Saturday, 18 September 2010

Why Are These Goddesses Naked, And Where Are All The Others? :- J. Michael Straczynski And The Rebooting Of "Thor", part 1

1.

Where are the women of Asgard to be found in J Michael Staczynski's reboot of "Thor"? For if the reader were to stack up the first three collections of Mr Staczynski's work on "Thor" and then search through them looking for anything other than male Gods, or the effectively-transvestite Loki, you'd reach the sixth chapter before a single female Asgardian appears, and then she'd be nothing but a silent and indistinct background character standing nameless and purposeless behind four lines of seated immortal men at an Oklahoma small-town meeting. Disappointingly, a second look at that figure reveals the likelihood that it actually is Loki, standing apart from his/her fellow Gods. And so, with the exception of the nymphette Kelda, all half-naked Hollywood-willowy, flimsy-negligee and blond flowing locks, who'll we have reason to discuss later, that's it for the women of Asgard are concerned for the first 140 pages of "Thor".

Book Two contains a similar absence of immortal women within its covers, despite Asgard having quite filled up by men by then, with Thor being carried through crowded hallways at 7.1 and 7.2 in which but a single very overweight woman carrying food of some kind can be seen in the background. It takes another 66 pages to catch sight of a few more shadowy and unimportant women, beyond the odd silent and characterless figure in the background of any short flashback. Unfortunately, after such a considerable wait, we're presented after those 66 pages with nothing of any substance beyond Kelda and two thin and faceless and passive goddesses watching three barechested gods playing sport, an audience and nothing more for the men baring their chests and their formidable biceps.


But at least by issue 10 we get to experience our first sign of a substantial number of Asgardian womenfolk, and indeed their substantial chests, collected together in one of Asgard's public spaces, although they're starring in a flashback of a time from long, long before the present day. (10:3.1) You can see the panel I'm describing directly above, for it might otherwise sound as if I'm making the following up. It must be as impossible for you as it was for me to miss the presence at the goldly gathering shown of what appears to be seven naked Asgardian sex workers, Frazetta-esque knock-offs naked except for the odd bracelet and gold-nipple-adorner, all displayed for the reader's attention as quite literally nothing but erotic objects for the male gaze. To what degree this pornographic continuity implant as depicted reflects what was asked for in Mr Stracynski's scripts, and to what degree it's a reflection of Olivier Copiel's artistic initiative, is quite properly impossible for me to say. It's certainly a scene which somebody at Marvel ought to have noticed and asked some questions of, if only for the reason that its interpretation of JMS's line that the women of Asgard competed "... openly for the affection of all those in Odin's court" reduces the previously demure Frigga to a slack mouthed godly groupie competing through sexual immodesty and excess for the sperm-jackpot of a night in the bed of Asgard's lord and master.

Though there are, of course, far more serious matters at hand here beyond the depiction of Frigga, a sadly relatively-minor character in Thor's back-history.

Beyond such brief exhibitions of dull-minded and contemptible pornography, however, the absence of women in the narrative continues. At Baldur's coronation at 10:19 to 10:21, for example, there seems to be but a single woman in the whole of the kingdom who's been permitted into the male space of the ceremony. She can be seen about two-thirds of the way down the right-hand side of the page, a tiny thumbnail head and shoulders semi-figure caught between the two silhouetted helmet horns of a presumably masculine wedding guest standing far closer to the front of panel's frame than she is. She isn't, shall we say, a very prominent figure, but, if you but care to squint, she's there.

I expect she's serving the salty hors d'oeuvres to go with the coronation mead.

2.

But perhaps the single most telling depiction of women in the first three volumes of this reboot of "Thor" can be found at 11:2:3 and, in particular, 11.3.1, where we're presented with the travelling court of the newly-crowned King Baldur, and, wouldn't you believe it, the noble brother and best friend of Thor is journeying complete with at least three utterly naked courtesans. (The status-seeking god groupies mentioned above were at least shown in the context of Asgard's distant past, despite being drawn in the anachronistic style of some very modern pornography, but this scene is very much set in the present.) Most everyone else in the scene, with the exception of the bare-chested functionary with a cloak and polar bear's head over his own, are fully clothed. Baldur himself is dressed sturdily as if for the winter, but those lounging erotic models are obviously made of harder stuff.

