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Thor has been an alien space horse and a frog – is a woman really more fantastical than that?

Marvel have announced that the new Thor will be a woman. Cue outraged cries of “PC gone mad” and “publicity stunt” from a particularly vocal segment of the fandom.

Image: Marvel

Welcome to superhero world, where the most vocal fans are constantly outraged about the same things happening over and over again. Yesterday The View, an American daytime talk show, announced that that an upcoming Marvel comic will star Thor, as a woman.

“It’s a huge day in the Marvel Universe,” announced Whoopi Goldberg. “Thor, the God of Thunder, he messed up. He is no longer worthy to hold that damn hammer of his. And for the first time in history that hammer is being held by a woman.”

Which isn’t entirely true – back in the ‘70s a “What If?” comic showed Jane Foster as the earthly version of Thor, in all her feminine glory as Thordis. And Wonder Woman is among the large crowd of people who have previously wielded Mjolnir. But as writer Jason Aaron emphasised about October’s Thor #1, “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

The reaction to the news was immediate, the story spreading like wildfire across not only comic news sites but with the mainstream press pouncing as well. It isn’t everyday that a new comic is revealed on daytime television, not least for a superhero character that just two movies ago was mostly unknown by the general population.

Character switcheroos are common in superhero comics, with Spider-Man recently putting Doc Ock behind the face of Peter Parker, Loki becoming a child before reverting back to adulthood, and Batman’s cowl being worn by, well, just about all of Gotham. A character switch is not exactly news then, so why the kerfuffle?

Here we have the character of Thor being changed not to a different male character, but to an unknown female character. And thus, much like when Miles Morales, a black Hispanic teen, became Ultimate Spider-Man, or when Alan Scott was reimagined as a Green Lantern who happened to be gay, there are cries of “PC gone mad” and “publicity stunt” aplenty from a vocal segment of fandom.

Superhero comics are ultimately tied to a never-ending cycle: no matter what changes are made by writers, those changes almost never stick as characters are reset to their original status as heroes, villains, or background scenery. Creators can have great fun playing in the superhero sandbox but when it’s time to move on, all the toys have to be put back where they were found, all in time for the latest round of merchandise or cinematic releases.

And yet it’s what happens in those changes that drives people to keep reading their otherwise nostalgic titles – the ingenuity that can be found by each new generation of writers and artists is the spark that results in the genre still producing genuinely great works.

Only lately, and in increasing numbers, those changes are different than before. The cinema, the comic cons, the comic shops, and the fan communities are filled with women who are asking for titles more than ever before. With everyone asking for more titles. People who aren’t just white, straight, and male. Just like the real world!

And all those people have money. An expanding audience who pick up the comic trade collections and turn out in cosplay of their favourite characters. Just days after a new, funkier Batgirl was announced the fans were sharing their new drawings with excitement and hope. Just one day after the new Thor was announced, Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook are full of excited fans (and creators!) looking forward to the new title and wondering what the story will be.

After all, in the 1980s Thor was replaced by an alien space horse and temporarily turned into Frog Thor. Can a woman really be more fantastical than that? Thor’s brother, Loki, has indeed been his sister many times now so whether Thor is hit by some gender-bending persona-splitting lightning, or is banished (again) from Asgard, or goes into witness protection, the Asgardians themselves will be terribly unsurprised.

The ladies of The View though were very excited, as was the whooping audience. “Where did she get her bra from?!” joked Sherri Shepherd, as Goldberg pointed out that this Thor was actually in better proportion than a lot of female superheroes. “She’s got some guns!” co-host Jenny McCarthy added.

The new Thor is indeed a strong looking woman, which doesn’t entirely detract from the boob armour, but it will be interesting to see how her outfit and portrayal plays out.

“The inscription on Thor’s hammer reads ‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.’ Well it’s time to update that inscription,” stated Marvel editor Wil Moss. “The new Thor continues Marvel’s proud tradition of strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Storm, Black Widow and more. And this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!”

It’s not a brand new character as such, those are incredibly rare in an industry filled with septuagenarian heroes, but it does show that Marvel are looking outside that usual default box when it comes to character changes. And when considered alongside a multitude of female led titles from the publisher – Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Elektra, Ms Marvel, She-Hulk, and Storm – it’s hard to be too snooty about temporarily changing Thor in this manner.

Temporarily yes because permanent in superhero comics really means “until we change it again”. But if we’re lucky, new Thor will be fabulous and popular, receiving her own ongoing title at the end of it. And maybe she won’t get stuck with a name like Thordis.

Of course as any comic reader will tell you, Thor is a name rather than a title. But so is Bruce Wayne and he hasn’t always been, well, Bruce Wayne. This is superhero comics, where anything can happen and usually has happened before. 

But this time it was announced by Whoopi Goldberg. That’s one change that is definitely brand new.

Thor #1 is out in October, written by Jason Aaron with Russell Dauterman on art duties.

