The MIGHTIEST Thor and the Divine Feminine

It should’ve come as no surprise that I grew up to study (and now teach) theology.  As a kid I was always fascinated by mythology.  I had two gorgeous, hardcover collections of myths my parents gave me as presents.  They were the Doubleday volumes D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths and D’Aulaires’ Norse Gods and Giants.  I lived in those books, reading and rereading the legends – creating versions of these ancient deities out of my LEGOs to harass my other LEGO characters – and obsessing over the heroic tales and the trials of the gods.  Exploring the spiritual stories we use to try and express our deepest truths has always been something I’ve loved.  It should be easy to predict then that, growing up, Thor was my second favorite superhero (second only to Spider-Man).  But even as a lifelong Thor fan, I couldn’t have predicted how quickly Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman ‘s current take on the character would become my all-time favorite.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

As I’ve said before, during my absence from comic collecting, the strongest siren call back to that world was Kamala Khan becoming Ms. Marvel.  I was so excited at the prospect of an accurate depiction of Islam in popular culture and the idea of a young, Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager becoming the star of her own comic series.  I was dying to read this!  A very close second was this new Thor.  I was intrigued when, in the Fall of 2014, I heard that a mystery woman would now wield Mjolnir.  I found myself driving by my old comic shop, during those waning days when my willpower was still holding out, thinking about going in and just looking at the covers.  The idea of a female Thor was enticing and when I learned her identity was Jane Foster I was even more excited to see her story!  So, once I was officially back in the world of comic collecting, Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s new vision of The Mighty Thor was one of the very first titles I picked up.  It certainly clicked with me because now I can’t put it down!

The basic setup for the story is this – the events of Marvel’s Original Sin mega-crossover left (Classic) Thor unable to lift Mjolnir.  But the world needs Thor right?  So Mjolnir called to one who was worthy, Dr. Jane Foster lifted the hammer, and she became Thor Goddess of Thunder.  (Classic) Thor ultimately admits that Mjolnir made the right choice and he leaves Thor with the hammer and the name.  Feeling unworthy of either, he calls himself the Odinson and wields a war ax.  While he still exists on the periphery of the narrative, I haven’t missed the Odinson for a moment.  The Mighty Thor gives you everything, as is.  Jason Aaron’s characters are so rich and vibrant.  And Russell Dauterman presents the world of Thor in a way that leaves me speechless.

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The new world of Thor / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

When I write of comic books I tend to focus on my love of the genre and/or the theological/mythological/socio-political implications of their characters and stories.  That sort of academic deconstruction is what I love and how my mind works.  But, as you may note, I rarely talk about the art.  Honestly, it’s because I don’t know how to discuss it or to accurately express my thoughts on the art of an issue.  The vocabulary often seems beyond me.  I’ll also (shamefully) admit to, occasionally, being the type of reader who gets so into a story that he sort of scans the art to get to the next word bubble…only coming back to review it in full later.  But nothing is further from the truth with The Mighty Thor.

Russell Dauterman’s art is captivating.  I am always pulled completely into his panels.  I find myself lingering…just gazing at the worlds he creates.  It’s not just the characters themselves that are so incredibly rendered – but all the magic and exotic locals of the Ten Realms.  The books feels otherworldly when I read it.  The art is as important a factor as the story itself in drawing me back to read this current run with Jane Foster as Thor as many times as I have.  I spend even more time with each panel on every subsequent read.  Each page is enthralling.

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See???  How GORGEOUS is that?!? / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Enthralling is a good way to describe the entire series.  I’ve loved Thor for a looooong time.  I have hundreds of The Mighty Thor comics in my closets from my youth.  Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of Thor is consistently one of my favorite parts of the MCU.  And I even have my own replica of Mjolnir in my classroom to pound on my filing cabinets to get my students’ attention when things get a little too rowdy :).  So I love me some Thor.

