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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Lady Thor is the Best Thing That Could Happen to the Title... Probably

What, in your mind, is the best Batman story ever?  Is it The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: Year OneBatman: The Black MirrorBatman & RobinBatman the Animated SeriesGotham Central?

Or is it Batman: City of Crime, written by the immensely talented David Lapham?  Maybe Batman: Heart of Hush, by BtAS mastermind Paul Dini?  Gotham Central scribe Greg Rucka's Legends of the Dark Knight?

I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark here and guess that your favorite Batman story is on my first list, not my second.  The first list is full of stories that disrupted the status quo for Batman, changing the way we viewed the character and his world and the types of stories we could tell with him.  The second list is full of well-written stories that play by all the rules we expect them to.  There's a reason you like that top list a hell of a lot more than you like the bottom one.

Change is typically an incredible catalyst for drama, particularly in typically plot-driven stories like superhero comics, and drama is why stories work.  And while we all know that change is temporary - Bruce Wayne will come back as Batman; Peter Parker will come back as Spider-Man - in the meantime, the exploration of what that character meant, what that iconography means, and how the world looks at both when viewed from a different angle is an important part of keeping a character fresh and interesting over many decades of publishing.  There may be no new stories under the sun, but there are a million new ways to look at any old story that can make things feel fresh again.

When Marvel announced today that Thor would be found unworthy to wield Mjolnir - something Jason Aaron has been setting up for twenty issues now - and his replacement would be a woman, the Internet went reliably ballistic, with people accusing Marvel of ruining the character, his book, the movies, the fans' lives, and probably also hopes for peace in the Middle East.  I've seen the phrase 'political correctness' more times today than in the last six months.  And every single person making that argument is wrong.  This is nothing more than change, the same temporary change comics companies are always giving... and that's fucking great!

Yeah, sometimes change gives you Spider-Man: One More Day.  Sometimes, however, it gives you The Superior Spider-Man, or "The Night Gwen Stacy Died," a comic that literally defined the end of an era in comics history.  Sometimes it gives you The Death of Superman, but sometimes it gives you Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? or All-Star Superman.

Because the fact is, the status quo doesn't give you great stories.  It gives you good ones, sometimes.  It can be very enjoyable.  It's typically very comfortable.  But you don't love a character because you read 92 issues of their book, you love a character because you read the right one or two issues.  Because you read something great, something that stuck in your head and wouldn't leave.

The absolute worst thing that can happen with this Thor replacement is that we'll get another handful so-so Thor issues before the regular guy takes over in time for the next movie.  Thor has survived a lot of so-so issues over the last few decades.  I'm pretty sure he can handle a few more.  Marvel and DC do great business on so-so stories.

On the other hand, we could get a Thor run to rival Ed Brubaker's work on Captain America.  We could get a big, epic, character-defining run that revitalizes the hero and his mythos, gives us a host of new characters, and changes the way we approach Thor for years to come.  We could get something great that might reveal something new about writer Jason Aaron's first two dozen issues, giving us the basis for a run that forms the basis for Thor comics for the next decade.

This isn't a move made by Marvel to be more 'PC' or because they're super serious about gender equality.  If that's what they were going for, they'd hire more than a handful of goddamn female creators, not genderswap a character for a year or two.  Very few women that I've seen are cheering this as a 'major victory for feminism', because it really isn't in most ways; female versions of popular male characters have been around nearly as long as the industry itself.  It's an interesting idea, not a statement of purpose from Marvel.  It's a creative risk, one that I'm sure they hope pays off for them in the same way many of their other risks lately have.

Maybe it won't.  But if it doesn't, it's not because Thor is a woman for a little while, it's because Jason Aaron failed to tell the good story, or the wrong artist was attached, or because of editorial interference.  Characters are not magical beings who can create value where there is none; without great stories told by excellent storytellers, there would be no Batman, no Superman, no Captain America.  That's ultimately what it comes down to.

Do you want to read a great damn Thor comic?  If so, this is the best thing that could possible happen to the character.

Unless, of course, it isn't.
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