This article explores disability and depression, especially as they relate to masculinity and power, within Thor comics. Societal interpretations of disability are also discussed in terms of comics' ability to both challenge and reinforce these interpretations; further, aspects of comics design are investigated within the symbolic realm of disability and depression, illustrating the portrayal of disability and depression via characteristics such as color, panels, and facial expressions.
Rosemarie Garland-Thompson notes that, "disability is always ready to disclose itself, to emerge as some visually recognizable stigmata, however subtle, that will disrupt social order by its presence" (347). Visual recognition is a quality shared by Garland-Thompson's view of disability and the highly visual, multimodal arena of comics. Comics are often perceived as juvenile or silly; they are marginalized because of their dismissal as "semiliterate, cheap, disposable kiddie fare" (McCloud 3), evoking unrealistic ideas and unbelievable circumstances. Despite this dismissal, as a multimodal form of visual expression, comics hold tremendous potential to depict disability, thereby simultaneously espousing and endorsing certain views of disability and its associated characteristics. Through the visual portrayal of a character's disability, readers can understand social attitudes towards, implications of, and ideas about disability, which can situate the interpretation of disability in a specific context encouraged by the comic itself. Further, in comics, disability is typically represented, and can be understood, in terms of the body, the "superbody," and its aesthetic significance, especially as it relates to the superhero, power, and masculinity. Physical disability has been the primary type of disability depicted in comics; however, through the same means of understanding, mental and emotional disabilities can be understood as well. This notion is echoed in Susan Squier's observation that, "as a medium combining verbal and gestural expression, comics can convey the complex social impact of a physical or mental impairment, as well as the way the body registers social and institutional constraints" (74). Comics can both challenge and reinforce societal attitudes towards both emotional and physical disability; specifically, recent Thor comic books participate in this reinforcement and simultaneous challenge.
Comics and Disability
Disability represented in comic books has been seen and studied primarily in terms of physically deformed villains (Jacobs and Dolmage 77) and superheroes who have physical impairments; however, the representations of disability in comic books not only provide visual depictions of disability, but they also serve to ignite conversations regarding the complexities and interpretations surrounding the disabilities they present. Scholars have scratched the surface of this area of study, but much more can be added to the critical conversation. As scholar Sarah Birge writes, "comics, a relatively understudied medium for representations of disability, have enormous potential for providing important critical perspectives" (Birge 2010). Scholarship involving this subject also focuses on cognitive disabilities, such as autism, represented and understood within the arena of comics and "underground comics:" as a part of this scholarship, Katie Ellis' research illuminates comics' established intrigue with disability, stemming from such iconic merging of the subjects represented by Superman's battling against polio and Wonder Woman explaining the function of an iron lung (19). The fusion of comics and disability can also spark a performative focus in regard to disability, ''comics can show us things that can't be said, just as they can narrate experiences without relying on words, and in their juxtaposition of words and pictures, they can also convey a far richer sense of the different magnitudes at which we experience any performance of illness, disability, medical treatment or healing" (Squier 131). Although much scholarship exists within the area of disability within comics, there is a lack of focus on simultaneous physical and emotional disability in regard to Marvel's Thor.
The convergence of comics and disability creates a prism through which disabilities can be seen as empowering (as in Daredevil's blindness creating precise sensory awareness, which contributes to his superpowers), but disability can also be viewed in a negative light. Recent issues of the Thor comic book series imply a stigmatizing view of disability by promoting the notion that disability hinders power and should be "corrected." These comic books also suggest that depression, as a disability, haunts its victims, while they also present the idea that anyone, even a superhero who is also the Norse God of Thunder, can become emotionally and/or physically disabled. While disability itself is the main focal point, the texts invite readers to consider familial/social attitudes towards disability and depression.
Thor's recent physical disability (a severed arm, which is soon "replaced" by a prosthetic arm) is presented as permanent and follows his loss of worthiness, which prevents him from lifting his mighty hammer; thus, he is captured by his enemy, who gleefully severs his arm. In the 1960s, Thor experienced disability as he embodied Donald Blake, a disabled medical student; this experience was the result of Odin attempting to teach Thor humility. Blake discovers what appears to be a "walking stick," but as he strikes it, he transforms into the God of Thunder (Thor) and his disability vanishes, yet returns when Thor is again in human form as Blake. The walking stick was actually Thor's mighty hammer in disguise; thus, a nexus is created between strength and disability. The hammer's inscription necessitates that one must hold it in order to potentially obtain the power of Thor; hence, when Thor releases it, he reverts back to Blake and vice versa (Lee, et al). Throughout the decades, Thor endures physical injuries and ailments, but his physical strength (and its relationship with his hammer) is a recurrent theme, despite his physical limitations.
