The concept of being worthy is as ambiguous as the concept of being weird. In the same way the concept of being weird breaks down considerably at a Marilyn Manson concert, the concept of being worthy breaks down when the standards become skewed. Since worthiness is the main basis by which Thor is able to wield his enchanted hammer, Mjolnir, its standards are often undefined. This may or may not be on purpose because defining such an ambiguous term is like trying to nail pudding to a tree. Its very nature alone makes it impossible. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely without substance.
That substance is the driving force of the story within Thor #1. The main concept of this re-launched title was already spoiled when Marvel announced that Thor would become a woman. The nuts and bolts of this concept still need to be screwed into place. The events of Original Sin did plenty to skew the standards of worthiness, almost as much as the NSA skews the standards of legality.
With one little whisper, the contents of which remain a mystery, Thor is no longer worthy to wield Mjolnir and a good chunk of this story is spent lamenting about it. That’s not to say he acts like a child that just lost his favorite teddy bear. The very idea that he is no longer worthy is more damaging than no longer having the most awesome hammer in the universe that isn’t used to smash watermelons. It creates a tense and somewhat solemn narrative for him and the other Asgardians, who are just as confounded by Thor’s inability to lift his hammer. It calls into question their own understanding of what it means to be worthy, further adding to the ambiguity.
That ambiguity is downright frustrating at times because the concept of worthiness is now somehow so skewed that even Odin, the man responsible for using worthiness as the sole criterion for wielding Mjolnir, cannot lift it. That would be like Donald Trump not being allowed to fire anybody. It’s a major blow that sends a major message. The problem is that the ambiguity of that message limits its impact.
The only real substance offered by this new crisis of unworthiness comes from a threat that’s completely unrelated to it. While everyone else is struggling to understand what worthiness even means, Malekith launches an invasion at some underwater facility with an arm of Frost Giants. It’s as generic and plain as a threat Thor can face without including corn flakes and vanilla ice cream, but it’s a threat that creates the most meaningful impact because it demonstrates just how unworthy Thor has become.
Armed with his hammer, Thor can usually handle Malekith and Frost Giants with ease and still have plenty of energy to snuggle with Natalie Portman. This time, he might as well be fighting a pack of hungry wolves with a feather duster. He tries to compensate by attacking with an ax, but that ax is no Mjolnir. The battle isn’t too lopsided, but Thor’s unworthiness is still on full display for all to see. He’s sloppy, he’s unfocused, and he’s overmatched. He’s essentially become this year’s version of the Oakland Raiders. If he can’t handle Malekith and a few Frost Giants, then his season is as lost as the Raiders.
This is the most powerful message of the story, revealing the extent of Thor’s unworthiness. While the concept remains painfully ambiguous, it’s at least slightly clearer why Thor is no longer fit to be wielding it. If Mjolnir were a judge on American Idol, Thor would have been one of those contestants that left the stage in tears. However, this message is only powerful to the extent that the battle with Malekith forced it. The generic nature of this threat, which basically amounts to Malekith seeking something he and his Dark Elf buddies lost long ago, makes it too easy to gloss over. It still serves its purpose, but it’s still the least compelling part of this story.
The intent of this story isn’t to just shock the world into revealing that Thor is now a woman. Its purpose is to establish just how unworthy Thor and the other Asgardians have become. In this, the story succeeds, even though it does little to clarify the whole concept of unworthiness. Like the concept of weirdness, it’s one of those things that will remain forever undefined. It isn’t until the end where the woman now worthy enough to wield Mjolnir shows up and demonstrates her worthiness. But unlike Thor’s defeat, it lacks the same impact.
This woman basically acts as one of those shadowy figures that show up in every spy movie, not revealing her identity or even hinting who she might be. She just shows up on the moon, grabs the hammer, and just like that she’s Thor. It’s conveyed as one of those ongoing mysteries that won’t be resolved in the beginning. While this does offer intrigue, it doesn’t give many reasons to really care much about this character or even understand why they’re more worthy than Thor or Odin. It doesn’t even matter that she’s a woman. She could just as easily be just some random guy and it would have the same impact.
That’s not to say the impact isn’t meaningful. The mystery-woman says it herself. The world needs a Thor. It doesn’t matter if a man or woman has that title. A hammer doesn’t care which body parts its wielder has, only that it can hit the nails at the right angle. That takes away from the whole novelty of Thor now being a woman, but it doesn’t take away from the more tragic themes explored in this book. Thor struggling with his unworthiness helps make the story in Thor #1 compelling. The new woman who becomes Thor might as well be an afterthought. It might not make this story completely unworthy. But like grading a test on a curve, it still skews the concept as a whole.