Last year saw the end of many fantastic storylines in comics, just one of them being the finale of Jane Foster’s time as Thor in The Mighty Thor #706. Taking up the mantle in 2014, Jane had a hell of a run, joining the Avengers and battling some of Asgard’s greatest threats while starting a new romance with Sam Wilson and surviving an onslaught of real-world criticism. With series writer and Marvel in general accused of pandering to feminists by introducing a woman as the thunder god, the concept drew a great deal of backlash before it ever hit the stands.
Why a female Thor was pandering to women when Thor had once enjoyed a lengthy existence as a frog and hadn’t ever been accused of pandering to frogs remains to be explored, but the fact is that Jane Foster had a lot standing in her way yet still delivered unto us one of the most epic eras of Thor ever -- and that’s definitely saying something for a character whose entire history is full to overflowing with cosmic, world-shattering adventures.
Jane wasn’t always so strongly characterized as she would later become, and a lot of her early years as a character were defined by her role as a love interest for Thor’s earthly alter ego Doctor Donald Blake. Thor had been temporarily cursed by Odin with a human counterpart whose life was dedicated to healing others in order to teach the haughty god some level of humility. Although much of his brash ego remained intact, he did learn much during his time as a human, and part of his character growth of the time did see him fall in love with Jane. When the time came to abandon his Blake identity and return to Asgard, he took Jane with him. Eventually, she was returned to Earth by Odin, and Thor rekindled his love affair with the Lady Sif.
Thor swung back and forth between his love for Sif and Jane until it became symbolic of his inability to fully choose between Asgard and Midgard. Both women are honorable and pure-hearted, so even when he seemed to be almost intentionally putting them in competition for his attention, they never really played that game. In fact, when Jane's life was in danger, Lady Sif went out of her way and endangered herself to save Jane by merging their life forces.
Jane subsequently married and divorced, and became a doctor in her own right, helping Captain America’s side during Civil War and temporarily opening a practice with Donald Blake when he returned to her life. Again, her appearances were sporadic, but she remained a mainstay of Thor's supporting cast on Earth, and we continued to see her take control of her life in a way we might not have imagined in her early appearances.
From Supporting Character to God of Thunder
The Original Sin crossover involved many of Marvel’s most prominent characters and was primarily based on the troubles of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. as they investigated the apparent murder of Uatu the Watcher. The story was melancholy in general, and it led to a scene in which Fury whispered something unknown to Thor. Whatever it was Fury said caused the Odinson to lose his ability to lift his beloved hammer Mjolnir. Thor struggled to accept this and refused to leave his hammer for many days before finally resolving to let go.
In the beginning, there was no real indication that Jane Foster was the mysterious new Thor, and even the Odinson himself doubted it could be so as he reflected on the last time he’d seen her. She’d become ill from breast cancer, and refused magic-based treatment. Unfortunately, as we later found out, she had also mostly forgone medical treatment as well. Rather than focusing on her struggle to survive, she was regularly becoming the thunder god at the behest of Mjolnir. The cost to her health became greater the longer the arc went on.
Thor and Jane
The brooding temporary acceptance of the loss of his hammer turned to full-fledged rage when Thor discovered that there was a new thunder god wielding Mjolnir, and indeed wielding it quite successfully against several Frost Giants to save Asgard in her first outing. Thor challenged her, only to see his hammer smack him away, choosing Jane Foster’s thunder god over the Odinson. Devastated and convinced of his own unworthiness, Thor departed.
Although he had been on an increasingly darker path for some time, at least dating back to the beginning of Jason Aaron’s run, this was the storyline that saw him lose his constant companion of centuries. He became a changed man in its absence. Lamenting his relatively carefree self from the early days of the Avengers, this Odinson lost much over a short time, and it wore on him. In this story, we see much character growth from Jane Foster, but likewise, we saw a surprising amount from the Thor of Asgard. Forced to accept the possibility that he was not the only god of thunder in all the cosmos, he struggled with a grimmer worldview than he’d known before and learned an even deeper level of humility.
For her part, Jane was sympathetic to his plight but refused to yield to his angry demands that she return his weapon to him or reveal her true identity. He guessed incorrectly that she was a different ex of his, but even when confronted she couldn’t bring herself to tell him the truth. Knowing that he would become aware of her habitual disregard for her own illness, she hid it until he eventually pieced it all together. They did not reconcile romantically, and Jane joined the Avengers and began seeing Sam Wilson during his time as Captain America, but the deep love and friendship between Jane and the Odinson were never more clear than throughout this arc. Despite the secret she held from him, her genuine desire to do good endeared her to him only more, and by spending some time in his shoes she grew to understand him in ways that would initially have been impossible.
To All Things An End
Jane Foster eventually pushed her health to the point of no return and was told not to become Thor again or she would inevitably perish, but when the Jack Kirby creation known as Mangog returned to destroy all of Asgard and kill everyone in his path, she made the choice only a real hero could. A significant amount of emotional fallout ensued, but Jane ultimately lost her ability to become the god of thunder and relinquished Mjolnir forever.
Not only was Jane Foster’s time as Thor awesome on its own merits, but there were also some interesting undertones. To begin with, the Thor mythos had always incorporated many several Gods, but seldom was the focus on female characters. Although Jane and Sif had always been present, their status as love interests was often used to define them. This varied wildly from creative team to creative team, but much of Jane and Sif’s characterization would come in small pieces. Essential female villains of the series were Amora and Lorelei, both based soundly in the trope of the wicked seductress who bends men beneath their will, and Hela, who was manipulative and cruel. While there are definitely incredible moments with all of these characters over the years and their once-flat characterization has developed significantly, Jane Foster’s Thor was a rare foray into the feminine aspect of the Asgardian segment of the Marvel Universe, one that was truly overdue.
Besides its tonal significance for Thor comics overall, it is impossible to fully discuss this story without reference to the unusual level of resistance it was met with. Often dismissed or used as an example of why identity politics were supposedly ruining comics, it’s interesting to now look back and realize that it was simply another legendary Thor story that hit all the right marks. If anything, Jane Foster’s Thor stands out as a welcome return to Thor’s more brash and bold days as the smiling, blond-haired Avenger than the Odinson’s arc would have allowed. This Thor was not haunted by centuries of battle and was relatively carefree.
Occasionally, short references to the outcry against the series would appear on the page, such as a fight against the Absorbing Man in which he derided feminism for “ruining Thor.” His wife Titania walks up, realizes that Thor is female, slyly knocks him out, and tells Jane that she respects her and has no interest in fighting another woman. Not known for a sense of compassion in general, Titania’s surprising level of solidarity made for a great scene and a brilliant moment of development for a character often low on poignancy.
There’s no way this is the end of Jane Foster in the Marvel universe, and, as with so many Marvel characters, one suspects her story has really just truly begun, but it can’t go without comment how really great this run was, or how truly well it served the book overall to focus on Jane’s story for as long as it did. Thor is an ancient God whose development is in perpetual danger of stalling out entirely, but capable creators have kept that from becoming the case. By focusing on Jane while Thor’s moods shifted to something decidedly more somber, Jane Foster gave us a Thor that was full of hope and positivity while allowing the Odinson to explore his own deeper feelings of inadequacy. In the end, this story succeeded because it gave us a better, more interesting Thor.