In a social context, masculinity conflicts with loss, grief, and depression: men are typically exposed to the masculine notion of fighting for what they want and regaining that which they lost. Further, in their youth, men are socialized to believe that worthiness stems from competition; thus, to be worthy is to be a victorious competitor, and when loss occurs, grief and depression often follow (Hart 126). Mjolnir (his hammer) represented Thor's worth and strength; thus, the essential loss of Mjolnir symbolizes the subsequent loss of Thor's arm and can be seen as an extension of his powerful limb. Having lost his Mjolnir-related worthiness (to a woman) Thor instead uses Jarnbjorn (an axe) and wears a prosthetic arm, which can be understood as both an extension of and substitute for his severed arm. Although Jarnbjorn is an adequate weapon, it lacks the force and powerful ability of Mjolnir, thus creating a dualistic view of power as it relates to the mundane Jarnbjorn and the mighty Mjolnir. Thor is physically weakened due to his severed arm, but his self-esteem—and his very essence as mighty—is also weakened by the sudden determination (the result of the mysterious whispered words of Nick Fury) that he is no longer worthy.
Panels, Processing, and Facial Expressions
The idea that disability hinders both physical and psychological power is expressed in these comic books and is illustrated in the panels immediately preceding the severing of Thor's arm: Thor is captured by the Frost Giants and is unable to adequately defend himself against Malekith, the Dark Elf who chastises Thor before severing his arm. Paralyzed by the grip of a Frost Giant who restrains him, Thor is rendered helpless, as evidenced by his facial expression which reveals fear and rage: Thor's piercing blue eyes fight to contain tears, signaling the fear he is experiencing; rage is also expressed in Thor's eyes, but more so in his clinched jaw and the distinct formation of his lips, which seem ready to yell, despite Thor's gritted teeth (Thor #1). Thor's facial expression can be interpreted as a reflex, "an instinctive response to an emotional stimulus" (Miodrag 193); however, it can also be understood as a physical manifestation of his emotional disability. His body is paralyzed by a Frost Giant's firm grip, but his facial expression reveals depression's vice-like grip on his mind; thus, disability is portrayed as hindering both physical and emotional power. Additionally, Thor's physical position prevents his body from moving; thus, he is in a physical state of frozen suspension, which also mirrors his emotional state, as the result of depression. A few panels after Thor's arm is severed, his seemingly lifeless body is seen falling into darkness; Thor's remaining (right) arm is clearly seen, while splashes of blood signify his missing left arm, which dually highlights his disability. His facial expression is blurred, but void of emotion: his once piercing eyes are closed and all signs of life seem to have evaporated, leaving readers to interpret this apparent lifelessness as a result of Thor's disability and as a definite limitation of his physical power.
The comic books Thor #1, 4, and 5 and the variant covers of Thor 2 ask readers to understand Thor's disability as a potential consequence of his prior loss of "worthiness" to lift and wield Mjolnir. Further, as a result of Thor's detailed and abstract facial expressions (sometimes explained by text), readers are silently encouraged to understand Thor's disability as a limitation of his physical power (which was reflected in his former title "The Mighty Thor") and his prosthetic arm can be understood as a necessity for aesthetic maintenance and for battle. Aesthetically, "Thor is perhaps the greatest exemplar of the superbody in the Marvel Comics pantheon" and is typically depicted as stronger, bigger, and taller than his superhero counterparts; further, "unlike the Hulk or the Thing, whose immense strength comes at the cost of bodily deformity, Thor's superbody is a traditionally handsome one" (Costello 139). Consistent with the characteristics of Thor's superbody, the comic books highlight physical ability, especially in regard to battle; Thor's muscular arms accentuate his chiseled biceps, which symbolize his strength and allow him to hold and swing Mjolnir. These comic books establish and normalize a precise physical aesthetic value, primarily associated with Thor himself; thus, Thor's severed arm (and his resulting stump) disrupt the aesthetics that represent his power and capability.
Thor's tremendous physical strength is an example of masculinity, as discussed by Paul McIlvenny in "The Disabled Male Body." Another aesthetic value suggested by these comic books (at least in regard to Thor himself) is the physicality of masculinity: as it relates to the male body, masculinity tends to emphasize superhuman strength, autonomy, ability, stamina, and the shame associated with failure (McIlvenny 103). Thor's stump (and, in a sense, his prosthetic) serves as a display of disability that causes discomfort in readers' identification with normalcy and physical ability by disrupting readers' interpretations of what is biologically conventional (Mitchell and Snyder 37). Further, in comics, the disabled male body poses a potential dual threat to typical masculinity: in addition to being exposed as vulnerable, and therefore creating an utterance of failure, it can also boldly refuse to remain unseen, which can spark a negative definition stemming from regulatory gazes which can essentially disable males whose bodies fail to reflect gender norms (McIlvenny 119).
The gaze is a visual component of masculinity and disability. The socially uncomfortable idea of staring is typically an outcome of both the disabled body and the physically alluring masculine body; thus, the gaze and the stare are inextricably involved in the interpretation of the body. These comic books rely on their vital visual content as a disability-defining medium (Garland-Thompson 340) as they transform the gaze, taking a concept usually enveloped in femininity (men staring at women) and spotlighting the male body as the subject of the stare. This transformative stare unites the phenomenology of disability, femininity, and masculinity: the disabled body may often be confronted by the stare of able-bodied individuals in the same respect that women may be the subjects of sexualized stares directed at their bodies, and men's bodies might attract stares as well. As a result of these stares, disabled people, women, and men are all potentially "reminded of their bodies" (Paterson and Hughes 605) in terms of societal beliefs, identities, expectations, and reactions. Transformation is also present as the sexualized gaze becomes a gaze born of astonishment at the sight of the disabled male body, or shock at the disheveled physical appearance often presented by severely depressed individuals. The stare and the gaze, no matter their subject, evoke an aura of power rooted in a spectator's prolonged visual study of a subject; further, expanding the notion of power, Thor's masculine power is also represented by Mjolnir.
