Patrick: I remember seeing a featurette on Kill Bill, Vol. 1 in anticipation of Vol. 2. In it, Quentin Tarantino mentioned a few of the storytelling accomplishments of the first movie. For the most part, Vol. 1 is an emotionally satisfying episode in and of itself: an emotionally and physically devastated woman finds the means, the will and strength to fight back. But Tarantino points out the importance of establishing the mythology of a Hattori Hanzo sword. By the time the second flick rolls around, they’re legendary, and their legacy adds an almost supernatural element to the fight between The Bride and Elle. I mean, it’s Hanzo Sword vs. Hanzo Sword for crying out loud! The thing is, the only way to communicate how powerful these blades are is to tell us stories about them. Al Ewing continues to explore the power of myth by having his antagonist craft his own mythical sword, not by forging the blade, but by forging the story of the blade.
This issue takes a little break from the young, mostly-good Loki that the series has focused on thus far to present an adventure of Old Man Loki. So, I’m afraid we’re going to have to take a break from all that sexy, young Loki action. That, it turns out, is precisely the point: while Young(er) Loki has been trying to wipe out his mythological ledger, Old Loki sees the value in adding stories to the narrative. He hops back in time to the days of Odin’s youth, and engineers a pretty standard mythological tale of misunderstandings, greed and revenge. It’s a fantastic little yarn, and it has all the trappings of a classic myth, including characters that unexplainably take the forms of otters and dragons. Where the narrative veers from those classical stories are the moments when Loki interjects himself. It’s fucking awesome how clearly Ewing makes Loki an agent of chaos: can’t think of a reason Odin would just flat-out kill a giant otter? Just have Loki do it! Can’t think of a way to kill the giant magically-protected fish? Just have Loki produce a bazooka.
Amazing, right? Loki moves to put all of these pieces into place, ultimately pitting two brothers against each other (stick with what you know, I guess) — one turns into a dragon and the other fashions a blade capable of slaying dragons. Enter Sigurd, the quintessential Norse hero, to take up the blade against both brothers. When all is said and done, Loki asks Odin to make good on his promise to seal the sword up in a box locked with five separate keys.
God, I love all of the details in this. Ewing manages to tell a story that feels just like a Norse myth, complete with a moral that doesn’t quite add up. The most important thing (arguably, the only important thing) is that the sword comes out of this with a fantastical history. It’s not 100% clear to me whether Old Man Loki was prepping this sword for his own use in the present, or if he’s trying to trick the younger version of himself in to taking up a blade that forces the truth out of people. Either way, it’s a brilliant move, and made all the more brilliant by the fact that Young Loki is only working to expunge stories about himself, and this story is clearly about Gram, Odin and Sigurd.
There is an awful lot of storytelling in this issue. Just a ton of it. Artist Lee Garbet handles the exhausting pace deftly, quickly and clearly establishing every new location, and even making sense of some of the more nonsensical transformations.
Clarity is actually the name of the game here, and while we usually tend to give special attention to artists that innovate to tell their stories, Ewing’s meta-fable not only requires clarity for the amount of story in it, but for the sheer strangeness of the story as well. Even when Garbet gets a splash page, he’s packed the image with additional information. Like the third act introduction of Sigurd: to ease some of that narrative whiplash, Garbet wordlessly peppers in details about the charcter. We might not know exactly what his deal is, but we know enough not to be overwhelmed.
What strikes me as most impressive about this issue is that it makes good on the promise laid out by the first two issues. Namely: that the stories told about Loki matter. Shelby, were you as enamored with this sword origin story as I was?
Shelby: I absolutely was, though naturally I missed my sexy Loki action. What can I say, young Loki is pretty dreamy; I’m a sucker for guys who paint their fingernails black, and are the god of lies and chaos.
And that’s really what this story is, isn’t it; if you try to figure out how this issues works, how Loki can go back in time to before he existed to influence the man who would become his adopted father while he was still but a boy, your brain might start to boil. This story is meta chaos on paper. It make sense, actually; what else would you expect from a book who’s protagonist’s goal is to literally change his story?
Ewing does something here that I respect and enjoy a lot when I see it in books: he’s taking crazy and running with it. This issue is very self-aware of the kind of story it’s telling, how to tell that story, and how to fuck with it, all at the same time. I think my favorite panel might be when the father of the unjustly slain Otr asks how Loki was able to defeat the mighty dwarf-turned-fish guardian of the treasure.
It’s a scene imbued with all the Norse olde timey-ness one could ever desire, and Loki’s straight-faced response is, “I shot him with a bazooka.” The ability to step so far out of the box shows a great deal of imagination, and the ability to make such a non-sequitor work shows a great deal of skill.
Delightful meta-commentary aside, this title appears to be honing in on the definitions of truth and lies. Old Loki makes a point of never speaking a lie in this story, but that is leagues away from telling the truth. It’s a lesson Young Loki is going to have to learn, especially in the presence of Verity and possibly a magic truth sword. Personally, I think if Young Loki is really trying to re-write his own story, he’s going to have to start being more truthful. That is, actually truthful; I wonder if Verity can tell when someone is lying by omission? I swear, that girl is going to do a world of good for Young Loki, and probably mess up all his secret plans in the process.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?