Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Arielle are discussing Loki: Agent of Asgard 1, originally released February , 2014.
Patrick: You guys, we live in a post Avengers world. Generally, that movie changed the way the world viewed superhero movie franchises and it changed the way we viewed shared cinematic universes (everyone’s trying to ape that shit now). But very specifically – it changed Loki profoundly. Throughout the Thor flicks and Avengers itself, Tom Hiddleston’s take on the character proved to be more charismatic and nuanced than the casts he was supporting, and the zeitgeist changed around this character. He’s not just a compelling villain, he’s a frustrated anti-hero with sex appeal and a undeniably attractive ability to work the room. Between that, and Kieron Gillen’s excellent run with Kid Loki on Young Avengers, it’s hard to deny that the meta-narrative is one of a discovering that Loki is someone we love, more than someone we love to hate. Writer Al Ewing is right on board with that assessment, but is quick to acknowledge that this version of Loki is just another story, and if we start looking at all of the Loki stories, well, me might not like what we see.
In typical god-of-mischief fashion, the plot of this issue is straightforward once we have all the pieces. Loki is conscripted by the All-Mother to expel a magical corruption that has overtaken Thor following his struggle against Malekith. Loki uses a bunch of magical items to infiltrate Avengers Tower, and then utilizes some textbook manipulation to pit the Avengers against each other so he can a) delete records of his older, shittier self and b) bottle that aforementioned corruption. By the end of the issue, all is forgiven, and Loki returns the jar of Bully Thor to the All-Mother. The kicker — and perhaps the biggest trick in the issue – that corrupting essence takes the form of Old, Evil Loki. And like: eww – who could ever love Old, Evil Loki?
I’m always impressed when creators take on a series with a villain as the lead. As far as baddies go, Loki’s a pretty safe bet – as I said above, he’s one of the easiest-to-love Marvel villains out there. Ewing deftly manages our expectations of Loki by sticking very closely to the filmed versions of the character, and while the editor’s notes all make reference to specific beats in recent comic books, those notes could easily be referring to the movies. Didn’t read Thor: God of Thunder issues 13-17? No big deal – you probably saw Thor: The Dark World. A totally different set of events may have unfolded, but comic readers and movie watchers can agree on one thing: Thor was “already weak from Malektich’s foul touch.” It’s the perfect marriage of fan services: if you’re a more hardcore comic reader — like myself — you can take pleasure in the specific references to Thor God of Thunder, Civil War and All-New Marvel Now Point One, but if you’re newer to the medium — like our guest-writer today — you can rely on the knowledge you have from the movies. I don’t think I’ve yet to read a Marvel NOW! #1 that manages this balance as well as this issue.
What’s more: I find this take on the character to be super compelling. Artist Lee Garbet draws a lean, young, sexy Loki — no doubt a reflection of Hiddleston. It’s almost a little bit of fangirl wish-fulfillment when the issue opens on the dude in the shower. That’s not to downplay that decision as pandering or appealing to lowest common denominator. In fact, I think it’s a savvy read on both what the audience wants and who the character is. If the manipulative trickster god was a lady, then her sexuality would be a defining characteristic, and we’d have to see it on display is some sort of gratuitous way (and I’d probably be grumbling about it). It only stands to reason that we’d see the same thing in this issue, gender be damned! Plus, there’s the subtle visual joke of Loki wearing the towel around his neck, mimicking the furry scruff on his coat.
Arielle, I can’t wait to read what your experience with this issue was like. Ewing has Loki ruminate on the idea that his powers are really just the power of storytelling made manifest – that, he claims, is what magic is. It’s hard to argue, right? The magic that sets Thor’s soul free works because there’s a fun little tale that accompanies it – the sword of Gram, once wielded by Sigurd, first hero of Asgard blah blah blah. There’s a narrative behind it, that’s where the power comes from. Ditto Loki – and we all bring our own narratives to the table to empower the character – I’ll bring a mountain of comic books, you bring whatever you’ve got, and we’ll all have a great time.
Arielle: I am without a doubt the intended audience for this comic. I’m a newcomer who eagerly jumped from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki into the Marvel comics universe, found a richer character and a bigger, stranger universe, brought to life in Kieron Gillen’s run on Journey Into Mystery, than I had seen on the silver screen. I was hooked immediately. Loki: Agent of Asgard is hyper-aware of fans like me, and wastes no time playing to us (and with us). The first two pages are totally brazen, a murder (it seems) and a shower. I have to admit I’ve spent way more time thinking about that shower scene than I thought possible, for reasons other than the obvious. I had a hard time pinning down my thoughts on it. I thought it was funny, (but why do I think it’s funny? Like Patrick, I would be rolling my eyes if this was how a female character were introduced), but I bristled at how blatant it is, and finally, I decided that this is blatant fan service with a point, and found it actually kind of brilliant. This comic is a baited hook, and rather than denying its nature Al Ewing embraces it and heightens it, and that means plenty of indulgence. Too much of this risks sinking a story though, and Loki needs a good story. Loki: Agent of Asgard wants and needs to have both. This is a fans’ book after all.
By itself, the shower scene is just a playful jab at fan service while still being itself fan service. Taken with Loki’s efforts to manage his own image, and the fact that this story is told from Loki’s point of view, however, what better way could he begin than by being literally squeaky clean? I have to say, shiny-happy Loki is a little unsettling as someone who has followed this character through Gillen’s work. There have been so many versions of Loki since his death and rebirth, versions which live out different aspects of his character past and present, often simultaneously and in conflict with each other. This time he sets out to purge those conflicting images of himself forever. As Loki quests to erase and retcon his past self, I can’t help but think that this is Loki writing fan fiction about Loki, a joyful, obliging, and friendly Loki, with just a dash of the expected mayhem. As much as I would like this new personality to be true, I’m too familiar with the character to fully trust his version of events.
Neither Gillen or Ewing are interested in letting the Old God of Evil be forgotten. I’ve never read any of the comics where Old Loki actually exists, but both writers have kept his memory alive in various forms. The spectre of the Old Loki has hung over every iteration of Loki so far, and in Loki: Agent of Asgard, he springs back to life via a jar of sentient blood mist (gross). And really, Old Loki is extremely gross. We get a brief portrait of Old Loki’s particular nastiness when he infects Thor, who insults women and suddenly considers killing to be an appropriate solution to his problems. Ewing maintains this connection to Loki’s past, while keeping this past physically outside of the “hero” Loki. Keeping Old Loki from being swept away feels more honest, as horrifying as it was to see him again, than Loki’s own quest to rid himself of the connection. Loki might be more likeable than ever but he still has a potential for rottenness at his core. Personally I find it more healthy to keep that in mind. Plus, it’s just more fun to have Old Loki around, and if there’s anything this comic is trying to pull off, it’s having it all.
So what’s a good story for Loki? So far the comic casts him as a 5-star would-recommend-to-friend Loki, giving him sweet moments with Thor and an easy charm. It pits him against the cackling, villainous past self. In this battle royale of narratives, the real (and really good) story is probably hidden somewhere between.
Arielle had one of those classic “new companion on Doctor Who steps into the TARDIS for the first time” moments when she started reading comics a few months ago. Sucked into the universe of gods and heroes, its unclear whether she’ll ever return to real life again. She likes to pick apart stories to see how they tick at heykidyouok.tumblr.com.
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