But what are these naked and clearly sexually-available women doing there, beyond supposedly thrilling the unthinking make reader? It's never been part of Asgardian royal protocol, as far as I know, to have such pale and wan and explicitly sexually available treats as part of any royal progress, and it's pretty much destroyed at a stroke the forty years of liking for the character of Baldur the depraved I'd previously enjoyed. And I wonder what the other women of Asgard think of this matter, but, you'll not be surprised, they're nowhere to be found in the rest of Book 2 at all. Not a Valkyrie, or an elder Goddess, or a clothed kitchen maid, for that matter.

They don't exist, so they can't challenge the mindless sexism of it all.

3.

There is at least the reappearance of Sif in the Third collection, though regrettably she has to be rescued by Thor from her imprisonment in the body of a dying women in a tale that never allows the goddess to participate, let alone take the lead, in her own resurrection. While the male gods Of Asgard reincarnated by Thor had suffered nothing more debilitating than a sense of purposelessness when trapped in mortal form, Sif, it seems, has to be utterly helpless and on the brink of complete extinction while Thor nobly battles for her soul. "My Lord -- I thought I would -- " she mumbles, a sentence she can't even finish after her ordeal and rescue, a little girl saved by the big strong he-man, who supports her nobly as she despairs. Unlike her lord and master, Sif is obviously not the kind of warrior who can face death with bravery and self-restraint.


In essence, Sif doesn't exist in the narrative to have her own story told. She's just there to be beautiful and helpless and to make Thor look heroic. It would certainly be hard to identify this Sif as an long-lived immortal woman who'd known Thor since childhood and fought beside him for quite literally centuries. You'd imagine, if she were such a long-lived and formidable character, that she would possess some sense of decorum, some concept of status and dignity which would, for example, prevent her dressing like a half-naked teenager as she does at 603:4:3, where not only has she forgotten her shirt, the careless thing, but the top button of her jeans, as if the most appropriate manner of dressing her according to artist Marco Djurdjevic is to cast Sif the goddess as Daisy from "The Dukes Of Hazzard". And later on, as if JMS and the Marvel editorial staff had never considered how all these incidents could be read in sequence, Sif makes a brave and determined start in defending Don Blake from the attack of some monster or other before solving the conflict by, yes, calling in the hardy and masculine Warriors Three to help her out. (Volstagg, that very big man, ends the punch-up and saves them all, and it's noticeable that far more energy is expended on making that fat boy a feasible character than is invested in every other single female character beyond the fragrant Kelda in this brave new reboot of "Thor".)

Never mind, dear. The boys are here now.

4.

It's not as if Sif's calling in the Warrior's Three is by itself a problem, although someone might have noticed that it was something of a patronising scene for a character who's up until that point been shown as nothing but a clingy victim. It's not even that the dressing-down like Daisy Hazzard is of itself necessarily dubious, though it is undeniably stupid, and having Don Blake introduce Sif to his landlady as a "model" is absurd; she's an immortal goddess, Dr Blake, and I suspect, just suspect, that she'd be better characterised by a less shallow alias than "Sylvan the model".

No, it's the combination of all the carelessness touched upon above that leaves J Michael Straczynski's Thor reading as if it were a profoundly sexist book, a comic so appalling in its lack of compassion and good judgement that it really should have been edited into a less effectively-misogynistic shape long before it reached the presses. It's just an awfully regressive product for the 21st century.

And that goes for this reboots effect upon Thor's commercial prospects too, for it's the stupidest of products and carries no chance of accessing the wider marketplace beyond the massed and yet-ever diminishing ranks of hardcore fanboys. For Thor is at least in part a fantasy, and far more of a fairy story than a Howard-esque sword and sorcery tale, and we know, as Mark Millar said this week, that fantasy is one genre that does sell to women. Thor is the perfect breakout book, particularly with the movie on the horizon to raise the properties' public profile, and yet what do we have here? A book which utterly ignores women with the rare exception of showing them as sultry-eyed, bare-chested groupies, barbie-like romantic and sexual stereotypes, or victims in need of a male god's strong hand.

