Normally, I don’t read the comics section in the newspaper but today’s Mallard Fillmore strip caught my attention when I glanced at the “funnies” section for one particular reason: THOR.
I immediately recognized the crimson-clad costume and winged-helm as belonging to the recently revealed female Thor. Even if I hadn’t seen her image plastered across the Twitter-verse a week ago, Mjolner’s presence would have been enough to catch my eye.
The comic is amusing, and while I haven’t heard this commentary for the first time (that male superheroes are largely unrepresentative of a realistic body image for real men), I think that it is a message that fans and/or consumers of media should not forget: that images of male bodies in media might set unrealistic standards for men in the real world. When I consider this, I can’t help but think that this comic strip might have been more effective, though. Why not include a sketch of male Thor, for reference, in the second panel? I suppose “space” is always a concern for print media, and the reader uses their imagination to understand the punch-line, but a comparison might have driven home the author’s notion of the absurdity of realistic “body image” standards for both men and women in comics.
This comic strip not only resonates with me because it speaks to a fandom of mine, but also because I am going into an academic field that researches media effects: what media, including images, film, music, etc., do to their audiences (for better or for worse). Body image in the media is only one such topic addressed in the field, and it is one that I look forward to studying, along with how media might effect individuals’ sexualization, moral choices, and risk-taking behaviors, and how these factors may or may not correlate with gender.
The Mallard Fillmore comic is a reminder that fictional characters might effect the self-esteem and self-worth of not just women but also men. Personally, the Goddess of Thunder doesn’t speak to any of my own insecurities; I think she looks powerful and beautiful, and she’s certainly far more conservatively dressed than most Marvel heroines. For this reason, I can’t help but think that if some women take issue with female Thor’s armor-clad body then they are simply grasping at straws. The drawing of female Thor in the first panel of the Mallard Fillmore comic strip, without pants, is inaccurate to the official artwork (below). She’s also not depicted as a sex object in the released images. There’s a sense of power and strength in her pose– not pandering sex appeal.
Perhaps Mallard Fillmore’s creator agrees with me? If it wasn’t for having shown-off her thighs in the first panel, I would think so, because he chose to position her in a powerful stance, not a sexy one. I think that his own portrayal of Thor in the comic strip speaks to my own sentiments that the outcry against the new Thor’s “unrealistic body image” is a bit of an overreaction. Sure, she might have a rather large bosom, but she also has larger shoulders, biceps, forearms, and thighs than most of her heroine peers. She appears to be a healthy-sized woman, bottom line. I think she’s “realistic” in the only way that she needs to be: that I expect her to be worthy of Mjolner and to defend Asgard and Midgard alike.
In an effort to reach out to my small number of readers– what do you make of the idealized body images depicted in comics and graphic novels? Has it effected you? Do you think that the criticism of female Thor is valid? Why or why not?