Freya and Lady Sif. Both characters were dealing with the behaviors of their partners, whether past or present. However, rather than merely being acted upon, both women consistently demonstrated agency. Even as Sif walks away in a certain scene, I am convinced that she exists somewhere off the page. I am convinced that she is doing things to further her own ends—which is not something I can quite say about our titular character, who does little more than fight a baddie-of-the-week and have a chat with Freya in this month’s installment.
I can say that, for the most part, I’m really digging Jorge Molina’s style on this book. I like how, well, pretty everyone is. There’s been a lot written about the depiction of men in comics as male power fantasies and I definitely think Molina has avoided that. Rather than burly and manly, instead, the Odinson often actually just looks really cute and friendly. He’d fit in nicely with the Disney prince pantheon, which is altogether perfect for a book designed for an androphilic female audience.
At the same time, Thor is always portrayed as being powerful as all hell. Despite my thoughts on her characterization, one thing that has held true through all five issues is that she is confident, strong, and a female power fantasy in her own right. Molina does a great job of depicting a Thor who is no less formidable than the Odinson and the Disney-esque style really works for both of them. The art makes the entire book feel more accessible and welcoming—with one exception.
I was a bit disappointed in Titania’s costume. It’s incredibly skin-tight—to the point that I think it might actually just be body paint. We can have a conversation about how intentional it was, whether this is Titania’s own enactment of agency over her body, etc., etc., but in a book that was otherwise doing so well in how it portrayed its women, I found it a little bit lacking. Unless a female character makes a specific statement about her costuming, I’m going to heavily side-eye any drawing of her that seems needlessly sexualized and I’m definitely side-eying this one.
Structurally speaking, though, I very much enjoy the way that Molina puts things on a page. There are a lot of moments where characters and items will break through panel borders, visually implying that they cannot be contained by mere ink. I also thoroughly appreciate the layering of panels on backgrounds and the use of colorful borders. Beyond the feminist enactment of the art, it’s still just a pleasure to look at. Between the character design and the design of the pages itself, I think this series would translate well in animated form.
All in all, I still find myself wanting more from Thor #5. The art is certainly something to be appreciated—and I think learned from, when it comes to trying to understand what comics-for-women could look like—but I’m still missing a solid characterization of Thor herself. Especially given how Odinson-centered the last issue was, I thought more could have been done to assure that Thor really owned this story and I’m beginning to lose my confidence that the big reveal of her past will be enough to justify that lack up to now. I’ll wait and see what happens next month, but I’m worried that once again, I’ll be doing just that: waiting.
The Verdict: 6.0/10