How could Marvel's editorial office ever think that this book could be sold to women, and if they didn't even ask that question, then why ever not? Obviously, more than half of the potential audience for comic books out there is composed of, yes, women, and comics need every fresh body handing over their precious cash that can be found. Women helped propel "Sandman" to the best-selling property it remains, for example, a sequence of collected editions far, far outselling anything of "Thor" that can be put in the marketplace. It's an absurd act of short-sightedness not to want to write for more than a few tens of thousands of, lets be honest about this, blokes.

But more than commercial suicide, it's ethically unsound. Why is Asgard so empty of women, and why is the majority of the narrative empty of any immortal women - beyond a brief appearance from the "evil" Enchantress - except for the girlish and yet immortal seductresses Kelda, shown here walking through darkened backstreets half-naked and picking up inexperienced burger-flippers in a small Oklahoma town? And why, again, isn't the story more informed about the fact of gender, since its attempt at a tragic love story surely founders upon the fact that if the genders of Kelda and Bill had been reversed, the story would have read in far less appealing fashion than it's intended to. There's a great story to be told about immortal goddesses pretending to be suitable lovers for men barely older than boys, but this isn't that. Instead, it's nothing more than ill thought-out masculine wish fulfillment, and it relies on the reader being male and so in love with the idea of an eternally blond and girlish lover that the moral and credible aspects of the whole matter are subsumed by a thin sexual fantasy.

Bill does finish off murdered, of course, but as a consequence of Asgardian treachery rather than Kelda's predatory selfishness, and Kelda herself ends up dead, quite literally heartless, and reliant upon Baldur of the travelling whore-house to restore her to life in writer Kieron Gillen's story tying off some of the JMS loose ends. The eternal old woman's love affair with the very naive young man was therefore quite laudable and romantically tragic where this comic book's take on the whole sorry tale is concerned, and Kelda's reliance upon another eternal and profoundly masculine character to save her some kind of marker of Baldur's strength and heroism.

It's as if nobody looked at this material and asked themselves what it might actually be saying beyond the narrow confines of superhero continuity. For there has to be more to the women of the reborn Asgard than Kelda in her silk nightdresses.


5.

But the depiction of women as one or other of the age-old shallow gender stereotypes doesn't end with Mr Straczynski's depictions of the immortals. The apparently unnamed small town that Asgard borders upon, for example, is a largely male-dominated society. The meeting of the town council and the meal served for the Asgardians are both attended by far more men than women, and the town diner becomes more and more of a male preserve the further into the collections the reader goes. And with the exception of Dr Jane Foster, the only other appearances of mortal women in the story are when they pop up in throwaway and subservient roles, as, for example, airline check-in girls too ignorant not to take a huge pile of what's claimed to be gold in return for a plane ticket. (Er, did they test the gold, and did they then check with their line-managers that the procedure was a good idea? And does JMS ever turn down a good idea that occurs to him because it's utterly implausible and might throw the reader out of the story?)

Dr Jane Foster, however, is in many ways the most quietly astonishing example of how utterly insensitive Mr Straczynski is to the matter of gender in these tales. For Foster is here reduced here from a highly respected and competent Doctor who's rebuilt her life post-Donald Blake, to an emotional imbecile who's divorced her husband and lost custody of her child all in the hope that Thor's alter-ego might, just might, come back to her despite there being no evidence for such a hope coming true at all. Serves her right, the reader might think, that both Thor and Blake have no intention of doing so, or it would if it were it believable that this grown-up professional had suddenly devolved back to the emotional immaturity she displayed around 1963 in "Journey Into Mystery".


I have no idea what possible reason JMS had for creating the story line that reduces Jane Foster to a love-sick middle-aged idiot who sacrifices her child on the off-chance of getting back with an old lover, especially since the whole plot resolves itself with her all alone, with neither Blake, husband or child. Mind you, she does later, at the end of Book 3, get to fulfil the traditional female role of calling up Don Blake while helpless and asking if the big strong Thor can come out and protect NYC. I'd imagine that even Mr Straczynski couldn't bring himself to write a scene where Dr Foster screams so loudly in terror that the floating stone walls of Asgard-above-Oklahoma conduct the need for Thor's presence to his godly ears. (Especially since Thor had been exiled, again, from the woman-less halls of Asgard by that moment anyway, one of several points we might discuss in part two of this piece.)