Issue #1 depicts an extremely distraught Thor, whose scraggly beard, mussed hair, and torn, soiled cape highlight his depression. Depression is presented as a haunting result of loss; further, these comic books introduce, yet reject, elements of the healing process, during which the depressed person must realize all facets of the loss while comprehending the comprehensive meaning of each aspect of said loss. The object must then be emotionally released as the depressed person places the loss in perspective and accepts that he must continue to live without the object (Hart 137). These comic books also challenge situated physical components of depression within a masculine frame which requires the prohibition of vulnerability in favor of maintaining the appearance of formidable masculinity. While kneeling before Mjolnir, Thor's facial expressions reveal his forlorn state of being: he is crestfallen by his status as unworthy, which is confirmed by his inability to even move Mjolnir. A panel then depicts a single detailed image of Mjolnir, focusing the reader's attention on its inscription: "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor," which serves as a reminder of the worthiness no longer possessed by Thor. Word balloons (the conversations of comics) are seen in the surrounding panels; however, they are absent (as are all characters) from this panel, essentially rendering the panel silent.
This silence effectively removes a panel from a particular time span (McCloud 164), thus inviting readers to understand Mjolnir and its inscription as a central source of Thor's emotional turmoil and transcending such throughout the comic books. The silent space highlights Thor's emotional chaos, as well as reflecting the static status of Mjolnir; as the reader's gaze is fixated on the image of Mjolnir, the reader understands its importance from Thor's perspective. Silence offers readers an opportunity to examine this powerful hammer and its equally powerful inscription while pausing in their reading process. As Henry John Pratt writes, "The pace of reading comics produces a distinctive experience. Because a reader of comics can take as much time as she wants to process a narrative, comics allow the reader to dwell on meanings and imagery in a way that is simply impossible [in other art forms]" (Pratt 115). This prolonged processing time also invites participation: as Marshall McLuhan reminds us, comics are a "highly patricipational form of expression (165) and reader participation will potentially lead to reader experience. McLuhan also notes "to live and experience anything is to translate its direct impact into many indirect forms of awareness" (169), a notion that relates to phenomenology: Readers may share Thor's experience as he interprets the loss of his arm (and his worthiness). Readers can understand the significance of Mjolnir and the idea of worthiness via a potentially prolonged processing of the single panel that presents them; however, this understanding can be cohesively extended within the context of surrounding panels, which highlight Thor's depression.
Society, Gender, and Image
Societal interpretations of depression are presented both generally and through the lens of typically gender-specific reactions. Societal understanding of depression and attitudes towards it have been mainly dismissive, and people with depression are usually "perceived to have a weakness in succumbing to moods that should be shaken off" (Harris and White 142). Gender-specific reactions are rooted in gender communication, which typically concludes that women's communication style is more nurturing, empathetic, and patient, while men express themselves forcefully and efficiently. Thus, when addressing a depressed person, males are generally less emotionally supportive, tending to subscribe to the philosophy that depression can be dismissed; conversely, women are usually more mindful of emotions, thus revealing a maternal quality which relies on attentiveness and commitment to the health, development, and happiness of others (Wood 73).
Societal and gender-based reactions to depression are emotionally illustrated by Thor's parents. Additionally, Thor's expressive blue eyes are nearly in tears as he begs "please Mjolnir, please move" then exerts all his physical and emotional strength in a fruitless attempt to lift Mjolnir. Thor's depression (and Nick Fury's whisper) haunts him as his depression is manifested; simultaneously, Odin (Thor's father) impatiently demands to know more about Nick Fury's statement as Thor retracts in grief, now hunched over Mjolnir and apparently in tears. Reflecting the typical male-coded communication style, Odin essentially ignores Thor's grief, instead forcefully focusing on Nick Fury's statement. Odin's wife (Thor's mother) Freyja, expressing an understanding patience, informs Odin that "yelling doesn't seem to be helping" and advises that he instead talk to Thor, which Odin dismisses as "coddling." Freyja comforts Thor, who is now in a semi-fetal position, indicating his emotional unrest, reminding him that "worthiness should not be defined by the whims of magic weapons." She continues, stating "rise, my son, and let the hammer be damned. Rise and remember the hero [bold original] that you are" (Thor #1). Freyja's maternal encouragement seems successful: in the next few panels we see Thor, whose facial expression now expresses sadness merged with determination, standing in preparation to retrieve Jarnbjorn from the Hall of Weapons. Although Freyja supports her depressed son, Odin's attitude towards him reflects typical societal feelings towards depression.
