In this flashbacks issue, we visit Thor as he was in his Helicon days — back when he was an adolescent godling, slumming with the mortals but not yet dedicated to their care. This story explores Thor’s bond with Midgard while laying the groundwork for his eventual Worthiness. We are also introduced to Thor's first love — the mighty warrior Erica the Red!
First, let me say that this story has genuine emotional impact. The writing is beautiful, the dialogue apt, and I absolutely love the costume design and the general look of the characters. Loki can keep the moss cloak and skull mask he sports in this story. I cried, a little, reading this book. But there are a few major problems that I must point out.
I’m going to talk about the writing and the art at the same time, because the strengths and weaknesses of the story are inextricably woven into both. In this book, Loki attempts to break Thor’s connection to Midgard by arranging for him to love (and inevitably lose) a woman warrior named Erika the Red. Thor is called from her side, after a honeymoon spent in glorious battle and love making which we must assume to be thunderous, to fight in an Asgardian war. When he returns he finds that forty years have passed and she has died waiting for him.
This is beautiful, because it provides Thor with an emotionally true reason to try to be Worthy of being a god to man, but the manner in which the writer and artist have chosen to tell the story is deeply flawed.
At first, Erika is depicted as being attractive to Thor because everything about her attitude and bearing is so traditionally masculine. She smells of blood and innards and she can slay here foes like a man. This attitude provides problems of its own (who says that a woman must metaphorically cut off her breasts in order to be formidable?) but a larger problem follows.
Erika is consistently presented, refreshingly, as being taller than Thor. She is more physically powerful, but the artist felt the need to soften her look by having her symbolically shift to a more ‘feminine’ appearance when she and Thor fall in love. She grows her hair out. Her posture becomes submissive. The art says ‘a woman may be strong, but only if she is incomplete. Her natural state, her loved state, is that of someone who is weak and protected.’ And so she is visibly reduced. Because Thor has to be the more masculine one and, in the mind of the writer and artist, masculinity and femininity are set, visible characteristics which are totally immutable and which are symbolised by unmistakable cues.
Also, why did this warrior woman (who can, never forget, ride one of his flying goats) agree to stay behind while Thor fought his war? She had to die for the story to work, but she could (as easily) have died in battle. She could have grown old during the battle, while Thor watched, unable to stop, unable to help. But no. She filled the role of waiting woman, of woman left at home, undermining the very traits which supposedly attracted Thor to her in the first place.
These criticisms do not lessen the emotional impact of the book. As I said, it’s a wonderful, genuinely moving story. But readers cannot ignore the way that the plot falls back on the trope which requires that female characters weaken themselves, soften themselves, or be crammed into a refrigerator in order to provide emotional impetus to a man’s narrative journey.
Erika deserved to be more than an object, a symbol, or a plot.
At least she gets to be the centre of this review.
This is a beautifully realised story — with a terrible (and absolutely avoidable) flaw at its heart that the strong writing and art cannot quite compensate for.
Thor #7 Barbie Girl
- Writing - 6.5/106.5/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Art - 6.5/106.5/10
- Color - 8/108/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10
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