But then at least the narrative is consistent where women are concerned; they're all defined by their desire for men and their reliance upon them too, from Frigga to Kelda to Sif and Jane Foster, and none of them possess a life worth a hoot, it seems, without that all-important male-other validating their existence and striving to protect them from all the many bad things that threaten helpless women. Whore, seductress, helpless princess, and daft man-less urban professional. All female life is very certainly not here.

Even brave Mrs Chambers, whose struggle to stay alive so that Thor's lover's soul can be rescued serves as the single unambiguously heroic act by a woman in these hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of pages beyond a few punches thrown by Sif, can do no more than persevere in silence until the tragically heroic Thor is summoned to save the day.


6.

The matter of gender is without doubt the single most objectionable, and indeed utterly inexplicable, component of this reboot of Thor, but its not the only perplexing decision that Marvel's editorial office signed off on where the book is concerned. I hope you might join me in the near future for a look at some of the other quite baffling decisions made when this opportunity to reboot Thor was kicked into the marketplace.


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22 comments:

  1. In this context (manly Norse gods) you could see similarities in the samurai of feudal japan: trained to do all the manly duties such as might be expected of a godly boys-only outfit, and of course institutionally misogynistic as a consequence: but the (possibly logical) end result of this elevation of the fraternity to almost divine status is that they also practiced homosexual affection between the members of their brotherhood since only the company of men in all things was good enough for this elite (almost divine) class of warrior - perhaps this is what's going on with JMS' Thor?
    I can think of few other reasons for all the rippling muscles and stoic profiles of Thor and his ilk captured in lens-flared slow-motion glory as they fly airily about in their skintight costumes, often captured in low-angled perspective so their crotch is thrust at the reader. It would also make sense that Thor and his cohorts - viewing women as outsiders or undesirable company - would spawn a transgender Loki as the ultimate mischief-maker, never quite one of 'them' and whose presence is unwelcome.

    As to why Marvel thought they could sell this book to women, I'd suggest for the same reason they though they could sell it to gay men: musky men hanging out with each other being all manly and that? FRIED GOLD if you're a lady/gay man who wants to look at something homoerotic.

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  2. Hey, if you think these comics are sexist, just wait until you start listening to rock'n'roll music!

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  3. To some extent this is going along with the original Norse mythology (which Marvel has tended to ignore big chunks of), where the gods were macho types and drinking, feasting, fighting, and shagging where what the heavenly ideal was. The feasting and nudity isn't out of line here.

    Except the Norse did have a number of goddesses - Iðunn/Ydun/Idunn, Freyja, Frigg the Queen of Asgard, Eir etc - , the Valkyries, the Norns, and various female elves, giants, and other supernatural entities. IIRC there were also some female Viking warriors, so based on that (plus any later warriors in the Germanic & Scandinavian nations; if Valhalla covers the whole Earth, expect a lot of WW2 Soviets) there should be women in Valhalla. (Do they - and gay warriors - get naked men competing for attention?)

    - Charles RB

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  4. Your essay makes me sad and wondering what happened to the JMS who created the likes of Cmdr. Ivanova and Delenn. Also more thankful for my first two volumes of the classic Simonson run...

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  5. I read the 3 JMS Thor trades over the summer. Luckily, I read them for free . There was just enough there to keep me reading, but I didn't like it, ultimately. I'm sure you'll go into some of the other issues I had with the comic in your next post, so I'll refrain from commenting further until then.

    Except:

    I'm ashamed to say that I didn't pick up on just how horrendous the gender politics were in the stories. The Kelda situation was quite obviously bad, not to mention the scene with the underdressed goddesses. I don't think I processed the full implications of Sif' & Jane's situations. Maybe I'm too used to damsels in distress, even super-heroines. Maybe I'm used to female supporting characters' actions being defined by how they react to the male heroes. The big, obvious stuff- rape, gratuitous violence against female characters, unnecessarily exploitative art - I pick up on fairly easily. I didn't miss all the problems in Thor, but it was worse than I thought.