Laura Sneddon is a freelance journalist. Find more of her work at comicbookgrrrl.com

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Why Podemos will defeat the Spanish Socialists

A new alliance on the Spanish Left will be stronger than the sum of its parts.

On Saturday morning, on a palm-tree lined promenade in the small city of Badalona in eastern Catalonia, a 38-year-old woman named Mar García Puig fanned herself with her speaking notes after taking her turn on the stage.

Until six months ago, Puig was a literary editor with no professional experience in politics apart from attending demonstrations and rallies. Then, in December, her life was transformed twice over. In the national election, she won a parliamentary seat for En Comú Podem, the Catalan regional ally of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Four hours after she learned of her victory, Puig gave birth to twins.

Fortunately Puig’s husband, who is a teacher, was able to take paternity leave so that she could take up her seat. In parliament, Puig “felt like an alien”, she told me over coffee. As it turned out, she had to give up her seat prematurely anyway – along with all the other Spanish MPs – when repeated attempts to form a government failed. So now, in the lead-up to Spain’s first repeat election of the modern era, to be held on 26 June, Puig was on the campaign trail once more in a drive to win a parliamentary seat.

The December general election was as historic as it was inconclusive, ushering in a novel political era in Spain and leaving the country with the most fragmented parliament in its history. Fed up with corruption, austerity and a weak recovery from the global financial crisis, voters punished the mainstream parties, ending the 40-year dominance of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which have held power since the death of General Franco. Neither group was able to win an absolute majority as new parties from both ends of the political spectrum garnered support from disenchanted voters.

On the left, Podemos, which was only founded in March 2014 by the ponytailed political scientist Pablo Iglesias, won 20 per cent of the vote. Ciudadanos (Citizens), formed in Catalonia a decade ago and occupying the centre left or centre right, depending on which analyst you talk to, secured a 14 per cent share.

Despite having four months to form a coalition government, the two biggest political parties could not reach a deal. The People’s Party, which had implemented a harsh austerity package over the past five years, recorded its worst electoral performance since 1989, losing 16 percentage points. It still won the most votes, however, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was the first leader to be asked by King Felipe VI to form a government.

By the end of January, Rajoy conceded defeat after the PSOE refused to join his “grand coalition”. The Socialists then failed in their own attempt to form a government, leading the king to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election.

Despite the inconvenience of having to campaign nationwide once again – and being away from her twins – Mar García Puig’s enthusiasm for her new career is undiminished. “In Spain there is a window of opportunity,” she said. “There is a receptiveness to politics that there wasn’t before.”

When the repeat elections were called, some questioned whether Podemos and its regional allies could mobilise its supporters to the same extent as in December. Yet Puig believes that the party’s appeal has grown further in the six months that the country has been without a government. “We are still new and Podemos has this freshness – it can still make people join,” she told me.

The following day, as the church bells rang at noon in the Basque city of Bilbao, crowds gathered for another rally. For protection against the sun, Podemos supporters had covered their heads with purple triangular paper hats displaying the party name as it will appear on the ballot paper: Unidos Podemos, or “United We Can”.

In May, Podemos entered into an alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), the radical left-wing party that includes the Communist Party of Spain, and which won 3 per cent of the vote in December. Izquierda Unida is headed by Alberto Garzón, a 30-year-old Marxist economist who, according to a poll by the state-run CIS research institute, is the most highly rated party leader in Spain. Unlike Podemos’s Iglesias, who can fire up a crowd and is seen by some as divisive, Garzón is a calm and articulate politician who appeals to disaffected voters.

Nagua Alba, who at 26 is Podemos’s youngest MP, said the new alliance would be stronger than the sum of its parts, because Spain’s voting system punishes smaller parties when it comes to allocating seats in parliament. “It [the alliance] will attract all those people that aren’t convinced yet. It shows we can all work together,” Alba said.

As part of the agreement with Podemos, Izquierda Unida has agreed to drop its demands for a programme of renationalisation and withdrawing Spain from Nato. The alliance is campaigning on a platform of reversing Rajoy’s labour reforms, removing the national debt ceiling, opposing the TTIP trade deal, and increasing the minimum wage to €900 a month. A Unidos Podemos government would attempt to move the EU’s economic policy away from austerity and towards a more expansionist stance, joining a broader effort that involves Greece, Italy and Portugal. It is also committed to offering the Catalans a referendum on independence, a move that the mainstream parties strongly oppose.

The latest polls suggest that Unidos Podemos will become Spain’s second-biggest party, with 26 per cent of the vote, behind Rajoy’s Popular Party. The Socialist Party looks poised to fall into third place, with 21 per cent, and Ciudadanos is expected to hold its 14 per cent share. If the polls are accurate, the PSOE will face a difficult choice that highlights how far its stock has fallen. It can choose to enter as a junior partner into a coalition with the insurgent left, which has politically outmanoeuvred it. Or it could decide to prop up a Partido Popular-led right-wing coalition, serving as a constraint on power. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain