The following contains details from recent comic issues that constitute SPOILERS. These stories may be adapted to Marvel Studios films and could be SPOILERS for those films as well. Fair warning has been served; reader beware.
Journey Into Mystery #110, November 1, 1964, cover by Jack Kirby, written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby with Chic Stone, Artie Simek, and Vince Colletta. Loki increases the power of Mr. Hyde and King Cobra and directs them to capture Jane Foster in a plot to seek revenge against Thor.
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Jane Foster was introduced in Journey Into Mystery #84 in 1962, just one issue after Thor’s first appearance in #83. In these early issues, Jane was a romantic interest for Thor and his alter ego, Dr. Donald Blake. The relationship was initially tentative, with each holding back their feelings from the other. Jane was a nurse in the employ of Dr. Blake and frequently found herself put in peril by her proximity to the host of Thor; frequently, as pictured above, she was deliberately made a damsel in distress to attack Thor.
This early era of Jane’s history culminated in Odin accepting her into Asgard as the goddess of flight, but he forced Jane to prove that she deserved the honor. She failed his test and was returned to Earth with no memory of Asgard, Thor, or much of her life since meeting Donald Blake. In a sense, Jane Foster only really existed at this point in the eyes of Thor. She tried – and failed – to acquire her own agency in a comic of gods, giants, superheroes, and myths.
From this (Thor #136 in January 1967) point on, Jane was not a regular character in Thor comics. She appeared one more time in the 1960s. She was in 20 issues in all of the 1970s. She was only in 5 Thor comics from 1980 to 1989. While she is a well-known part of Thor’s early history, she’s not been a major part of his story for quite some time, with little character development to show for her over 50 years of publication history. She has appeared a bit more frequently in the past twenty years, but even then mostly as a minor character operating around the edges of major stories.
One of Jane’s adventures during her fallow period included a near-death experience in issue #231 in 1975, the cure for which resulted in Jane being merged with the goddess Sif. Here Thor’s wife from mythology, hardly attested but even those few details severely altered in the comics, is blurred into yet another, very different character.
Later, after Jane and Sif are resolved to their proper forms, Jane resumes a normal life. She becomes a doctor, marries another doctor, and gives birth to a child. Years later, during the superhero Civil War, she worked with Captain America and took the lead in treating wounded heroes. Here Jane shows an interest in superheroes and matters of global importance even in the absence of Thor, who had recently died.
After Thor resurrected the Asgardian dead from Ragnarök (long story), a now-divorced Jane joined Donald Blake in medical practice in Broxton, Oklahoma, the small town where Thor rebuilt Asgard from the ground up. She was often frustrated having to work with a man who was often called away to responsibilities on Asgard or as protector of Midgard, echoing her ‘60s frustration with Blake often disappearing for no reason with poor excuses. While she knew Blake’s secret in this era and didn’t in the ‘60s, her time was still valuable. The Donald Blake persona was soon retired, and Jane became even more active in the story of Asgard, acting as an ambassador to inform them of a coming threat and helping with refugees as that threat struck. More and more, she interacted with characters removed from Thor’s inner circle, establishing herself as resourceful, compassionate, and extremely intelligent.
If Jane Foster’s struggle has been to find a role that allowed her to be something other than a damsel in distress, a character in her own right who is more than a plot device or love interest to the God of Thunder, what then do we make of the fact that Jane is Thor now?
As I’ve discussed previously, in Marvel’s various superhero universes, Thor’s hammer Mjölnir can only be used by those worthy to wield it. It is an important restriction on a god character who has no such restriction in other media – gods can do what they want with far fewer consequences than humans have. But without Mjölnir, Thor is stripped of much of his power, so a restriction on its use brings Thor closer to humans and to superheroes. In recent issues of Marvel comics, Thor has found himself to no longer be worthy to wield his mighty hammer. The reason for Thor’s unworthiness has not yet been revealed, but the inscription on Mjölnir has long been interpreted to mean that whether or not Thor himself is worthy, others can carry Mjölnir if they pass the test.
After Thor left Mjölnir behind on the Moon, a new chapter in the history of Thor began when someone decided that “there must always be a Thor,” so she bent down, picked up Mjölnir, and became Thor. This woman suddenly had immense strength, near-invulnerability, and could wield Mjölnir and its powers of flight, destruction, and lightning. She went into battle against frost giants, a Minotaur, and even Malekith the Accursed, and performed admirably.
Jane Foster who we had only recently learned was fighting breast cancer, and who was determined to only accept human treatments for her cancer, not magic or advanced alien healing techniques.
And who, at the end of this story arc, revealed that not only was Mjölnir not curing her cancer, but her exploits as the new Thor were making her condition more grave beneath the powerful façade Mjölnir grants her as its champion.
This is surely the worthiness Odin intended when placing the enchantment upon Mjölnir: someone so dedicated to protecting Midgard that she would fight back monsters even though she knew doing so would surely kill her.
We could certainly interpret this change to Jane’s status quo as another merging of personas, just like when she and Sif shared a body 40 years ago. That by taking Thor’s name, sharing his powers and wielding his hammer, she hasn’t so much become her own character as she has become even more trapped by Thor than she ever was as the target of his enemies’ antagonism.
But for now, with a skilled writer and sound editorial direction, it seems that Jane isn’t being subsumed into the many folds of Thor’s complex identity so much as she has embraced her own humanity, compassion, and conscience, and decided to make a difference, whether Odin’s son is able to join her or not. By being worthy of Mjölnir, making the decision to lift it, and then wielding it in defense of Midgard, Jane is standing as Odinson’s equal, taking action and gaining agency where she was has hardly ever been allowed to do either.
While her powers may resemble those of the god who has been an Avenger all these many years, each choice she makes from now on is her own, and by defeating even Odin’s Destroyer in battle, she has proved that neither the gods of Asgardia nor their enemies will be leaving her passive in the face of danger again.
Jane Foster is Thor. May she defend Midgard well.