    I hope you're enjoying the weekend, and I look forward to your next post.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  6. Mr Brigonos - the oddest thing about this rebooting is that readings such as yours, for all it's a fusion of analysis and of course satire - start to seem, absolutely sensible, because the text itself is so unbalanced that only extreme readings can really make sense of it. Your summary of the positioning of Loki in the text is one I truly regret I didn't come to myself, and if I lift it for a future piece, I shall of course be crediting you.

    It would indeed make me laugh with some sadness if there'd been any discussion of the areas of the market this book was going to sell to beyond the hardcore fanboy. I honestly think that this misplaced product's creation can only be ascribed to the category of a grand big unthinking mistake. If not, whoever ascribed to that fried gold theory ought to have been reminded that only a segment of the male gay population shares such a reading of what homoerotic involves, and that there's a long tradition of gay members of fandom showing a great measure of engagement with interesting depictions of all species of humanity, an example of which would be the women of the X-Men and the LSH. And that was long before the popular media decided that all gay attention focused on women must be some kind of "diva" association.

    The irony is, I suspect, that the basic humanity and inclusiveness which would appeal to most readers of most groups - straight, gay, somewhere inbetween and not bloody interested at all, a larger group we're told than our culture wants to consider - is what's missing here.

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  7. Hello Mark:- ah, yes, your rock-and-a-roll, a fearsomely liberating and yet corrupting mode of communication and indeed rocking out, I'm told. One day I may well partake of the forbidden fruit of the 45 and 33, but when I do, I shall hold tightly to the protective charm which shields the innocence of all of those who sway to the bass player’s runs, allegedly;

    "A-wop bop-a loo-bop, a-wop bam-boom!"

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  8. Hello Charles, and of course your comment exposes the illogic of this version of Asgard. If the conceit was that modern sexual politics have no place in a Norse setting, then it's the duty of the creators to present us with a truly informed Norse setting and to depict the far more complex gender roles that operated there than have been presented here. Verily, 'tis not been done. And the moment that creators start meddling with the source material, which as you say places women in a far more prominent and important place in society than this reboot does, for all that their positioning is hardly that of the modern west, is the moment that creators are responsible for the changes they make. Indeed, this version of Thor is in many places a direct contradiction of not only what we know of Norse culture and society, but of Thor's almost-50 year history, which has seen a limited measure of gender equality infiltrate its narrative with the passing of the years.

    So, this is neither historically true nor consistent with the developing sweep of Thor's history, meaning that its the creation of the team who's names are on the cover, and I can't see what defence they might put forward for women being so absent from the text.

    Thanks for so effectively displaying just some of those female characters and roles which this reboot decided, consciously or not, to not include in this take on Thor.

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  9. Hello Lurkerwithout - reading those books a few months ago made me feel extremely sad too. It makes no sense to me that a man as openly committed to a humane sensibility as JMS should create and sign off on such a piece. I can only assume that he just didn't see what he was by accident and in all good intentions creating. After all, there's a huge numbers of pages in the three collected editions I read and then read several times more, and there's nothing in them to provide an alternative reading to oppose the conclusions I reached here; it's not as if I've willfully distorted slight issues. Indeed, I left out material such as Mrs Chambers last words, simply to avoid over-egging the points already made.

    You're right about B5, for example. JMS has a body of work which displays a commitment to oppossing prejudice. And having spent £35 of birthday book tokens last week on two of his Spider-Man collections, I hardly regard him as a toxic creator. Not at all. But this was work that wasn't worthy of him, or at least, it was in my opinion.

    Sad is indeed the word.

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  10. Hello Mike;- I too of course wish you the best of the weekend that's left.

    One of the reasons I left a few months between reading the JMS Thor collections and writing about them was that I wanted to be damn sure I wasn't imagining what I was reading. And one of the reasons for that was my decades of teaching social science, where I was constantly deconstructing texts with students and constantly discovering how easy it is to mis-read texts and to create complex arguments on dodgy first principles. What you wrote above reflects very well on one part of this process, namely how we're programmed by the constant exposure to culture to take its components as givens rather than choices. It was a shock to me to be thrown out of the JMS Thor by its content, but I wonder how I would've read it without those decades of teaching that particular discipline, and I've wondered alot whether that makes my reading one which has any value beyond myself.