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The shelf in my living room / Bobble Head Thor Credit – Kalie

In all the time I’ve spent with Thor, I’ve never encountered a more relevant or interesting take on the character than when Jane Foster lifted Mjolnir to become the Goddess of Thunder.   Jason Aaron’s writing elevates this book so far above what I’ve read of Thor in the past.  This story is always as emotionally charged as it is important.

For me, the first few pages of Thor #2, as Jane gets used to the power/feeling of being Thor are some of my favorite panels in any origin story.  You can feel her exhilaration.  It is so…invigorating.  It’s legitimately exciting simply watching her do her thing.  I find myself lingering on the panels, trying to soak in every detail.

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Jane becomes Thor for the first time (again, GORGEOUS) / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Jane Foster gives us more than just a relatable human standing in the shoes of a god though.  Jane’s battling cancer, which started in her breast before moving to her lymph nodes and possibly her liver.  The Mighty Thor #1, after the Secret Wars and the birth of the All New, All Different Marvel Universe, begins with a moving description of what it’s like to battle cancer, endure the chemo, and live the struggle that is life fighting cancer.  The art is as evocative and emotional as the narration accompanying it.  I feel everything in these panels.  It’s a beautiful tribute to those who have faced this disease.

Again, in a very personal way, this means a lot.  I’m only thirty-three but I have seen too many people that I’ve loved deeply lose their fight to cancer.  I’ve been at the funerals of grandparents, children, and too many ages in between.  But I’ve also been blessed to see people triumph over this disease.  People who, even when the odds weren’t in their favor, refused to back down or give up.  That is strength.  To be blunt, if there’s anyone in our world who deserves to be called “a superhero” it’s those who have faced or are facing this disease.  While it becomes emotional to read at times, I see Jane’s struggle as a loving tribute to everyone who’s been in her shoes.  And Jane, battling cancer, is the most heroic Thor you could imagine.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

To have such an amazing new hero deserves an equally insidious villain.  The overarching antagonists Thor’s faced come in the form of Odin the All-Father and Dario Agger, CEO of Roxxon Corporation.  First, the All-Father.  Odin is such a narcissistic, arrogant bastard that I find myself loathing him.  I know it’s fiction but I get soooooo frustrated just reading his lines.  He makes my skin crawl and my blood boil.  Then, having Roxxon – the Marvel Universe’s stand-in for corporate corruption – be the other main antagonist is another brilliant twist.  In a very real way, in the first world today, the biggest evil we face is not a monster or maniac…rather it’s unchecked greed and corruption.  Mirroring our world again, Roxxon also owns the news.  Roxx News shows our news is all a commodity, with an agenda and message drafted by those with the money/power.  If the lessons from theology/mythology are to save us from anything it’s from the grip of selfish, unchecked Capitalism and the world it produces.

Aaron has written a deeply compelling Thor and has her facing off against villains that simultaneously make the reader think as well as get all fired up.  Who better, after all, to stand against the arrogance of narcissism and the poisonous spawn of greed than a goddess?  In the face of those adversaries, we could all certainly use a little divine guidance.  It is something special to be so emotionally and intellectually engaged in a story.  This Thor, and everything that fills her comic each month, is a revelation…but not everyone thinks so.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Thor has become a polarizing figure in the comic book world.  In many ways, she’s the forefront of the crusade for or against new people assuming the mantles of old heroes.  Kamala Khan is Ms. Marvel.  Miles Morales is Spider-Man.  Sam Wilson is Captain America.  And, of course, Jane Foster is Thor.  Some people love it.  And some people hate it.  Let’s get this out of the way first.  Art is subjective – either you like it or you don’t.  There can be no objective evaluations.  Certain people enjoy some paintings and certain people like others.  So, if you don’t enjoy the stories featuring Jane Foster as Thor, that’s fine.  Thankfully you have DECADES of other Thor stories to choose from.  But to presume that Jane becoming Thor in some way ruins the character is, to be blunt once more, bullshit.  To argue that having a woman wield Mjolnir desecrates the character is sexist, no matter how someone may wish to spin it.