Thor's severe depression over the loss of Mjolnir and the loss of his worthiness can be seen as an emotional disability whose effects can be as debilitating as his physical disability (severed arm). Although it was the subsequent effect of Nick Fury's unknown words, Thor's "unworthy" status is reinforced by others (such as Odin) and confirmed by Thor himself, echoed by his inability to lift Mjolnir; thus, these comic books ask readers to understand Thor's disability in terms of physical and emotional manifestations, both of which readers can understand via characteristics of the comic book images and certain related text within the comic books.
The concept that disability hinders power is twofold: physical power is limited due to disability, but the hindrance of power is also reinforced as a result of the related differential by which able-bodied people are defined as "normal." Negative attributes, originating in society, are applied to disabled people, creating an atmosphere of pity which surrounds them and hinders their potential to perceive themselves as powerful. Society may also view disabled people as pathetic, unstable, or weak, which fortifies the common notion that disabled people's quality of life is significantly diminished (Houser and Domokos-Cheng Ham 112). Thus, the hindrance of power refers not only to physical power, but—possibly more importantly— it also detrimentally impacts the symbolic power of perception. Further, the appeal of true power over self and self-image is strong; yet, the alluring power over the impressions of others is pivotal in terms of the perception and potential hindrance of power within a society that fails to treat disabled people as fully human (Alaniz 86).
The concept of disability as a hindrance to power, as well as the stigmatizing idea that disability degrades quality of life and should be corrected, are illustrated (specifically by Odin) in issue #4, when readers discover that Thor is alive and now back on Asgardia. Upon awakening from an apparent coma, Thor's facial expression reveals his shock as he sees his bandaged stump and asks "where the hell is my arm!?" (Thor 4). Thor's intense blue eyes are directed at his bandages and filled with stunned surprise, while his open mouth indicates not only his speech, but also his shock. As Thor slowly rises from his bed and becomes more alert, he bravely states "never mind the arm" and asks for his axe, which indicates his intention to adjust and (at least temporarily) accept his physical disability, so long as he has a weapon (in this case Jarnbjorn) with which to do battle.
Thor's statement (and immediate call for Jarnbjorn) reflects his earnest desire to engage in battle, despite his disability, in order to protect earth (which Asgardians refer to as Midgard) and its people. His intentions are good, but in order to effectively battle the Frost Giants (who are wreaking havoc on Midgard) Thor would need both arms to exert his physical strength when swinging Jarnbjorn. While initially perceived as liberating, the reality of Thor's bold statement is questioned by his posture: having just risen from his bed, he remains hunched over while standing, indicating weakness and illustrating the physical detriment caused by his missing arm. This demonstrates the textual notion of hindered power due to disability: realizing his physical power is hindered, Thor seeks to substitute it with Jarnbjorn, which itself is a substitute for the mighty Mjolnir. Additionally, Thor's sudden disregard for his arm, coupled with his call for Jarnbjorn, could represent his fury (at the loss of his arm) and subsequent desire to express his rage (via Jarnbjorn) in battle.
Image and power work in concert to stimulate interpretations of disability such that disabled people may be thought of as incomplete humans whose very identities are altered by their disability. An able-bodied man may simply be thought of as a man; however, if that man becomes disabled and needs a wheelchair, he is then seen as a handicapped man, which can affect is self-image and identity. The idea of disability impacting self-image and identity is expressed through the prism of power. The next panel of the comic book depicts Thor, now standing, and clearly shows both his intact arm and his bandaged stump; however, his face is blurred and only abstract basic features (eyes and a mouth) are seen, which readers can understand as an identity-altering and power-limiting aspect of Thor's disability. This limiting lack of facial expression is amplified by Odin's remark (in the same panel) that "I will not have the heir to my throne fumbling about like a common cripple" (bolded font original) and his subsequent determination that Thor needs a prosthetic arm, the construction of which Odin arranged while Thor slept. Odin's remark echoes the textual messages regarding disability and demonstrates his belief that Thor's disability should be "corrected," which only works in service of fortifying the stigma associated with disability: "we [use stigma terms, such as cripple, as we] construct a stigma theory to explain [the disabled person's] inferiority and account for the danger he represents, sometimes rationalizing an animosity based on other differences, such as those of social class" (Goffman 5).
The physical difference (stigmatized by Odin) that is now evident between Odin and Thor can also "draw attention to Thor's secondary position in relation to Odin in the social hierarchy" (Arnold 37); however, Odin's statement underscores his desire for Thor's aesthetic maintenance, rather than his existence as a "cripple." Readers are encouraged to think about Odin's comment as an endorsement of the textual message that disability needs correcting: Odin's comment rapidly follows Thor's awakening, indicating that Odin is anxious to correct Thor's disability, an anxiety that is evidenced by Odin's revelation that he called for the creation of Thor's corrective prosthetic arm almost immediately upon Thor's return to Asgardia. Readers are asked to understand this textual promotion of disability correction as exemplified by Odin's judgment, the fact that it was he—not the disabled Thor—who decided a prosthetic arm was necessary, and the fact that, once it was given to him, Thor wore his prosthetic arm, signifying the need for correction of his disability.
Prosthetics and Power
Prosthetics may serve as assistive devices for the disabled person; however, they also serve as signifiers of bodily difference which interrupts the image of the "normal" body while calling attention to the "correction" (via prosthetic) of disability. This notion is especially represented within the panels that illustrate Thor's reluctant acceptance of the prosthetic. The prosthetic arm is "forged of black uru in the same furnaces where was born mighty Mjolnir" (Thor 4), thus creating a nexus between the two items, and Thor's facial expression indicates an unsure acceptance of this prosthetic arm: as he holds it in his right hand, his normally azure eyes are simply black dots, which can represent the lack of physical attachment in regard to this new "arm." As Thor walks away, his gaze focuses on his bandaged stump as he carries his prosthetic arm in his right hand; hence, readers can understand his disability in terms of his limited limb activity, but also as a transformative occurrence, as it relates to his prosthetic arm whose formative origin is shared with the powerful Mjolnir.
Power is a focal point of transformative characteristics; yet, these texts also relay the message that disability itself requires transcendence, as it is presented as a problem in need of correction. Thor's disability as a transformative occurrence centers on the use of his prosthetic arm and the fact that shares its origin with Mjolnir, whose power is apparent whether it is used as a "weapon or a tool to be admired" (Arnaudo 126). Although there is no true replacement that can match the power of Mjolnir, Thor's prosthetic arm serves to strengthen him (without it he would remain weak in battle), thereby creating a transformation of strength— reminiscent of Mjolnir—such that the prosthetic arm, which is a source of strength, potentially transforms Thor's power, physically and emotionally. Thor is not seen attaching his prosthetic arm, nor do we see the actual severing of his natural arm, so the transformative effect from weak to strong is presented in a seamless fashion, as readers are not exposed to the reality of the severing, nor the prosthetic attachment. The transformative effect is extended when readers understand Thor as a "potent conflation of god and man" (Fingeroth 14) in the context of physical ability: a man is susceptible to physical and emotional weakness, whereas a god is not similarly vulnerable, but has supernatural abilities that serve as vehicles of empowerment. Thor's disability is a reminder of his vulnerable status as a man, and his prosthetic ignites the idea of Thor as a god. A prosthetic made entirely of metal could not function well for a man, but for a god it is perfectly functional; further, a man would need extensive physical rehabilitation in order to use a prosthetic arm, but a god could simply attach it and use it as if it were his own arm, such is the case with Thor. Perhaps the prosthetic absorbed some of Mjolnir's power as it was forged, but Thor's ability to use it so proficiently, coupled with the disability that necessitated it, reflect the transformative effect that surrounds the powerful prosthetic.
The rhetoric of overcoming is promoted and the need to correct the problem of disability is also expressed within the comic books, which fuse the element of power with the emotional trauma of depression and the discord of disability. Mjolnir and Thor's prosthetic arm also share an aspect of power which is linked to Thor's personal power (or lack thereof) and his sense of worthiness. In issue 5, Thor converses with Lady Sif as they consume mead; he inquires whether she took his hammer, which she denies. Thor's facial expression confesses his inebriation: his intense blue eyes are illuminated in a drunken trance as he orders more mead; within this same panel, his prosthetic arm is displayed as it rests across his seated body. This panel combines Thor's depression over the loss of his hammer, his drunken state (as evidenced by his facial expression), and his obviously prosthetic arm; thus readers can understand Thor's disability in terms of its potential connection to his hammer (and its power), the display of his prosthetic arm, and his intoxication, which seems to be the result of Thor's depression. Thor is soon shown plopped on a barstool, his prosthetic hand grasping an empty stein, and his defeated and confused facial expression revealing the "pains of unworthiness" that torment his mind, which is haunted by the memory of Nick Fury's whispered words (Thor 5). Pairing the idea of unworthiness with Thor's prosthetic arm invites readers to understand Thor's disability as a physical ramification of his unworthiness to possess Mjolnir. As a drunken, depressed Thor is escorted from the bar, readers learn that he is plagued by dreams of hammers; thus, the fusion of his facial expressions, mood, and prosthetic arm is illuminated, causing readers to understand his disability in terms of its physical aspect as well as its emotional aspect and highlighting the symbolic representation of power found in Mjolnir.
The haunting effect of depression and traumatic memory is expressed, depicting the emotional tumult that results when these conditions are experiences, especially within the context of disability. Traumatic memory is understood as a fragmented whole, as disjointed memories of a traumatic event come together to represent a whole (Alaniz 175); for instance, Thor's lingering memory of Nick Fury's mysterious words is a traumatic memory that partially constructs his traumatic event. The sharp fragmentation of traumatic memories is also apparent in the placement of the panels themselves: when Thor's traumatic memories are evoked, the panels are generally severely fragmented and jaggedly thrown on the pages, which indicates an internal battle (McCloud 126). Thor's depressive state lingers, even in his dreams, and is centered on Mjolnir, its power, and the required worthiness of its possession.