    And so I really have pondered this one. I know this is a little blog, and I know that it isn't a tastemaker nor should I seek to make the noise to make it into one. Noise for its own sake repels me. But it's still a big deal to write such a piece for me, because by my nature I hate conflict and rarely does making even the slightest waves feel anything other than uncomfortable to me. But reading your comment made me feel more comfortable, and I hope it's alright that I feel that way. (I'm not trying to steal your words and add them to the banner of a "cause".) There's something so unfair about this Thor and I wish it might be discussed more widely. Sadly, I've not got the skills or the reach to do so, but it's been good to experience the too-ing and fro-ing of the comments here, from satire to analysis, from emotion to logical review.

    Thanks for the words, Mike. As always, they're much appreciated.

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  11. " as you say places women in a far more prominent and important place in society than this reboot does"

    I've seen this come up time and again in blogs by feminists and fans interested in racial equality: both historical fiction and fantasy loosely based on historical eras tends to ignore that women did have some role in socitieis & non-whites existed. To a great extent this is not malicious, just the result of not doing much research and society's lack of knowledge - it's only recently, AFAIK, that the general public's realising not everyone in Elizabethan London was white, and when people hear "Romans built Hadrian's Wall" they won't realise that means "Roman auxillaries from their colonies were doing it". But the result is still an unfortunate whitewash.

    I know a blogger who loves Warhammer who is still irritated that Games Workshop did so much research and care when crafting the European-esque parts of the Warhammer world (it's based on the Holy Roman Empire years), but South America is represented by savage Lizardmen who use a hodgepodge of different cultural bits and are basically the old Savage Aztec Native stereotype.

    - Charles RB

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  12. I think Peter David's take on Thor 2099 (during the crossover 'Fall of the hammer' that ran in the 2099 books) probably hit the nail on the head when the character rebukes an educated, headstrong woman for questioning his patriarchal attitudes with the simple "we are gods for men", as Thor 2099 was an artificial creation whose worldview made no real sense, it was merely a dog and pony show for the masses much as he was, though I doubt very much if that kind of commentary is going on here.

    And "satire", Col? I'll have you know warrior cultures and love between men go hand in hand, from Spartans to Romans to Native Americans, and without expressly stating otherwise in the script, there's no reason to assume Thor's sausage-fest Asgard is any different, based as it is on collective human mythology.

    And 'homoerotic' was a poorly-chosen word on my part. Is heteroerotic a word?(1) Well I meant something like that in the context of comics - that females and gay men were being sold objectified and idealised versions of the male body in the same way straight male fans are sold a Lara Croft, a Ms Marvel or a Supergirl. Chick lit (whatever your opinion of it) has been sold for quite a while with pictures of manly men draping swooning ladies across their arms (Fabio made a career out of it, that guy who plays Twilight is currently doing much the same thing) and I'm suggesting that women might buy Thor for much the same reason they'd buy (/Googles "Fabio covers") Flowers From the Storm.

    I agree with you - though I may simply have a disproportionately good opinion of humanity in general - in that I don't think straight readers are turned off by reading about gay characters much as men aren't turned off reading about women. If I don't want to read a Northstar comic, it's not because he's a homosexual but because he's more than a wee bit dull.


    (1) Not according to my spellcheck, but the bastard thing keeps putting 'z' in every other bloody word, so I'm damned if I'm accepting its opinion on the matter.

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  13. Hello Charles:- you're absolutely right, and of course that was exactly what I was getting at. If the excuse for NOT adapting a myth to modern circumstances is that "it wasn't that way when people believed in it", then the alternative to being socially just by updating material is not "to make things up". It's either complete fiction or considerable historical research, I'm afraid, but to cloak making things up with a spurious excuse of authenticity is too often the way of things. (Not that JMS made any such excuse, but I've read it made on his behalf.) It's something which I'll be getting my teeth into the next piece on Thor in a different context too, and of course it's come up re: The Red Seas in 2000AD, where the historical reality has been ignored though the creators there HAVE put into place a fairer sense - in the modern sense - of roles for women and people of colour. (Not too much a fairer role because of the huge cast there obscuring individual stories, mind you, but something of one is always evident.)

