Warning: contains spoilers for Thor #12!
Marvel’s Thor comic took a swipe at the UK’s governing Conservative Party – the party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – in its recent issue 12, echoing the well-known political refrain ‘never trust a Tory.’ Written by Donny Cates with art by Nic Klein, the line was spoken by Mr. Horse, the talking steed of Thor ally Jane Foster, aka Valkyrie, but it’s not the first time Marvel writers have taken a shot at the right-wing political party.
Created by writers Al Ewing & Jason Aaron and artist C. Cafu, Mr. Horse is written with the dialect and stereotypical personality of someone from the Yorkshire area of northern England. Marvel have gone so far as to publish a guide for how to speak like Mr. Horse, who rejected a more individual name as unnecessarily pretentious and possesses a disdain for “that Asgard” which echoes cultural expectations of Yorkshire antipathy to the more cosmopolitan London. Used interchangeably with ‘Conservative,’ the word ‘Tory’ is a common term in the UK which actually predates the political party but has become an interchangeable term for its members. Though, as here, it can be used derisively, it isn’t generally considered to be inherently pejorative or insulting when used by itself.
The insult happens during a moment between Mr. Horse, Throg (an amphibian version of Thor), and Lockjaw – a huge, teleporting bulldog – all animal allies of Marvel’s God of Thunder. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Lockjaw is the pet of the Inhuman royal family, and it’s his regal connections that Mr. Horse first objects to, responding to the dog’s aggressive greeting with, “Ye toffee-nosed royalist wazzock,” again echoing a stereotypical animosity towards supporters of Britain’s monarchy associated with the Yorkshire area. When their mutual ally Throg brokers a peace, Mr. Horse relents, but ends by warning the amphibian hero, “Just watch thyself, mind — tha can never trust a Tory.“
It’s an amusing moment intended to show that the interplay between the animal sidekicks is a good deal more complicated than fans might assume from the outside, but also a direct political reference on Marvel’s part, referencing a major political party and using a phrase that’s still very much part of contemporary political discourse. Marvel have been much more coy in relation to American politics, with even the politically charged Sam Wilson: Captain America studiously avoiding direct barbs at specific mainstream political organizations.
In contrast, Marvel have been willing to engage directly with British politics in past stories. Captain Britain and MI13 included a favorable appearance from Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown managing a super-villain crisis, while Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders saw hero Faiza Hussain, aka Excalibur, up against a militarized police state who declare, “You have been victims of a passively tolerant society! A society where, if you obeyed the law, you were left alone!” – a paraphrased version of widely criticized comments by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who said, “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.'” Less direct, Marvel’s ongoing comic The Union charts the adventures of a failing UK super-team seemingly assembled as a hasty response to Brexit.
Though a worldwide brand, Marvel is enmeshed in the American culture which shaped it, allowing those with strong views on UK politics to express themselves more directly than their American counterparts. British writers have long had a voice in American comics – a medium which experienced its own ‘British Invasion’ of UK talent – and while the moment is a far cry from Thor himself expressing a political preference, it’s still a surprisingly direct reference to ongoing, real-life politics from a company which usually plays things a little closer to the chest.