Masculinity and Emasculation
Masculinity is expressed as typically dependent on power and the idea of being "worthy" which is also linked to competitive physicality: for instance, male athletes depend heavily on their physical power in order to be victorious, but as prerequisite for joining the team, athletes must be symbolically deemed "worthy" by their coaches. Mjolnir, as a transformative aspect of Thor's prosthetic, may also be a representation of Thor's masculinity: ''true masculinity is almost always thought to proceed from men's bodies—to be inherent in a male body or to express something about the male body'' (Connell 44). Mjolnir's message about Thor's body was that it (along with his soul) was worthy, strong, and capable of lifting and utilizing such an amazing weapon. In this view, the loss of Mjolnir is emasculating and could indeed be understood as a source of depression. Further, Mjolnir is now in the possession of a woman, who is now called Thor, causing the original Thor to become known by his last name (Odinson); this presents the original Thor with a crisis of masculinity which propels him to pursue Mjolnir in an attempt to repossess his masculine power. Alas, he finds he is still not worthy; thus, Mjolnir, and its determinative worthiness, remain in the possession of the new (female) Thor, who is also able-bodied. Readers can now understand both the loss of his arm and of his hammer as a loss of Odinson's masculinity, at least as it relates to physicality and the power infused by Mjolnir. This understanding provides a richer, multifaceted perception of Odinson's disabling depression, which can be seen as resulting not only from the loss of Mjolnir, but also as a result of the current possession of it, and the name Thor.
Symbolic emasculation and disempowerment are presented as a result of multiple aspects of loss of power, thus fortifying the idea that masculinity demands power: obtaining and maintaining power is societally seen as an essential part of being a man (Solomon 28). Power is often at the root of combat and competition, which necessitates that a battle for power ensue and the winner of said battle is celebrated for his masculine display of physicality required to defeat his opponent. Weapons are often used in battle, thus essentially becoming extensions of masculinity, and are given value associated with power: Mjolnir had combative power (its ability to damage opponents) as well as a magical power that could only be accessed by Thor. A quintessential example of this magical power was seen at times when Thor used Mjolnir to summon lightning: with Mjolnir firmly in hand, and acting as a conduit, Thor raised his arm to the sky and commanded lightning to strike. Mjolnir also flew into Thor's extended hand, highlighting the connection between the man and his weapon, and dealt devastating blows to enemies. Mjolnir maintains its power, despite its new owner, but Thor (Odinson) pursues Mjolnir and angrily questions his female counterpart, unable to understand why Mjolnir refuses to come to him as it had previously done.
While in pursuit of Mjolnir, Odinson confronts the female Thor, whom he accuses of stealing his hammer. A word balloon indicating her thoughts reveals her shock at seeing her disabled counterpart: "oh my god, his arm." This reaction highlights Odinson's disability while presenting him as physically weakened and emotionally damaged. Odinson informs female Thor that Mjolnir does not belong to her; however, rather than engage in battle over Mjolnir, female Thor simply tells Odinson that she understands his concern, but claims "this is not the time for such a discussion" (Thor #4). Enraged, Odinson displays his remaining masculinity as he unsuccessfully attempts to engage female Thor in battle: she responds calmly, reflecting a female-coded communication style, and advises Odinson to calm down as she uses Mjolnir to gently tap his bare chest, which infuriates him. A jaggedly-placed panel reveals a detailed close-up of Odinson's eyes, accentuated by his furrowed eyebrows, which express the wild rage he feels; the following panels depict Odinson attempting to regain Mjolnir. He is positioned standing above female Thor, axe in hand and ready to strike, as he angrily states that he will take it with the female Thor's arm "still attached, if need be!" Odinson's eyebrows exhibit a response to muscular movement which is triggered by a cognitive emotional circuit; whereas gesture and body posture invoke emotion and create auditory inflection (Eisner 85) in Odinson's voice. Odinson's anger can be attributed to multiple losses: the loss of Mjolnir, loss of worthiness, loss of his arm, and the partial loss of his masculinity. Odinson's threatening statement reflects the haunting impact of loss and the lingering effects of a traumatic event. Anger can be part of the process of grieving, especially if someone has experienced multiple losses, the effect of which is a potentially permanent "sense of loss."
The sense of loss is expressed as part of depression, which can be triggered by multiple losses, including the loss of a friend and the experience of rejection. Additionally, acknowledgement and adjustment are textually portrayed as components of loss and depression. While engaged in battle over Mjolnir, Odinson reveals that he would die for his beloved hammer and he is determined to "never let it go," which the female Thor counters by stating "you cannot hold on to something you've already lost!" as Odinson questions her worthiness. Suddenly, Mjolnir flies through the air, giving Odinson hope that it will return to him as he extends his hand in anticipation and states "yes, that's it, come back to me, old friend, come back" (Thor #4). Alas, Mjolnir flies to the female Thor, who apologizes to Odinson while observing his sadness and desiring to hug him, a desire rooted in the nurturing nature of the female-coded communication style. Odinson has lost a friend (Mjolnir) who has essentially rejected him in favor of a female Thor; thus, Odinson sadly acknowledges this loss and simultaneous rejection and is forced to adjust accordingly.