    I've never understood the resistance to the concept of research in many parts of comic-land. It strikes me that the amount of plot-points that tumble out of a single chapter of a history book would surely power the development of a comic book and mark it out against most of its run-of-the-mill competitors.

    As always, your examples are perfect. I also enjoy those historical reworkings which miss, for example, the culturally-unique takes on sexuality which mark different historical epochs. The Spartans, for example, have rarely been served well in historical fiction, even putting aside the woeful 3000 Spartans and Miller's work aside. The patterns and interplay of hetro- and homo-sexuality in Spartan society just seems too challenging to 20th and 21st writers of fiction on the whole. Bad enough to have to recognise same-sex relations, it seems, but to then have to deal with the fact that they co-exist in a system with hetrosexuality .... well, it's almost as if real life isn't as banal as a great deal of fiction.

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  14. Hello Mr Brigonos - forgive me, I meant satire in the sense that I didn't think that Marvel had thought through the issue of whom to target the comic at beyond the existence fanboy audience, and certainly not satire about the undeniable truth of same-sex relations of one kind or another in all-male military cultures. Ever since reading Mary Renault as a young teenager, the concept of same-sex relations in military cultures has been a given for me, and strangely enough, my sexuality doesn't seem to have been affected by knowing of that fact in any way at all. (It's almost as if the guardians of morality are fibbing about how sexuality gets established in individual human beings.) I've always found the same-sex relations of the Persian Immortals and the Theban Sacred Band Of Brothers to be quite fascinating, and as long as Frank Miller doesn't get his paws on their stories, I'd love to see somebody stand up to the challenge of writing about them in comic form. (No doubt it's already been done, but I've not been made aware of such.)

    You're absolutely right that that homo-erotic word is one with a often-changing and often-deceptive meaning, isn't it, and yet I find myself using it at times as shorthand too. It seems to have become associated in the press with (a) any kind of same-sex physical attraction, which is then assummed to fit (b) any stereotype of gay sexuality the papers want to patronise or bash.

    Your comment about Northstar made me consider my own attitudes. He's a poor character, though I do recall a - shock! -Chuck Austen X-Men where he's asked by the Prof to teach at the school and he came across as a damn bright and witty character. Yet, I do think that a book with a gay lead character - even if not Northstar - would find itself at a disadvantage in the market, just as Black Panther and Power Man did in certain markets in the Seventies, allegedly. And just as with them, it's about time that a great big foot in the door was placed down. The coming Batwoman book should serve to do that, but another two or three books would help. And further to our discussion about Marvel targetting audiences; the various gay markets and those social niches which associate social justice with items of interest could be snared by such a product too.

    Considering how the hardcore hetrosexual market isn't exactly functioning well at the moment anyway, I'd suggest that the Big Two start aggressively targetting everyone who'll listen in the name of self-interest as much as anyone else. And if both companies get a few non-trad-sexuality books out there, bigots won't be able to boycott one companies books without dropping the other too. I suepct that'd make any resistance very difficult indeed; superhero fans got to get their addiction fed somehow.

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  15. I was just re-reading the first appearance of Beta-Ray Bill in which Sif stands on a giant space battleship fighting an endless stream of demons, protecting a spacefleet containing the last remnants of a species. The above just makes me sad. I haven't read JMS' Thor yet but was wondering about picking it up (I am a big fan of B5), I might stick the money in an old sock and save up for the fat Thor Omnibus. As you've said many times before this is short-sighted because you are restricting yourself in the stories you can tell, in the diversity of characters you have to play with and (if we want to think about the bottom line) you are potentially harming the franchise by not having strong female characters that can appeal to ladies but also gents who like more than just simpering eye candy.

