This is not something I ever intended to confess on any site I wrote on, but in this case it is necessary for context: I am a woman who writes under an androgynous penname to partake in comics criticism on the internet.
I have never covered up my identity on the rapid-fire social media platforms I have posted, so it works more as protective first-impression measure than anything else. It prevents readers, subconsciously or not, from automatically taking my work less seriously based on my byline. It also, hopefully, keeps me a half-step away from danger if I post something that pisses the wrong type of men off.
Criticism in its ideal form demands the critic to be as honest as possible, making the use of a penname a little ironic. I’ve tangled with the choice as a moral issue ever since I began writing for comics-based websites and, although there are many famous women writers who achieved success based off their publishing anonymously (Jane Austen) or under gender-ambiguous pseudonyms (the Brontë sisters) throughout history, it’s not a detail often discussed in comics circles. This is mainly because there haven’t been many women who have created mainstream comics, but also because most of the ones out there now such as Kelly [Sue] DeConnick* entered the industry with the specific goal of making a positive, female example. Anonymity, also, isn’t the best route for any person trying to get themselves into a tiny industry that depends on networking.
Needless to say, pennames for women writers do not come up in actual comic books often due to their lack of relevance to the creators. On the other hand, pennames are quite similar to secret identities, which are one of the most famous features of superhero comics. Secret identities used to work as a dichotomy in order to explain where heroes were when they weren’t being heroes, as in the case of Superman, or how they funded their vigilantism, as in the case of Batman. Nowadays, secret identities are seen as a necessity in order for heroes to not only keep at least one part of their life sane and free from villains, but also to shield their loved ones.
Just like how a woman writer may write under a pseudonym to avoid harassment, or worse, from angry internet commenters.
The new Thor run by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Jorge Molina throws a new twist into the idea of the secret identity. But first, let me draw us back so that we can see the bigger picture. The new Thor run, after Marvel’s rabid promotion of it on The View of all places, has mostly focused on the mystery of the new female Thor, and has dragged out this carrot for as long as possible. Arguably, the story repeatedly tries to make a social point about how the nameless Thor can be “any” woman because after all, “every” woman is capable of becoming a superhero. However, this comes at the sacrifice of not giving the character her own story that is not tied to the original Thor (plus, the whole issue where many readers aren’t blonde nor white and shouldn’t necessarily be expected to relate to a character because they share a gender).
It is very possible that the main reason this team has made this creative choice is because they think the mystery is compelling enough for readers to wait 7 months to find out who this non-person is. Meanwhile, the original Thor is intent on pulling off her helm and finding out who this woman that took his status is, once and for all.
A lot of people, including many women, have loved this series. I am not disputing that Thor has had a positive effect on its fans. However, I am going to point out that no one has seemed to realize how incredibly creepy this storyline is.
For most superheroes, their secret identities are just as much the real them as their superhero personas are. But like other superheroes of mythological roots, Thor is the “real” individual while the human identity is just a disguise. With this run, the name Thor is a secret identity for the first time in Marvel’s history. Thus: now what was once just a title equally works as a shield. It protects the woman who wields the hammer from opponents attacking her in a way that is more personal than hand-to-hand combat. It prevents villains from going to where this woman lives, from destroying her home (if she has one), from killing her family (if she has one), and from inflicting a kind of hurt and trauma from which it takes years to recover.
The original Thor, although he has relented somewhat in confronting this woman head-on, is as of Thor #6 seeking to find this personal information for his own gain. He is upset because she has, in essence, encroached on his space. Kind of how “movements” like GamerGate attack women for coming onto an entire field, or “identity,” that they think they own. While Thor is more entitled to his name than any one person is entitled to an entire medium, we are supposed to assume that he is not doing this to hurt the new Thor all the while behaving like the type of person who would do exactly that.
Don’t misunderstand: Thor is not sexist (especially since Molina’s way of drawing the original Thor is far from unfriendly to women and Aaron is yet to write anything particularly offensive). But it needs to be acknowledged that it is a demonstration of a Big 2 gimmick gone warped. Thor is now a story, through its problematic characterization and structure, that has dark implications. In its rush to appeal to the neglected female readership without thinking through the consequences of what their stories say, Marvel now has an ongoing series about a woman who would have a genuine reason to fear for her life if she didn’t have that hammer on her and a creep presented as a misunderstood good guy.
It shouldn’t have to be repeated for the millionth time, but it must: strong female character does not mean a female character with unrealistic physical ability, which is the only thing this new Thor has demonstrated. They are written with fully fleshed-out personalities, backstories, and lives that are separate from the men they may inherit from. Female Thor does not have any elements that make an original character or relatable woman. She just wields a hammer and, more importantly, her mask, which inevitably is going to give original Thor the satisfaction of coming off.
There’s a conversation in how anonymity is important to women, both fictional and real. We deserve that conversation. We don’t deserve Thor’s thoughtlessness and the accidental disregard it has for the threats and intimidation women on the internet face every day.
*As stated in the documentary She Makes Comics, DeConnick went by Kelly throughout her life and added her middle name when she started writing to show potential young girls that she was a woman comics writer