LokiCast Episode 2: “Agent of Asgard” Issue #2 (2014)

Podcast available on SoundCloud.

“Loki and Lorelei, Sitting in a Tree…” written by Al Ewing, art by Lee Garbett and Nolan Woodard, letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles, and cover art by Jenny Frison

In Issue #2 of Agent of Asgard, we get two Norse gods trying to pull off a caper in a Monte Carlo Casino, Asgardian cosplay, the All-Mother popping up out of a punchbowl, and of course speed-dating.

Original script below.

Loki is a trickster. I don’t want to like this character. He is a villain, a murderer, a liar.

And it is what Issue #2 of Agent of Asgard does, on its last page, that piques my interest. So, if you want to hear that part, skip to the end of this post.

Still with me?

Okay, let’s start the review, properly.


We open with two pages, each with two columns and three rows of panels. The perspective doesn’t change: the scene stays the same, the backdrop stays the same, the perspective stays the same. And it is this monotonicity that reinforces the monotonicity of speed-dating, which is what we are seeing as one man after another is turned away by a person off-panel. That is, until Loki appears–and the woman opposite him, who has turned away every previous man, is surprised by his “cosplay.”

I’m surprised, too. Loki is speed-dating, not even in disguise? Heck, Loki is surprised: he’s visibly taken aback by this woman’s remark about his attire, pausing a moment before he speaks to her.

On the next page, all of it is dedicated to just an image of the previously unseen woman who rejected all of these men except Loki. We won’t learn her name, which is Verity Willis, until near the end of this issue. And she is named Verity because this issue’s writer Al Ewing has a sense of humor: she is human and has the ability to see through lies. Those men she turned away? Each time they spoke–or, in one case, before they spoke–Verity calls them a liar and turns them away.

But not Loki. The very god of mischief is across from her, and in the following 16 pages, Loki is not going to lie to her, because she can see through each one. But on the seventeenth page, Loki is going to lie–and I don’t know what to do with that moment.

Back to the story: Verity wants to know why is Loki. Plot-wise, it’s so that Loki can give a long explanation to Verity that serves as an info-dump for readers: to explain what Agent of Asgard as a series is about and to narrate what he’s been up to. Story-wise, however, it’s because he’s taken in by Verity, who can see through his lies, so he might as well tell the entire truth to her. Loki explains he is looking for a god named Lorelei. Verity stammers just slightly to say she is not Lorelei, and Loki knows this. How? Is he just that trusting? Well, no: as we find out, Lorelei is also speed-dating in this same room, in disguise.

But before Loki confronts Lorelei, he explains to Verity (and new readers) who Lorelei is–she’s the younger sibling of Amora the Enchantress, she seduced both Thor and Loki, and now the All-Mother wants all erstwhile Earth-bound Asgardians like Lorelei taken off the Earth and put back in Asgard. Weeks ago, All-Mother sent Loki to find Lorelei in Paris, and after he does some investigating online and in newspapers, he determined Lorelei intends to rob one million euros from a Monte Carlo casino.

We cut to weeks later (we’re not actually told this is weeks later–we’re going to find that out after Loki finishes this tale to Verity). Lorelei and her two newly hired human sidekicks, Daisy and Trixie, deceive the Monte Carlo Casino patrons, even an Interpol agent, to break into the vault. Trixie hands Daisy Lorelei’s Amulet of Invisibility to bring the car around–but as soon as Daisy steps out, she is surrounded by cops, because Trixie didn’t give her the Amulet of Invisibility: Trixie gave Daisy some fake so she would be arrested, leaving Trixie alone with Lorelei.

Oh, and Trixie isn’t really Trixie: she’s Loki. Loki disguised himself as a woman, interviewed with Lorelei weeks ago, has been with Lorelei for weeks in disguise, and Lorelei did not see through the deception. Really? Lorelei, you hired someone named “Trixie.” Trick. Trickery. You did not see this coming? That’s like naming a character “Verity” and then being surprised she can see through lies.