We’re talking about Thor here people.  Thor hasn’t always been Thor.  Eric Masterson was Thor for a long and successful run.  There was even a freaking HORSE THOR in the form of Beta Ray Bill.  And he’s a fan favorite!  There was no public outcry over those shifts in the Thunder God.  I’m a regular reader of comic letter pages and the issues featuring Eric Masterson and Beta Ray Bill were never divided with letters of those who loved and those who vehemently opposed the switch as they are in each current issue of The Mighty Thor.  But now all of a sudden with a female Thor some people have serious problems.

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None of these versions “ruined” Thor – not Horse Thor, not Nineties-Fad Thor, not Heavy Metal Thor / Photo Credit Marvel Comics

In one of my new all-time favorite comic moments Jason Aaron addresses this issue directly.  Thor battles Crusher Creel and Titiana in the opening pages of Thor #5.  As they battle Creel laments, “Thor?  Are you kidding me?  I’m supposed to call you Thor?  Damn feminists are ruining everything!  You wanna be a chick superhero?  Fine.  Who the hell cares?  But get your own identity.  Thor’s a dude.  One of the last manly dudes still left.  What’d you do, send him to sensitivity training so he’d stop calling earth girls ‘wenches’?”  I have read a near-verbatium version of that rant in so many letter pages and on so many Internet comment threads.  In this comic the trolling is addressed directly and I LOVE IT.  So here is the honest-to-goodness academic truth.  Symbolically, mythically, narratively, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Thor being a woman.  At all.

I’ve written before that the growing diversity in comic characters helps them perform their role as mythic heroes and guides.  As more and more people connect with heroes who represent them, the more easily they can identify with what the heroes stand for.  And this is nothing new.  Europe became the center of Christian growth thanks to first the Roman Empire and then the growth of Christendom.  As a result, Jesus is most frequently depicted as white…often with blue eyes and occasionally even blonde highlights.  In reality, he was a Palestinian Jewish peasant and a man with dark skin.  There is no way he looked like the overwhelming majority of the pictures we have of him.  Yet people changed Jesus so they could relate to him.  His message, his purpose remains the same.  But he looks different to make him familiar to those who are worshiping him.

This hasn’t stopped either.  For example, during the Korean War, a Christian missionary suggested that Korean artist Woonbo Kim Ki-chang paint scenes from the life of Christ.  The results are beautiful.  You can also see all sorts of non-white depictions of the Virgin Mary (who, by the way, was historically a Palestinian Jewish woman).  These paintings too are gorgeous…and none of this desecrated or ruined Christianity.  Rather, they helped it grow.  Beginning in the 1970s you can even find female depictions of Christ – called the Christa.  While they may be considered a bit controversial, they too haven’t ruined Christianity.  These varied depictions have ALWAYS been a part of mythology and theology.

What Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman have done has been happening in theological and mythological circles for millennia.  So, if someone feels this change has “ruined” Thor…perhaps the issue is that their sense of masculinity is being threatened and therein lies the real problem.  Classic Thor is, and has always been, very much the prototypical “man’s man.”  He’s big.  He’s strong.  He drinks.  He fights.  He’s rarely in touch with his feelings or his feminine side.  And, even without Mjolnir, you get the sense that he can kick just about anyone’s ass.  He is the male power fantasy personified.  But now that power (a divine power by the way, not something born of gender or sex) has been taken and given to a woman.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Thor and his powers are magic.  There’s nothing genitalia-inherent to them.  Whosoever be worthy…to say that having a woman carry Mjolnir somehow ruins the character is to imply that a woman can’t be worthy.  That is a problem worthy of some serious self-reflection.  The stories that have been unfolding in the Thor comic books since Jane Foster first transformed into the Goddess of Thunder are some of the most exciting, mystical, fun, energizing stories I’ve ever found in The Mighty Thor.  Now, again, if you don’t enjoy the stories, that’s fine.  Art is subjective.  But if you believe the stories somehow ruin Thor in a fundamental way, there’s a problem there…and you’re wrong.  This CANNOT ruin Thor, only expand the reach of the character and the myth.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

The idea of Jane being Thor is also important from a spiritual standpoint.  Myths, all myths, have two sides.  On the one hand, they attempt to connect human beings to the Divine.  So they must be relatable to their audience (and I’ve already discussed how Jane being Thor helps, not hurts this).  On the other hand, they are supposed to reflect/illustrate the Divine.  Superheroes are overwhelmingly male (although thankfully that trend is starting to change).  And often, the identity of the female superheroes we do have is a derivative of a male counterpart.