The specter of loss, depression, and anger is expressed as a lingering effect that interferes with life; this notion is presented in the context of diminished masculinity, emotional anguish, and a visible result of disability. A large, jagged panel portrays both Odinson and female Thor battling Frost Giants: she is positioned behind, yet above, him as she wields Mjolnir. Her face is hidden by her helmet and hair, while his face is clearly visible and expresses determination, anger, and a muted sadness. His prosthetic arm is flaunted as he grips Jarnbjorn, which serves as a reminder of the dual loss (Mjolnir and his arm) that haunts him. His position below her creates the illusion that she is more powerful, rendering him—and his weapon—subordinate, which ultimately weakens his masculinity. His thoughts are expressed not as word balloons, but on torn fragments of paper, resembling scattered pieces of pages torn carelessly from a book. The visual depiction of the chaos of battle mirrors Odinson's chaotic state of mind as Odinson's thoughts reveal his emotional strife: "I am Thor Odinson, Asgardian. Avenger. Prince of the Realm Eternal. I am destined to live until the end of time, to wear a crown and sit on a throne, or so the stories would have me believe" (Thor #4).
Odinson's words reveal his confusion and anxiety regarding his status in light of the female Thor. He continues, revealing the haunting shadow of depression, loss, and anger: "but with every [Frost] Giant that falls this day, with every rumble of thunder, with every roaring note of the hammer's song, I die. I die a little more inside, and the more I die, the harder I swing the axe." Odinson's former activities (eliminating enemies such as Frost Giants) and status as God of Thunder serve as reminders of Mjolnir in that he relied on it to destroy his enemies and to summon lightning, an elite act of a God. The tenacious effect of depression is also portrayed as Odinson admits his symbolic death is essentially the result of reminders of his losses. Psychiatric illness, as it relates to Thor, is a multifaceted subject: Thor's depression may be combined with sensory loss, altered body image, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can serve as an impetus for further analysis of Thor.
Physical Manifestation of Depression
The emotional aspect of depression is presented throughout these comic books; however, the physical manifestation of depression is also portrayed. Depressed males who exhibit symptoms of depression will often sulk and become moody (Hart 53); a disheveled physical appearance is usually a sign of depression. Characteristics of depression, such as feelings of emptiness and low self-esteem, are depicted and depression is unmistakably illustrated in the variant covers of Thor #2. According to McCloud, backgrounds can be indicative of emotions (132), as is the case in Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson's variant cover, which depicts Odinson kneeling pathetically atop Odin's overshadowing head, which is pitted against a black and gray background, while in the foreground, the female Thor wields Mjolnir and displays a stance indicating her preparedness for battle. Odinson's head is hung, his facial features are abstract, and his ragged cape is asymmetrically worn so as to reveal and draw attention to his left arm (the arm that will be severed). His low self-esteem is apparent as he sulks, implying thoughts of emptiness and a lost former self. As Odinson sulks, readers can understand his depression and moodiness as a result of losing his worthiness, his friend (Mjolnir), and his name, all of which are now possessed by the woman who parades her power as he pouts.
Female Thor is absent from Esad Ribic's variant cover; however, Odinson's persistent pout is still present. His facial expression is now detailed, revealing a frown and eyes filled with anger and sadness. He is now defiantly standing, but his cape is more obviously ragged and torn, announcing a disheveled element; further, his cape is crooked, thus baring his left arm, which draws focus to his prosthetic. In his right hand, Odinson proudly grasps Jarnbjorn, signifying his readiness for battle, which essentially counters female Thor's battle stance in the previous cover. Both covers illustrate Odinson's depression and, if seen in this order, they can be understood to imply that Odinson's disability is a consequence of his lost worth and hammer: firstly, Odinson is seen with his arm, but lacking his worthiness and his hammer, then he is seen with his prosthetic arm (and still lacking his worthiness and hammer). Thus, the loss of his arm can be interpreted as a physical ramification of losing his worthiness and Mjolnir. Loss, depression, and disability are expressed throughout these comic books and the variant covers of Thor #2; further, physical and emotional elements of these situational aspects are also presented and clearly impact Odinson's mood.
Color, Mood, and Visual Medium
Color works in concert with physical and emotional elements to create certain moods and indicate specific qualities: color can express a "dominant mood" (McCloud 190) which can employ color as a compositional reference. Examining color from a psychological perspective reveals its potential influence on emotions: bright colors, such as red, are interpreted as exciting, uplifting, or illustrating high energy levels (Moore and Dwyer 171). As an example of the energizing quality of red, consider Thor's cape, which is traditionally bright red; as Thor experiences loss, depression, and disability, his red cape not only becomes ragged, but its color fades as the cape is speckled with mud. The Samnee and Wilson variant cover blatantly displays female Thor's bright red cape, which dominates the scene with its vivid chromatic superiority. Odinson's cape, which used to be bright red, is now hardly red at all; rather, its color could be described as pale pink. Ribic's variant cover depicts Odinson's cape as not only tattered, but muted red, indicating the worn out nature of both the cape and the character.
Muted colors can indicate moods associated with depression, whereas bright colors usually signify an energetic, happy mood. These comic books chromatically demonstrate the idea that depression correlates with (lack of) color: sadness is sometimes described as "feeling blue" and feelings of despair are sometimes described as the result of a "black cloud" following the person experiencing these feelings. This color-based connection seems to be reinforced by science, as indicated by Dr. Emanuel Bubl's study of depressed and non-depressed people. Bubl found that those with depression visually perceived less color contrast than those who were not depressed; hence, Bubl's findings revealed that the deeper the depression, the less the retinas responded to the color contrast. These findings suggest that the lack of color used to describe depression may actually be a visual symptom of depression; hence, the muted lack of color contrast may physiologically indicate depression, but when seen in visual mediums such as comics, it may serve as a mood-indicating clue.
