To set the scene:
Imagine late in the evening on a hot July night in 2014, I was spending the summer half living out of two apartments, I was running a fever of around 102, and hardly slept most of the nights that month due to a CMV infection. CMV is something most people get at some point in their life, think it’s a day or two flu, then get over it and are never bothered again – but as an immunosuppressed chronically ill transplant patient, it hits me hard. I’ve been what I call a “professional sick person” since birth, more or less, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still suck. It’s frustrating to not be able to enjoy my summer, to barely be able to make it to work, to barely be able to do much more than lie in bed and wish that I wasn’t sick. Needless to say, not the best summer on record in my book, not by a long shot.
It was on that night that I was doing the most I could manage for so many nights, browsing the Internet in between ice cold baths to try and lower my fever. While looking through comic book news articles, I spot an announcement that Jane Foster was going to be The Mighty Thor, part of Marvel’s rebranding and relaunching of many of it’s characters under the “All-New” flag. I knew Thor being a woman was stirring up some controversy, but what caught my eye was that Jane Foster had cancer. A cancer patient was going to be Thor. A sickly, skinny, blatantly ill cancer patient was going to be a superhero God of Thunder, vanquishing foes with mass amounts of power and creating a better world. As somebody who was spending the summer sick in bed, barely being able to drag myself to the kitchen to make more than coffee and toast, this spoke to me. The schtick was that Jane Foster, cancer patient, was strong as hell whether she was wielding Mjolnir or not – as a cancer patient she fought chemo and radiation and as Thor she contended with Loki and Malekith. This spoke to me even when I was my healthiest; when you’re chronically ill and used to being blindsided by bad news, you live your life with the feeling that the other shoe is going to drop at any moment and sometimes it takes all I have, even on my best days, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I need to draw on all my resolve and become a superhero just to put on shoes and make it out the door.
I saw the first promotional art pieces and wept that night. Wept because it got me. Dauterman was able to capture with ink and color the reserve, the strength, and the iron will that was inside of an outwardly sickly Jane Foster. The art of Thor was great, sure, with it’s bright colors, zippy text, and visually stimulating lines. However, the most amazing pieces show Jane in what is supposed to be her weaker, more vulnerable form but the eyes and posture belay that idea. While with Mjolnir Thor is crushing enemies that could end the world, the more powerful form is Jane as Jane. Even when I was yellow with jaundice, thin as hell because my body wasn’t absorbing nutrients correctly, and I only could maintain a semi-normal life due to a tube coming out of my abdomen, I knew I had strength. This art shows it. It shows how I feel, how I see myself, in a way that I’ve never seen portrayed through any form of media.
In a fever-haze I wrote Dauterman through his website. I told him what those first images made me feel, how his art was showing individuals with chronic illness in the way I knew many of us felt but never saw. Jane Foster, cancer patient, wasn’t somebody to be pitied. She was somebody to be respected, revered, and a model of somebody to live up to. The most amazing part is that he responded, and not in a “after a few weeks I got a form letter back” way, it was in a “personal response in less than a few days way”. I could tell he was honestly touched and that he was going for what I saw. After asking my permission, he shared my message with his editors and it was printed in the letters section of an upcoming issue.
The art he’s done is breathtaking, though granted I’m a biased party. I’m happy as heck to call myself that, though, because it shows a representation of me and people like me that I don’t see much in media. I have Mighty Thor #1 hanging in the entryway to where I live and look at it everytime I enter or leave to remind myself of… I don’t really know. I don’t consider myself a superhero because it’s not like I have much choice in choosing one way or another, but it inspires me. I struggle a lot with the “oh you’re so strong” mentality of those with chronic illness because that phrase implies a choice – that we’re choosing to be strong but when the other option is “dying at 14 when you really want to keep living” that’s not much of a choice at all. I’m not a better or worse person than anybody due to my illness, but I also have had some extraordinary life experiences because of it. Dauterman’s art is a representation of these experiences and I’ve connected with it in ways that is deeper than most pop culture I’ve ever consumed. It makes me think about this push and pull, it makes me grapple with deep thoughts and ideas about my own identity, but most importantly it’s just fucking to see somebody dealing with things I’ve dealt with but still being treated as important to the narrative.