So last month, Jason Aaron’s Thors series kicked off with a story all about numerous versions of Jane Foster (who is currently the actual Thor, keep up) being brutally murdered in order to generate some male agency. Awesome.
Looking back on the debut issue, using the maggot-infested corpses of women to give male heroes something to strive towards still veers dangerously close to fridging for my tastes. More oddly, it seemed like such an uncharacteristic change compared to Aaron’s previous Thor series where Jane was an active and compelling protagonist. (And, y’know, not dead.)
Despite all this, a lot of people seemed to really love this story. Inspite of the problematic connotations of killing women to motivate male characters, many readers still saw Thors #1 as a worthy pastiche of the crime procedural format and an empowering take on Jane. In fact, some argued that Jane is repeatedly killed in order to explicitly underpin how crucial she is to the story. Interesting take, that one.
Whether or not this is the case, Thors #2 doesn’t really follow up on these ideas – Jane!Thor fails to make an appearance and her murdered counterparts are barely referenced by the characters. Instead, the issue appears to be far more concerned in the death of another character entirely (Beta Ray Thor) before devolving into a litany of Thor in-fighting that derails the narrative of this miniseries. The issue’s distracted focus is further compounded by the inclusion of both Chris Sprouse’s and Goran Sudžuka’s pencils; seeing the visuals jump between two styles at will.
Opening on a memorial for the recently murdered Beta Ray, ‘Old Thor’ (yep, the naming conventions in this book continue to spark the imagination) leads the Thor Corps as they mourn they departed colleague. Heavily contrasting the start of #1 (where an anonymous woman’s rotting corpse is hidden under a sheet) Ray’s body is shown being laid to rest with dignity by Chris Sprouse and Aaron dedicates five pages to explaining his history, accomplishments and valour.
The differences between how Ray and Jane’s deaths are treated within Thors underpins just how inappropriate last issue’s treatment of Jane felt. While Jane’s murderer is still at large, the Thor Corps immediately scour the globe seeking out Ray’s murderer as our protagonist (‘Ultimate Thor’) screams for ‘VENGEANCE!’ While Ray is remembered forever as a man who did great things, it already feels as if Jane is the female body with no identity, history or legacy that is already forgotten.
Following the search for Beta Ray’s murderer proves equally troubling as we see numerous Thors attacking, torturing and arresting innocent people, complete with monologue: ‘We search and seize. We detain for questioning. We employ enhanced interrogation techniques.’ While the victims of these attacks are shown to be characteristically ‘villainous’ archetypes – Hulks, zombies and Ultrons – it doesn’t really soften the blow that this is pretty much how a corrupt police force would act. In fact, it reinforces this idea; police brutalisation never happens to the privileged ‘innocent’ but the dehumanised subsections of society that are assumed to be guilty regardless of whether they are or not.
Now if Thors was the story of a corrupt police force buckling under its own immorality then this would be a relevant scene to show but given that the Thor Corps are held as an extension of (God) Doom’s own will, it doesn’t work. Instead it reads as a privileged band of thugs acting without any oversight as they please, which is dangerously close to how the police operate in many parts of our society today in real life.
I can’t even begin to unpack just how inappropriate it is to casually depict what are acts of illegitimate detainment, torture interrogation and unprovoked acts of violence. Much like the casual portrayal of entrenched female violence and objectification, police brutality is another ‘archetypal’ element of the crime procedural genre. However, the concept isn’t being used to anchor Thors’ story, nor is it being engaged with in a meaningful or critical way. The very casualness of its use reinforces its problematic nature.
Allow me to be incredibly clear when I state that there is no meaningful conversation to be had between Aaron’s Thors series and *actual* police brutality occurring today – because there isn’t. I’m in fact arguing the very opposite, Thors lifts a few audacious touches from the headlines in order to provide further grit to its edgy narrative with no cultural consideration.
The fact that marginalised and vulnerable citizens in progressive societies today are dying in significant numbers due to the effects of police brutality means that it is an issue that needs to be discussed – but not in any way like this. Aaron’s previously shown a lack of sensitivity when it comes to depicting cultural issues affecting minority groups – the Accursed storyline for Thor: God of Thunder is practically a master class in how to inappropriately portray a differing culture – and Thors appears to be even worse. (How Aaron managed to top a story arc where Thor literally *brought democracy* to the savage ‘Dark’ Elves in beyond me but he’s succeeded.)
After the Thors search for ‘vengeance’ ends in vain (although Aaron explicitly mentions that ‘the holding cells at Doomgard are packed to the rafters’, so no one was released) ‘Ultimate Thor’ checks in on the Jane Foster case to discover that every Jane Foster on Battleworld has already been killed. Despite this, the mysterious murders are continuing as Throg uncovers a victim called ‘Donald Blake’ (Thor Odinson’s initial secret identity in the comics.)
The revelation that humans who have previously held the title of Thor on Earth are being systematically killed may have interesting consequences as the story progress but it’s also yet another sign that this is not Jane Foster’s story. While I have no doubt that Jane!Thor will enter the story at some point soon, it’s becoming continually more difficult to contextualise this as a story about her on any meaningful level. The fact that Jason Aaron has developed a storyline about every Thor in history working together yet excluding the current female Thor is not only disappointing, it’s becoming very difficult to swallow.
Writer – Jason Aaron
Pencillers – Chris Sprouse and Goran Sudžuka
Inkers – Karl Story with Dexter Vines
Colour Artist – Marte Gracia
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Adam Sorice is a literate graduate turned grown-up who writes about comics when he’s not describing himself in the third person. He wrote his dissertation on Lady Gaga; he’s quite proud of this.