Anyway, Loki gets sloppy, Lorelei escapes, he follows her to this speed-date, and Verity and readers are all caught up. Verity again protests that she is not Lorelei, and Loki again says he knows, pointing to another woman speed-dating who is using her magic to entice each man she meets to give her their wallet and all their money. Loki explains he came here in disguise as a 40-year-old divorcé named Ken, gave up his wallet to Lorelei, and that, when she examines it, will find a business card from Loki, asking her to meet him outside to be placed under arrest by the order of the All-Mother.

Loki then confronts the obvious point: if he is in disguise, why did Verity see he was in Asgardian garb? Verity explains that, since her birth, she has been able to see through any lie, no matter how small. Is this a superhero? Is she Asgardian? A mutant? We get no explanation–she just can. Loki sympathizes with her plight and reassures her that she will find someone who will not lie to her–but since that man isn’t him, he’s going to get back to his mission and confront Lorelei.

Sure enough, Lorelei finds the business card and allows herself to be escorted outside by Loki to be arrested.

Why is Lorelei, a powerful god, willing to let herself be arrested? Well, because Loki did lie–sort of. He told Verity he was going to finish his mission. But he didn’t mean the All-Mother’s order to arrest Lorelei. Outside, he informs Lorelei that he has no intention of arresting her, and instead offers to let her join a team he is putting together for his own mission. We’re going to see this mission at the end of Volume 1–and if that is all we get of this “crew” and this “caper” that Loki is putting together, then I’m disappointed. But we’ll get to that later.

The issue ends with Lorelei and Loki walking off, arm in arm, as she needles him about falling for Verity. What Loki doesn’t notice is that Verity followed him outside, lurking in the shadows. When she overhears Loki insist he was not infatuated by her, Verity lets out a quiet laugh and says he is lying.


Okay, so that’s the issue summary. Let’s get to some deeper analysis.

 

One of the problems with writing about Loki is the vast history the character has, in mythology, in popular culture, and specifically in Marvel properties. Issue #2 of Agent of Asgard reminds readers how New Loki came into being: he killed Kid Loki and took over his body. I saw the fan outrage over the death of a redeemed, young, and likable character–but I haven’t gotten to the Kid Loki comics, so that’ll be the next set of reviews. Despite how important this information is, it is largely overshadowed in Issue #1 to focus on New Loki’s mission and his relationship with his brother; and even in Issue #2, where that angst over taking over his kid-self’s body could receive focus, it’s brought up but quickly tossed aside to get back to the speed dating.

Or, I thought at first that the Kid Loki detail was tossed aside.

With the introduction of Verity Willis, it is difficult for me not to over-read a parallel between her exposition about her backstory, and this issue’s brief digression into New Loki taking over Kid Loki’s body. As someone who can see through lies, even New Loki’s disguise, Verity is introduced as a character who is kept in a state of arrested development. She comes across as someone who has not had the chance to mature into the kind of adulthood many people get to experience.

It seems like a step into adulthood is the ability to lie. That is the contrast presented Page 2 and Page 18. On Page 1, Verity, an adult, turns away one man after another because they lie. On Page 18, in her flashback, Verity, a child, identifies the mall Santa Claus is a fake, and cannot get into watching movies because she thinks “suspension of disbelief” is just another way of saying ignoring the lies. Into the future, the result is that she is shown to turn away potential opportunities for relationships: she turns down someone who offers her flowers and walks away, crying. She stays indoors to read science and math books with a glass of wine. She is introverted, yet given her inexperience with engaging with other people and building a tolerance to their lies, or an ability to work through interpersonal relationships despite lies, she is kept in that state of seeming still like a child.

None of this is to suggest something is wrong with her: she has figured out a way to be well-adjusted to her condition as someone who just happens to see through lies. She’s no more odd than someone like Loki who cannot help but lie.

