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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

Donmar Warehouse
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Limehouse raises the question of when party loyalty becomes political irresponsibility

Labour's “Gang of Four” are brought to life brilliantly at the Donmar Warehouse.

A star of the Labour Party right wing, exiled from the shadow cabinet for deviating from the dominant orthodoxy, rants about how a decent but weak Labour leader, with an election-losing anti-European, anti-nuclear manifesto, risks letting the prime minister get away with whatever she wants.

Laughter shows that the audience gets what the dramatist Steve Waters is up to. Limehouse takes place on 25 January 1981, when a gentle veteran, Michael Foot, seems to be leading Labour to such sure oblivion at the next election that Dr David Owen has summoned his fellow moderates Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and (just back from a stint running Europe) Roy Jenkins to Sunday lunch in his kitchen in east London. This meeting led the “Gang of Four”, as they became known, to make a statement of estrangement from Labour that heralded the creation of the Social Democratic Party.

Waters was inspired by a New Statesman interview in which Rodgers wondered if the left-right divide under Jeremy Corbyn might justify a similar evacuation of the pragmatists now. The debates that the play stages – fidelity to party and national tribes against a fear of political and historical irrelevance – feel hotly topical.

Williams, considering an offer to abandon Labour and teach at Harvard, faced then the dilemma of an Ed Balls or Tristram Hunt now. And Labour members today who fantasise about a new progressive grouping might reflect that, while the SDP briefly seemed a plausible alternative to Thatcherism (winning 7.8 million votes at the 1983 election), the middle-class revolution was squeezed externally by two-party domination and internally by disputes over leadership and direction.

But, for all the parallel relevance, the success of Limehouse ultimately depends on the convincing re-creation of an era and its people. Enjoyable period details include the luxury macaroni cheese to a recipe by Delia Smith that Debbie Owen, Delia’s literary agent, chops and fries on stage to fuel her husband’s discussions with his three wary comrades. Waters also skilfully uses the mechanics of a pre-digital world – having to go out for newspapers, going upstairs to answer a phone – to get one character out of the way to allow others to talk about them.

As a good playwright should, Waters votes for each character in turn. Owen, though teased for vanity and temper, is allowed a long speech that honours his status as one of the most memorable orators in modern British politics. Tom Goodman-Hill samples Owen’s confident baritone without going the whole Rory Bremner.

Playing Jenkins, a man celebrated for both a speech defect and rococo cadences, Roger Allam has no choice but to deliver the voice perfectly, which he does. Waters carefully gives the character an early riff about the “crepuscular greyness” of Brussels, allowing Allam to establish the w-sounds and extravagant adjectives. Actor and playwright also challenge the assumption that for Jenkins both to love fine wine and to advocate social justice was inevitably a contradiction.

Debra Gillett refreshingly avoids the scattiness that caricaturists attribute to Williams, stressing instead her large brain and deep soul, in a portrayal that increases the sense of shame that the Tories should lead Labour 2-0 in the score of female prime ministers. As Rodgers (in Beatles terms, the Ringo of the confab four), Paul Chahidi touchingly suggests a politician who knows that he will always be a bag-man but still agonises over whose luggage to carry.

Unfolding over 100 minutes, Polly Findlay’s production has a lovely rhythm, staging the delayed entrances of Jenkins and Williams for maximum impact. Biodramas about the living or recently dead can be hobbled by a need to negotiate objections of tact or fact. Politicians, however, often purchase even the rudest cartoons of themselves for the loo wall, and the real Owen, Williams and Rodgers laughed warmly during, and strongly applauded after, the first night.

At an impromptu press conference afterwards, a genial and generous Owen astutely observed that what at the time was “a very happy day in our house” has been dramatised as tragicomedy. But, regardless of whether Marx was right about history repeating itself the second time as farce, the possibility that farce is being repeated in Labour Party history has encouraged a compelling play that is sublimely enjoyable but also deeply serious – on the question of when loyalty to party can become disloyalty to political responsibility.

“Limehouse” runs until 15 April

Mark Lawson is a journalist and broadcaster, best known for presenting Front Row on Radio 4 for 16 years. He writes a weekly column in the critics section of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution