Last week the world of comic books reeled from two bits of sensational news. First, it was -revealed that Archie Andrews, hero of the classic Archie comics, was dead. Or rather, “dead,” as they put it in industry parlance, because only the Archie of one of the Archie books, Life with Archie, had bought the farm. (The Archie of the long-running flagship book, Archie, lives on.) What made Archie’s demise so notable was the manner in which he was dispatched. He was assassinated. Gunned down while valiantly saving the life of his friend. Who’s a war hero. And gay. And also gay-married. And was recently elected to the United States Senate, where he was a crusader against gun rights. You can’t make this stuff up.
On the one hand, the “death” of Archie is part of a time-honored tradition in comics, where publishers looking for a quick hit of publicity (and goosed sales) kill off a character only to bring him back. Superman, Batman, Captain America, and scores of others have returned from the dead. And Life with Archie sure needed some juice. According to the website ComicChron, which keeps track of industry sales, the last issue of Life with Archie sold 2,064 copies, making it the 386th most popular comic book (out of 439 tracked comics) that month.
Yet even though Life with Archie is a comic book no one cares about, the media dutifully jumped off the porch and chased the stick, with literally hundreds of stories about Archie and his brave, progressive, gay best friend. It’s what they do. The only time the media care about comic books is when a character is a minority or gay. Or, in the case of the DC Comics hero “Bunker,” a gay minority. The New York Times was totally jazzed about Bunker.
A few days after the Archie news, Marvel comics announced—on The View, no less—that it was turning the hero Thor into a woman. This caught most fans by surprise. After all, the character Thor, the Norse god of thunder, dates back over a thousand years. As a comic book fixture, Thor dates to August 1962, the month in which Marvel debuted both him and Spider-man, in what is considered the height of the Silver Age of comics.
Though not a man—he is not mortal—Thor has always been depicted as male. And now Marvel insists that he’s a woman. Very little explanation has been given except that the new female Thor is not Thorina, Thora, or She-Thor, but is the Thor, per Marvel canon. Supposedly, this represents progress. Or something.
Ever since the baby boomers took over comic books, the industry has had pretensions to social relevance—from Green Lantern confronting overpopulation, to Captain America battling a stand-in for Richard Nixon, to Superman renouncing his American citizenship. These stunts are as regular as the tides.
But both Archie and the new Thor seem like missed opportunities to get on the newest fad: transgender rights, which is coming soon to a culture war near you. There’s no frisson in gay marriage anymore, and simply switching genders for a character is old hat—this isn’t even the first time Thor has been turned into a woman. (That happened way back in 2000’s Earth X miniseries. His half-brother Loki has also done time as a woman.)
Clearly Archie should have died by overcoming his cis-gender privilege to protect a genderqueer best friend. And Thor should have transitioned the old-fashioned way, after recognizing that his true gender expression did not meet his assigned sex. Ladyboy Thor will forever be a missed opportunity for progressive propaganda.