Verity’s story is slowly crafted around that idea of coming out to engage with people on a more intimate basis: actually holding this long a conversation with New Loki, each of them presenting their backstories, pulls them out of their previously immature behavior, his propensity to lie and her propensity to silence rather than listen.

At the same time, I feel some discomfort around this kind of a storyline. My argument here is not that Verity needs sex with Loki to get out of this asocial, introverted life: that life is her own and is perfect on its own. I do worry whether the story goes in that direction, however. An off-hand remark by Loki in his conversation with Verity is that he is looking for a new apartment, and he hopes to move next door to Verity–and sure enough, in Issue #4, that’s what happens. In that same issue, Verity says she is not interested in dating Loki, so the potential persists. It’s not a bad idea, as it is about a person who sees through lies and a god of lies. Yet it is a potential relationship buried in some problematic details. This story risks becoming a tale less about Verity as a person and more as a potential love interest to the male main character, limited in representing men and women. I don’t even think shifting the story along gender lines would work. If it was Verity and Fem!Loki, sure, the text would increase the portrayal of same-sex relationships, with Verity still as a love interest and not as a character with agency. Likewise if Verity and Loki were both men or in some romantic or sexual relationship that was not heteronormative.

Despite these criticisms I have about Issue #2 of Agent of Asgard, it is an entertaining story. As with Issue #1, this second issue includes enough twists and foreshadowing. The random Interpol agent popping up, only to be dismissed by a hypnotizing kiss from Lorelei, has a panel layout more reminiscent of Archie Comics or Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man. And it’s topped with New Loki reassuring Verity (and us readers) that he is not that Interpol agent. Another twist that is also foreshadowing is on Page 3, when New Loki immediately realizes Verity is different from other humans as she saw through his disguise: her remark of his cosplaying, while a cheap gag, is funnier when re-reading and seeing New Loki’s brief pause in ellipses as he realizes, oh, this human can see through my magical disguise.

The speed dating format may become dated in re-reading: the fad persists, especially at comic book conventions (which makes Verity’s remark that Loki is cosplaying all the funnier). The contrast between an old god like Loki and a recent phenomenon like speed dating does provide some laughs. Sure, the speed dating serves as artifice for Al Ewing to serve exposition to readers–but in dialogue and in the artwork, even Loki is bored with having to repeat “All-Mother,” “top-secret spy mission,” and the rest.

I want to say a lot more about Lorelei, so maybe that will be a later podcast, as she appears later in Agent of Asgard, and this portrayal at least avoids problems with her that creep up in her appearance on Agents of SHIELD. What I’ll say for now is that Lorelei’s seduction of Loki, as he remembers it, has its parallel to how Loki, in a way, non-romantically seduces Verity. He tells her the truth–and it catches her off-guard. Verity is someone who, despite her abilities, despite claiming she has no suspension of disbelief, is so enthralled in this tale that she stops and assumes New Loki is the Interpol agent. She has lie-detection abilities; she should not have to ask Loki whether he was the Interpol agent, she should know. But she doesn’t.

That, for just that moment, Verity is not sure of Loki’s story, despite her lie-detecting abilities, demonstrates the power storytelling has. “Fiction,” by its etymology, comes from the word that means to create. It is associated with our word, “fabricate,” which means “to create” or “to lie.” In the previous issue of Agent of Asgard, Loki said he is playing a role. Here, he shows that, really, just because something is a story does not make it true or false. There is a lot in this story I don’t like, but that does not change the truth of it: some things that are truthful are frustrating. And just as Loki’s tale captivates Verity, it captivates me as a reader: this is fun and keeps my attention throughout each page.

What makes this issue excellent, however, is the last page. As frustrated as I am with Lorelei’s abilities, as frustrated as I am with portrayals of Loki as someone who seduces others, that last line, given to Verity, as she realizes Loki just lied about being infatuated by her, gives her a bit of that agency I was hoping she would gain, and it has me curious how else this series undermines my prejudices about Loki as a character.

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