As I wrap up work my next publication, I want to spend the next few weeks sharing my thoughts about recent and popular interpretations of Marvel’s god of mischief and lies, Loki.
This is a new podcast: this is the LokiCast.
Episode #1 of the LokiCast is available for free on SoundCloud. Below is the script for this first episode, in which I look at Loki: Agent of Asgard Issue #1 by Ewing and Garbett. The podcast sticks mostly to this script, so if you don’t have 20 minutes to listen, feel free to skim the script below.
I’m going to record a few more episodes as I wrap up work on publishing about Loki. Let me know what you think about the podcast in the comments section or on Twitter.
(There is a short gap without audio early in this track; skip over that dead air.)
Loki: Agent of Asgard Issue #1 is certainly a product of the Marvel film adaptations, reconciling the newer cinematic portrayal of the character with his classic origins. The first issue in many ways replays details from the first Avengers film, whether the use of Stark Tower rather than Stark Mansion, this iteration of the team consisting of their cinematic counterparts, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and Captain America dressed in the same outfits that they wear in the films, even Bruce Banner offering an incomplete form of the “I’m always angry” line.
It can rangle fans to have a more attractive, younger, more Hildeston-esque Loki on the pages, a point not lost upon Clinton Barton who describes the newer character as “One Direction-y.” The attractive smooth skin of this Loki is accentuated in contrast to the illustrations of Loki Classic, who arrives on the last page of Issue #1 and who pops up in a flashback in his first fight against the Avengers. This Loki differs greatly from how Jack Kirby was drawing him: the wrinkles and dead eyes are exaggerated, his gleeful smirk transformed into a frightening gaping maw.
Initially, this contrast in physical appearance seems like a cynical attempt to make New Loki look all the more interesting than Loki Classic. But, thank Odin, it’s not. Loki’s two sides are going to be front-and-center to this series. That structure to Agent of Asgard touches upon a point I traced in my earlier article, and which I’m working on in a new publication: what is Loki’s role? Issue #1 of _Agent of Asgard_ summarizes how Loki wrestles with his past self and his future potential, when he imagines his initial fight with the Avengers, way back upon their formation, as like a play:
“Once upon a time, Thor was exiled to Midgard, and spent his time playing the role of the hero. So his brother Loki–smarting from a few minor squabbles–decided to play the role of the villain. But the gods are creatures of magic, creatures of story. We must be careful which roles we step into. The God of Mischief became the God of Evil. But Loki didn’t care. He was on fire now. He was burning. Forever burning.”
The “burning” repetition is going to be foreshadowing for what Loki Classic has been up to. The repetition of “play,” “role,” and “story” of course evokes that Shakespearean quality inherent to the Thor Marvel Comics since the big guy said his first “thou,” and heightened by the live-action adaptations. When I hear those theatrical terms in almost any text, my first instinct is to turn towards theories about performance and performance–how the comic has Loki embody those roles, literally inhabiting Thor’s body and the physical differences between Loki Classic and New Loki’s appearances. And as I keep working through this comic book series, and other comics featuring Loki, I’m going to keep turning back to this performativity, as it ties into my earlier and future publications on the racializing, gendering, and sexualizing of Loki.
And now, back to this issue itself!
The first issue waits until the last page to fully reconcile the newer Loki with the classic Loki–although, if you’re paying attention early on in the book, Loki Classic has been present since Page 1. I’ll tell the story in order, as opposed to the comic, which opts for in medias res and a few flashbacks: as best as I understand it, before his death, Loki Classic sealed himself inside Thor. And this Thor is a dick: abusing servants, fighting with teammates, getting into fist-fights with Iron Man…
Okay, that one is to be expected.
And, worst of all, Thor is even willing to murder Loki.
But wait–I thought Classic Loki was dead and his essence inside Thor, so…What is going on?
Well, there are two Lokis: Loki Classic sealed in Thor, and a younger, hipper Loki. The All-Mother summoned a younger, rejuvenated, pre-fallen form of Loki–New Loki–to act as their agent. The All-Mother offered New Loki a chance to work off his debt to Asgard: for every good deed he performs, he works off a bad deed–in this case, this one legend of this good exploit he performs in the present will remain in the minds of humans, and in exchange, the legend of one bad exploit will be erased from history books, and humans’ minds. It’s kind of like B. Ichi–only Norse.
