Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Friday 18 July 2014

Women Characters in Comics

I generally don't talk about comics. They're not my thing. I'm going to make an exception today.

I recently learned that Thor is now a woman.
Read more about Thor

There’s a statement I never thought I’d make. I don’t suppose I ever thought about it at all. 

I am, of course, referring to the comic book character, not the Norse god. OK, Marvel’s long-running character is based on the legends, but you know what I mean, I’m sure.

The comic reading fraternity is... Well, it’s precisely that: a fraternity. The comics industry is male-centric. Men write and draw comics and boys and men read them. It was ever thus. There are girls and women who are comic book fans, and so there should be. Comics are a wonderful medium for telling stories, and I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that women are as rare as hens’ teeth, but anyone who’s ever been to a small, local comic convention knows of what I speak.

My observations also suggest that when women buy comics they’re more likely to buy outside of the mainstream superhero comics. They’re more likely to buy Vertigo titles, for example or Indie comics. It would appear that Batman is a little too boys-own for their liking.

It seems to me to be a shame. 

I suspect that Marvel Studios are doing a little better with their movies. I know that Robert Downey Junior’s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man is pretty popular among women movie goers. I also read this blog yesterday bemoaning the fact that there are so few strong female leads in superhero movies.

The fact is that the big two superhero comic producers have plenty of female characters. DC in particular has familiar standalone heroines that it would not be difficult to deploy, and they do it. They simply don’t do it well, or certainly not well enough. We’re all familiar with Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Cat Woman whether we read the comics or not. And what on Earth happened to Marvel’s The Scarlet Witch?

Trust me, eventually I will get to some sort of point.

So... Thor is a woman.

What a lot of nonsense.

Can you tell that I’ve got a problem with this?

I was discussing this with the husband and the dort yesterday, and, sadly, I couldn’t come up with a coherent argument for why. This is simply an instinct, it’s intuition, but here I go, anyway.

Thor is essentially, quintessentially masculine. It makes no sense to me to make him a woman. The same applies to Wonder Woman (although, to be fair, she comes from a race of women, so it’d be tough to have a male equivalent). The same also applies to Harley Quinn. Harley is a quintessentially feminine character. It would make no sense to make her a boy. I feel the same way about Aquaman, for no other reason than because I do. A female Robin, no problem. Supergirl, fine. 

Let me use Batman as an example. Batman is intelligent, resourceful, troubled, authoritative. These are all character traits and are equally likely to occur in a man as in a woman. Superman is humble, gentle, noble, righteous, again, all universal traits. Robin is impetuous, bold, naive... You’re beginning to get it. 

One of Thor’s key character traits is his masculinity. Strip him of that and Thor simply isn’t Thor any more. The same goes for Harley.

I’m all for gender equality.

My thing is this. The genders are not the same. We must be equivalent, but we should also be different, and we should celebrate the differences, not undermine them.

I don’t know what the point is of making Thor a woman. I don’t know how the story is planned or what the outcome will be. There’s a good chance I won’t read this book. Having said that, I rarely read comic books. For the most part, comics don’t appeal to me very much, just as they don’t seem to appeal to very many women.

I suspect that the reason comics don’t appeal to a great many women is because, where it matters, women have very little input into comics.

There are more and more women getting jobs in the offices of comic book publishers, and thank heavens for that. It’ll take them a while to have real influence as they climb the ladders. I hope they stay around long enough to earn their promotions and begin to have their say when it comes to commissioning stories, writers and artists. It’s going to take some time, and it’s going to take some pretty impressive women to have what it takes to penetrate as deeply as they will  need to into this industry for us to begin to be represented equally with men in superhero comics.

There are a few notable women in the industry, including writers like Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick working on superhero comics right now.

It’s interesting, though, isn’t it, that Gail Simone has written Birds of Prey, featuring an all-women cast, as well as Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Red Sonja. It rather lacks imagination on the part of commissioning editors to think that we need a woman writer to write women characters to attract female readers. I haven’t read Kelly Sue DeConnick’s runs on Captain Marvel or Avengers Assemble, but I’m sure they’re very good. 

As a writer married to a very successful writer, I know how tough it can be to stand in that particular shadow, and I admire KSDC hugely for stepping out of her husband, Matt Fraction’s shadow. It’s easy to be referred to as ‘the wife’ and it’s easy to be accused of nepotism. It’s also much easier to meet other professionals and to network when you already know someone in the industry. It also makes sense to use your contacts. It’s called networking and we all do it if we’ve got the sense we were born with. 

I’m English and we don’t have that sort of sense.

I’m pro Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick and I hope they continue to write comics that both men and women want to read. I hope that they’ll also encourage other women writers to bang on industry doors to be let in and bring their stories to the collective comic book table. 

Sexual politics in comics won’t change by turning Thor into a woman. It is time they changed however. Bringing new creative blood into the industry is the only way to shake things up, and some of that creative blood really has to be female. I hope that some of it will also come in from a multitude of cultures and ethnicities and from the LGBTQ community too. The more the merrier, I say.


  1. That point it exceptionally well made!.


  2. Agreed, very well made point.

    I do find it to be an obvious play to attract a particular audience, subtlety clearly not on the agenda.
    I get that she isn't 'Thor', he becomes unworthy of the title and she takes over, becoming Thor. Simple? Not much!

    What i find most insulting to the intelligence of the readers they are trying to bring in is the fact they made Thor female to attract female readers, then made her hyper-attractive to keep, and lure in more, male readers.

    It's almost as if the creative director got ignored when Marketing made the pitch

  3. or just stfu and enjoy an alternate storyline? or don't... free country... but seriously, complain much? (about fictional characters no less)

    Also, youre neglecting the very real fact some one may, pick up a "Thor" for the very first time, not even having seen Avenger's (not interested / maybe they're 5 years old) and see Thor portrayed as shown, and quite enjoy the story. Female Thor would be their very first Thor experience no less.

  4. Maybe it is a cunning return to the real Thor. According to the sagas, Thor looks enough like an attractive woman when he dresses as one that people want to marry him.

    So, maybe Marvel Thor is still the same Thor but is cross-dressing.

  5. Okay: Joke response first to get it out the way. The guy saved enough worlds, enough times, to make a choice about his gender and be accepted.

    On a more serious note, when it comes to the character, "masculinity" is more a set of other traits than a trait itself. It would be interesting to read how a female character who is just as brash, impetuous, hot headed, loyal, arrogant, noble, and so forth handles the role because for so long it was assumed that Thor happened to be all those things because of what he keeps in his breeches. As a concept I can see how this might be an interesting spin on the character, but have no idea how well or otherwise it is pulled off until I read the comics. There have been several other people who wielded the power of Thor over the years. But if this was done for good reasons or bad, done well or not, is pretty much in the eye of the beholder.

    And of course if you think having a particular character change gender is more to do with your take on that character than your gender politics, even if this subject may well fall in the middle of that particular venn diagram for a lot of folks.


  6. It seems to me that marvel is just getting a felt board and throwing velcro balls at it and what sticks is what they do.