The bland color of Odinson's cape and the muted colors with which he is portrayed signify his mood and provide a significant chromatic change, resulting in an altered symbolic perception. Odinson's physical and emotional changes are also represented by the lack of cape color: unchanged costume colors "symbolize characters, in the mind of the reader" (McCloud 188) and this characteristic of color also demonstrates its iconic power and its ability to solidify identification of characters; hence, a change in costume color is likely to impact readers' mental images of a character and change the iconic identification properties associated with costume color. The name Thor, and its associated worthiness, powers, and magical abilities, are now possessed by a woman who also inherited the vivid redness of a characteristic cape. As a result of this significant change in character, capability, costume, and cape color, the iconic power once associated with the Mighty Thor (and his hammer) is now in limbo: readers are expected to transfer this power to the female Thor, but this transfer will likely be problematic because too much has changed too fast. Such transfers would likely result in confusion, thus reflecting the emotional and mental status of the character (Odinson) by creating similar circumstances in the reader.
Color is used to depict depression, but these comic books also present depression and disability through the lens of societal attitudes towards depressed and disabled people. Power, masculinity, and the "superhero" status are all challenged as a result of physical and emotional disability, which can also be understood from a gendered viewpoint. These comic books illuminate invincibility as an illusion by presenting the notion that even those who seem to be invulnerable are actually vulnerable. Although it is not stated, readers may interpret Odinson's disability as a reminder that even Gods and superheroes can become disabled. Permeability pervades the disability category: anyone can become physically or emotionally disabled—whether a human or a God, a civilian or a veteran—thus also becoming intimately exposed to societal views towards disability. Odin's view was exposed by his refusal that his son should be a "cripple" and his subsequent immediate call for a prosthetic arm; this view echoes the medical and rehabilitation models, which respectively treat disability as a disease that requires a cure, and view disability as requiring repair, remediation, concealment, and supervision. A result of these models is the forced use of prosthetics in order to regain "normalcy" (Davis 506). Comics serves as an excellent medium through which views of and challenges to disability can be presented and understood.
Via the presentation and understanding of disability and its surrounding aspects, both the disabled and able-bodied communities, those who are depressed and those who are not, can theoretically converge within a culture of acceptance and empathy. Comics, as a medium for this convergence, can foster conversations about disability and depression, creating different contexts through which each can be understood separately or together (as is the case with Odinson). Comics can serve as incubators of understanding, which can promote positive societal attitudes regarding disability and depression; further, the scholarly conversation can benefit from a merging of the disciplines of comics studies, disability studies, psychology, and medical humanities. This collaboration can create a unique conversational dimension and can encourage disability, depression, and disease to be viewed and discussed in terms of visual representation and subsequent understanding. Disability, depression, and disease may be further represented and understood in terms of the visual medium of comics, which offers a rich and diverse environment for such representation: superheroes may be depicted as disabled, depressed, or diseased, but the true benefit of this depiction is the resulting interpretation and exposure of their conditions.
Interpretation of disability, depression, and disease can be expressed by comics' characters (those with those conditions and those who comprise their familial and social networks) as well as readers, who might also have (or know someone who has) the same condition(s). Superheroes and superheroines symbolize strength, courage, and invincibility; hence, the idea of these brave warriors battling disability, depression, and disease creates an element of identification and encouragement; readers may identify with these warriors as a result of a shared vulnerability, which can also encourage readers to believe that disability, depression, and disease are not weaknesses to be concealed, rather they can be interpreted as qualities that may be revealed and understood. Disability, depression, and disease should be further represented in comics such that "unseen" conditions might be revealed and understood. Cognitive disabilities are beginning to be represented in comics, but there is a need to include more disabilities and diseases in comics. Specifically, a superheroine or superhero with asthma, food allergies, or Celiac disease would not only draw more attention to and understanding of these diseases, but would provide an empowering representation of an individual living with unseen disease. Perhaps villains would be represented by common food allergens, asthma triggers (such as mold and smoke), or wheat, which would further enhance the clarification of not only the elements of the allergy or disease, but the interaction of such elements with the heroine or hero who has the allergy or disease.
Disease, disability, and depression, can be represented, explained, and understood within the dynamic pages of comic books, which offer an attractive medium through which to present these conditions and their related signs, symptoms, and potential remedies. Societal attitudes towards those with these conditions could also be expressed, endorsed, and rejected by the textual representation of such attitudes. Portrayal of disability, depression, and disease, as well as attitudes towards them, can create a prism of positivity through which stigmas can be obliterated and empathy can be illuminated and connections forged. Just as the Rainbow Bridge links Asgardia and Midgard, comics can serve as a bridge of understanding, linking those characters and readers who endure disability, depression, and disease and those who do not. Power would still be a characteristic of the superheroine or superhero, which would relay the message that disability, depression, and disease may affect the body and emotions, but these conditions cannot extinguish inner-strength.
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