    I do like the sound of Mr B's reading but you'd hope if this was it (or a commentary on the gender roles in the Viking era and possibly the homo-eroticism of the whole thing, although I think Mr B might have been angling for something closer to yaoi as a distinction from bara) someone would have hung a lantern on it (not literally). In fact if someone had wandered in, looked around Asgard and said "This is a bit of a sausagefest" I'd buy the hardcover set of books ;)

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  16. Hello Emperor:- and the "sausagefest" line would've won a great deal of cred back for the book, because one of its chief weaknesses, to say the least, is not that it's so miserably offensive, although it certainly is, but that it shows NOT A SINGLE SIGN of anybody ever worrying about gender affairs at all. It's not a book that's ignored women to make an ironic point about its audience; it's a book that's ignored women because nobody cared to remember that women even exist. It's shocking because nobody cared.

    If you do get a chance to read/own those JMS books, I would recommend them, although I wouldn't delay the downpayment on the coming megaOmnibus! But of course I could be completely wrong about the sexism here, and if I'm not, well, what better textbook on how to (not)to write could there be?

    I too have a great deal of respect for B5. Wha'ppen?

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  17. What happened indeed. I am going to be keeping a closer eye on JMS from now on (I believe the Loki trade is being reprinted soon and I'll get the Twelve trade because of Chris Weston's art too), if this is just a Thor thing then it might be some point or feel he was going for - an all-lads-in-the-longboat kind of thing (but if so surely you'd need non-Asgardian to provide an outsiders perspective?). If it is part of a larger trend then that could be... troubling, especially as he has written strong female characters before (as mentioned above). I might have a skim of Rising Stars and see if anything new jumps out at me.

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  18. Emperor, you're right to say that JMS's future career will repay some considerable attention. The Capra-esque - though far-less convincing - focus on "everyday Americans" that was signed up so prominently in Thor has certainly appeared again in what I'm forced to admit is a bloody wretched run on Superman, and I can't remember a great deal of female presence in those tales either, though I've not got the issues at hand and am happy to be proven wrong.

    Believe me, Emperor, there's no celebration of an all-lads-in-the-longboat lifestyle of any sort in his Thor. It's the most persistently miserable comic I can recall.

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  19. Coincidentally the Comics Scholar mailing list (you should sign up) circulated this call for papers on the subject of "Gender and Superheroes." You should consider submitting something. I've found these pop culture publications open to interested amateurs as well as academics (even if I never got round to writing "Zombies of the Buffyverse" that got a provisional thumbs up).

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  20. Hello Emperor - someone was kind enough to send me a Comics Scholar e-mail, but I can't find it, which, in my mess of e-mails and the like, is not unusual, but to be regreted. I actually have no idea what CS but it sounds interesting, so I'll check it out.

    Zombies of the Buffyverse? Sounds fine to me

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  21. Unwillingness of comic writers to do basic historical research to be somewhat galling.

    A five minute Google search reveals that the Norse were, by the standards of their era, gender egalitarians. Women were able to own property and had some role in civic life. If JMS was going to deviate from the Lee-Kirby tradition, then he had historical justification to show more equality and a broader range of female roles. That he chose not to is disappointing. The tradition that he seems to be working from is closer to Marvel's old Conan and Red Sonja comics than any version of Thor.

    Sadly, you have piqued my interest in this series. A well-written critique (even a pan) always sends me scurrying for the source material.

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  22. Hello Dean - I too always respond with curiosity to books which have been panned, and I'd appreciate you considering letting me know if you find I've been unfair on that take of Thor.

    The Vikings, for want of a better term to use as shorthand, have always been fascinating as a culture to me. My great hero - Alfred of Wessex - was of course one of the great Viking fighters of his age, and through his experiences I began to study his enemies until they were no longer "Alfred's opponenets", but another group of cultures worthy of study and respect on their own terms. And the gender relations within those cultures were varied, subtle, and as you say, often surprising to the modern mind. I feel sure that even the most basic historical arguments about the relation of gender to the public and private spheres in Northern European cultures escaped JMS's attention. But then, his portrayal of the mass of male gods in Asgard is similarly bereft of historical detail. If I could, I recommend him the Icelandic sources for an eye-opening beginning on how remarkable a Viking culture could be. It'd certainly leave JMS wondering why he made his Asgardian males so passive and stupid.

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