Titana illustrates this as she battles Thor (also in Thor #5).  She arrives to say, “Thor?  Thor’s a woman now?  Like the for-real Thor?  She ain’t called She-Thor or Lady Thunderstrike or nothing like that?”  In the preceding issue, after Thor and the Odinson save all the other heroes (and, you know, the earth) from a Frost Giant invasion, Spider-Man quips, “Does she have a superhero name yet?  Please tell me it’s Thunder-Woman.  Or Thorita.  Or Lady Hammer Pants!”  To do their job, our mythic heroes must reflect all facets of the Divine.  Thor then serves as a powerful (and greatly needed) representation of the Divine Feminine.

All theologies have this, a male and a female side of the Divine.  In all honesty, whatever it is that we conceive of as God would have to transcend gender.  Yet we often use gendered pronouns as we talk about God to make God seem closer, more familiar.  But all traditions honor both sides.  In Hinduism, for example, the gods Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer) cannot function without their female counterparts.  Saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge that fuels creation, Lakshmi the Love, Beauty, and Delight that fills life with wonders to be preserved, and Kali is the Goddess of Power, Destruction, and Transitions to shape and guide the destruction of creation before it all starts anew.  In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva (one who attains enlightenment and continues to be reincarnated to teach others how to reach Nirvana) can be male or female.  With Taoism, the Yin is female and the Yang’s male.  In the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament the part of God that is Wisdom is presented as feminine, Sophia.  And in Arabic the name of God, al-Lah, is grammatically masculine.  Yet the word that describes the divine essence of God is feminine, al-Dhat.

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Thor and the Odinson fight to save Midgard / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

We have always seen (and needed) both sides of the Divine.  Yes, one side may be in favor over the other at any given point in history, but they are both always there.  Comic book superheroes then need to reflect this as well.  One of their functions has always been to serve us as modern myths, uniting our culture in a postmodern version of what the stories of Achilles, Odysseus, and King Arthur once did for the ancients.  To do that job, as many people as possible need to be able to connect with them…and what they connect with should always strive to accurately reflect the world – especially the Divine essence – all around us.  Thor now brilliantly performs both of these tasks…and does so in one of the most addictively exciting comics on the racks.

Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman have given us a rich, gorgeous comic book in The Mighty Thor.  They have filled the pages with mystical fun and real emotional stakes.  They have made Thor, in Jane Foster, more relatable, heroic, and important than ever.  And they have placed dastardly villains in her way…that also make us think.  There is something special about this character.  There’s just SO MUCH to her!  She’s an Avenger, a goddess, a cancer patient, a hero to Earth and the stars/other realms.  She exists seamlessly in so many worlds at once – and she takes us there with her.  In all of this, Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman have given us a most important gift by so powerfully presenting the Divine Feminine in the form of Jane Foster, the Mighty Thor.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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3 thoughts on “The MIGHTIEST Thor and the Divine Feminine

  1. Hi Mike,

    Sounds like an interesting turn of events. Comic books have the luxury of ‘multiverse’ as it were incarnations of all the characters. Movies don’t always have the time to money to come at the various angles of even on superhero.

    Have a great week,

    GPA

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know – the comics often get to run in directions the movies can’t, with comics coming out monthly for decades and films taking a great deal of time and money for each one. Still, I’d LOVE to see Natalie Portman take up the hammer if/when Chris Hemsworth decides he’s done with the role. I think that could add some fun dimensions to the Avengers films.

      Enjoy your week too!

      Like

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