Aware of Thor’s abusive behavior, the All-Mother order New Loki to infiltrate Avengers Tower and stab him in the back to pull out from him what they call “the Corruption,” a dark mass that New Loki senses and says is “a jar of mixed lies.” All-Mother knows this Corruption is Classic Loki; New Loki just thinks it’s something full of lies–and, really, he should know that if this is the quintessence of lies, of course it’s going to be some liquefied mess of, well, himself. (As an aside, this plot is actually fun–something lacking in so many comic book stories, and one that feels like the right mix of Silver Age logic, Norse mythology, and some symbolic, slightly more mature narrative structure.)
So, this is actually a really creative start to the series, hitting the obvious point on the head: Loki’s worst enemy is himself. The foreshadowing is all there: New Loki expunges Classic Loki from Thor without realizing that’s what this corruption of lies is.
Sure, the beats hit upon from The Avengers film comprise some hamfisted corporate synergy, always stoking those fears among fans that the comics are going to become far too similar to the film, and an insult to readers as if, “Hey, remember that cool thing in the film? Well, here it is, but in the exact same form without much creative effort at adaptation.” That’s not to overlook the fun of hearing Barton sounding less like Jeremy Renner and more like Fraction and Aja’s interpretation. But to have the “I’m always angry” included, even though it gets interrupted, reminds me more of the lackluster Avengers Assemble Disney animated series than a story that stands on its own.
The first issue also lays on the exposition a bit heavily, with some visual and narrative twists. Sure, we get a panel re-creation of Loki’s first battle against the Avengers from their very first issue, and New Loki is giving us back-story as he proceeds to purge all nations’ and SHIELD’s records of Classic Loki’s crimes. Initially, this seems like a parallel to how the All-Mother will purge the tales of Loki from humans’ minds–and hinting at a darker motivation for a New Loki who is too impatient to wait. But then comes the twist: it’s all a distraction to lure Thor.
Another twist is in Loki’s narration, which seems to shift between two personas: sometimes, it’s New Loki speaking, and other times it’s Classic Loki speaking (in third person) from somewhere else. Initially, it seems Classic Loki is narrating from the latent qualities still inside New Loki–until the revelation that he is speaking from within Thor.
Less interesting are the minor touches like the font and color on Loki’s narration text boxes is to be expected at this point–green and in a font that screams “Norse!” But at least I get a giggle out of the text box saying “Soonish” rather than “Later” or “Then.”
And starting the story in medias res allows for a stunning opening, Garbett’s image of New Loki stabbing Thor complemented–or ironized–by Ewing’s snide narration for New Loki that, “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.” This is borne out by story’s end. And I appreciate how Garbett’s artwork initially makes Thor look like such an ogre, a far cry from the heroic character and which had me nervous, that the art would take this lazy route to make Thor look as unappealing as possible so that the young, fresh hunk of New Loki man-meat looks more attractive by comparison. Therefore, I was pleased that Garbett’s design of Thor was intentional: he is corrupted right now, to the point that he can’t even pick up Mjolnir–huge red flag to readers paying attention–so he is going to look a bit different.
And what gives this version of Thor the quality I wanted is the last moment between him and New Loki: Thor visits him in his SHIELD jail cell, offers him a beer, and asks whether he can hang around to talk “before you make your inevitable escape.” It’s fanservice, to be sure–not like having naked New Loki exiting the shower on Page 3 fanservice, but giving readers a sincere brotherly moment between the two characters. I wrote before how uncomfortable it is to hear Thor in The Avengers film joke about Loki being adopted. And it of course is unsatisfactory to see Loki’s (fake) death scene in film Thor: The Dark World, because that is the point: Loki is not redeemed, may never be redeemed, and falls further into comic book villainy as, in that film, he removes Odin and supplants him. Loki’s story in the films is not over. But New Loki has a new start, so the first issue might as well throw in some earned brotherly affection between him and Thor, establishing that this is indeed a different character.
Next week, I look at Agent of Asgard Issue #2, featuring speed-dating, a woman who can see through lies, and a more enjoyable spy caper than anything Agents of SHIELD has produced. Let me know what you think of the podcast in the comments section or on Twitter–and thanks for listening!