**Major spoilers for Loki, episode 2 below
Yesterday, Disney+ dropped the second installment of Loki, and the episode's climax proved to be a jaw-dropper to anyone unfamiliar with the character's more obscure comic-book lore. It turns out that Loki's gender fluidity was extremely literal when it was revealed that Tom Hiddleston was facing off against the (slightly more) evil Lady Loki.
In a week that also included the long-hyped reveal — via a t-shirt, no less — of a hammer- wielding Natalie Portman in Thor: Love and Thunder, the debut of Sophia di Matrino's Lady Loki heralds a new era for the Thor saga. Loki has found a formidable foe in his female variant; Thor is all but guaranteed to cede his power to Portman's Jane Foster; and Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie now sits on the throne of the Earthbound version of Asgard.
It's a huge leap for the testosterone-fueled franchise, but it's also potentially a new beginning for the boy's club that is Marvel. While much fuss has been made about the shattered realities of the multiverse as a primary driver of the studio's post-Endgame Phase 4, the trippy nature of the future narratives have obscured something potentially more exciting: Marvel is embracing the female heroes it's long been criticized for sidelining.
Marvel's new shows bring female characters to the fore
Lady Loki has a longstanding history in the Thor mythology, serving as a reincarnation of the trickster god who, in the tradition of Loki-as-we-know-him, straddles the line between good and evil. She appears to be the primary antagonist and foil of the new show, and given the series' promised impact on the future of the MCU, she could be sticking around for a while.
Loki follows on the heels of the zeitgeisty WandaVision, which thrust Elizabeth Olsen's frequently benched Wanda Maximoff — AKA Scarlet Witch — into the foreground. While the show is a one-off, it established Wanda as a "Nexus being" not unlike Loki, a powerful force capable of disrupting the "sacred timeline" of the interconnected Marvel universe. She is already being touted as crucial to the upcoming Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Even bro-banter antics of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier took great pains to posit returning S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) as a potential villain in future installments, revealing her to be a character known as The Power Broker at the zero hour of that series and teasing her growth into a more formidable threat across the narrative.
The upcoming Hawkeye will introduce the world to Hailee Steinfeld's Kate Bishop, the heir apparent to Jeremy Renner's master archer. In the comics, Bishop becomes a founding member of the Young Avengers, a new super-team fans speculate is on the horizon.
Later this year, Disney+ will air the six-episode Ms. Marvel series introducing audiences to teenage Kamala Khan, who will figure heavily into the upcoming Captain Marvel sequel. And in 2022, She-Hulk will debut a whole army of all-powerful women, with Tatiana Maslany playing Hulk's cousin (also a talented lawyer!) and Jameela Jamil set to debut as the formidable Titania, a villainess who played a huge role in Marvel's Secret Wars saga, positing Jamil as a new crossover villain.
Marvel's future films point to a slate of female-focused sagas
The big-screen Marvel tentpoles seem to be following a similar trend.
The long-delayed (and long overdue) prequel Black Widow debuts next month, and is likely to be Scarlett Johansson's swan song as Natasha Romanoff. But Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova has a long history in Marvel stories, and her involvement is rumored to be a passing of the electrified baton for future adventures (or a setup for a villainous heel turn).
The much-hyped Eternals, directed by Nomadland Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao, will feature an entire ensemble of super-powered women played by Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Salma Hakek and Lia McHugh.
Next year's Captain Marvel sequel, titled The Marvels, will unleash an all-powerful team that includes Brie Larson's Carol Danvers, Maslany's Kahn and Teyonah Parris' Monica Rambeau, who came into possession of her own powers in WandaVision. The Marvels will also include Zawe Ashton as it's yet-to-be-named villain.
Meanwhile, the rumor mill is pointing to even more female empowerment.
Black Panther's all-woman warrior troupe the Dora Milaje — who appeared for a brief-but-memorable run in Falcon and the Winter Soldier — could get their own series heavily rumored to focus on Danai Gurira's breakout Okoye. And while Marvel has yet to announce how they will move the Black Panther story forward in the wake of Chadwick Boseman's untimely passing, it's been heavily suggested that Lupita Nyong''s Nakia or fan-favorite Letitia Wright's Shuri could be donning the claws (though the latter seems less likely after Wright made some unfortunate social-media posts mid-pandemic).
Finally, 2022's Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania, in addition to bringing back Evangeline Lilly's Wasp and Michelle Pfieffer's Hope Van Dyne, is generating chatter around Ant-Man/Scott Lang's daughter Cassie. In the comics, Cassie becomes the heroic Stature, an eventual member of the Young Avengers… offering another clue that the MCU is paving the way for a super-team comprised of new blood.
The current slate is a far cry from the much-derided “Girl Power” moment of Endgame. With these projects teed up — in addition to the return of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora, Mantis and Nebula, plus whatever new variants of old heroes the multiverse opens up— it’s very much looking like Marvel’s future is female.
The gender-fluid Loki reveal has major implications for Marvel
See Time Out's ranking of Marvel's 22-film Infinity Saga