Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Loki: Agent of Asgard 14, originally released May 20th, 2015. This issue is a Secret Wars tie-in. For more Secret Wars coverage from the week, click here.
This thing about changes being ‘organic’ is misapplied constantly. Changes in comics come from deliberate choice, not weather patterns.
Gail Simone (@GailSimone) May 22, 2015
Patrick: Secret Wars isn’t something that’s happening to the Marvel Universe. Secret Wars is the result of specific planning and action from an entire team of editors, publishers, writers and artists. It exists by sheer force of will and accomplishment, about as intentional of a thing as can happen in comics. Loki: Agent of Asgard 14, bearing the “Last Days of” banner, explores the idea of the agency of the storyteller, even if that storyteller happens to be a character from within the story.
Of course, the issue also spends a lot of time dealing with the persistence of story. I know that Secret Wars 2 made me personally uncomfortable: I don’t like the idea of the Marvel Universe being wiped out and replaced with something fundamentally different. Battle World isn’t a simple reimagining of Earth, but “a patchwork planet composed of the fragments of worlds that no longer exist.” My knee-jerk discomfort to this idea is based on the assumption that the Marvel Universe, as I understand it, no longer exists. But I’ve got to be a better reader than that, with more confidence in the storytellers than in “the Universe” itself. Loki — our Loki — represents both the creators and the creations, and while that may be a little confusing, the one thing he insists upon is that there will always be more stories to tell.
But that insistence only comes when Verity calls Loki a liar on the claim that the final incursion is “the end of all stories.” Loki, just like Secret Wars writer Jonathan Hickman, does his damnedest to convince us that the end of the world somehow means something. When Verity presses Loki, he adds “well, I was exaggerating for dramatic effect.” That’s a comfort to this jittery Marvel fan: the Marvel Universe was destroyed but we’re exaggerating to make it more exciting.
Loki also just up and reboots himself… err, herself. If you picked up A-Force (also on sale this week), you’ll recognize the female version of Loki from the pages of that series. This change — and the fact that Loki consciously makes the choice to change from male to female — is one of the more potent ideas in the book. No doubt we’re all familiar with the new Thor by now: also a lady. (Don’t worry, I won’t spoil her identity here.) The specificity of Loki’s transformation is obviously a reference to that change. Speaking to Gail Simone’s point above, the new Thor — and the fan community’s eventual acceptance thereof — lives and dies by the efforts of writer Jason Aaron and artist Russell Dauterman and they story they told about the character.
Right before he transforms, Verity stammers “this is my friend we’re talking about” — echoing a lot of fans’ initial reaction to news about the new Thor. When Freyja suggests that Odin could use the help of “either Thor,” Odin spits back “mention not the impostor.” Everyone seems to have an opinion on the Sons of Asgard becoming the Daughters of Asgard. Loki, however, offers the most compelling arguing for this change.
“We move forward. We learn. We do different.” Amen, Loki. Al Ewing manages to cram a few jokes about the comic industry’s reliance on returning to the status quo and on nostalgia when Loki adds that he/she could maybe team up with the old version of himself — just not yet. It’s too soon. Even while offering wonderful insights about its own genre, Loki is able to make fun of itself.
What’s more is that for all of Ewing and Loki’s reassurances that there are always going to be Marvel Universe stories to tell, there’s an awful lot of End of the World storytelling in this issue. Ewing and artist Lee Garbett take a tour of the Ten Realms, showing the reader what it looks like when everyone along the Life Tree readies for the end. Garbett gives the heroes of Earth-616 pretty standard superhero treatment: a splash page featuring Spider-Man, some Avengers, at least one Inhuman, at least one X-Man, all doing battle with a threat from the skies.
But through the eyes of Heimdall, we get to check in on the other realms, doing a quick wrap up of characters and worlds that no other series was going to be able to commit page real estate to. Odin’s quest to raise an army also serves to remind us just how deep the Thor bench is. Add to that King Loki descending to Hel to collect an army of the dead. I don’t totally know what any of these character are hoping to actually do to affect the end of the world — especially when we’ve already seen the world end — but it’s nice to be reminded that there are so many stories here that will continue — as long as there are storytellers to tell ’em.
Spencer, I think this is Ewing’s strongest Loki: Agent of Asgard script yet. It’s layered and meta and self-critical without being pessimistic. Plus it brings all the weight and excitement of the end of all things. Double plus: King Loki swinging Balder’s head around by his silver locks. Needless to say, I haven’t heaped nearly enough praise on Garbett or colorists Antonio Fabela and Andres Mossa. I mean, holy Hel, Odin’s apocalyptic dream sequence is beautiful, right?
Spencer: Absolutely, Patrick, although I would’ve preferred Odin’s bare butt to not be a part of it. Really though, I don’t know if we ever praise Garbett (or Fabela and Mossa) enough — this is yet another strong issue in a long streak of strong issues. Garbett doesn’t quite get the chance to show off with any inventive layouts this month — though I am fond of the way the panels showing us Heimdall’s view of the various realms cascade down the page — but instead he’s allowed to absolutely rock a variety of awe-inspiring locations and outrageous, over-the-top scenarios. I mean, we’ve got that spread of the heroes gathering to face the Incursion, the harsh, immense landscape of Hel, King Loki’s charge atop the Jormungandr, and, perhaps my personal favorite image of the issue:
When I see Freyja there, I can’t help but to think of a Rob Liefeld drawing, but for once, I don’t mean that as an insult. The idea of Asgardians fighting back using guns is, in many ways, completely ridiculous considering how far advanced their magic and technology are compared to Midgard’s, but Ewing still obviously wants the audience to be caught up in the sheer spectacle and shock of Odin swinging around a gatling gun or Freyja wielding a couple of assault rifles, and a call-back to the kind of gritty sensationalism of the ’90s is an excellent choice to capture that feeling. Really, Garbett just excels at capturing every bit of spectacle throughout this issue, without ever sacrificing clarity, emotion, or any of the nuance of the slower moments — as always, it’s an impressive feat.
It’s worth noting that the Asgardians having a stockpile of Midgardian weaponry isn’t something Ewing made up — it’s apparently a callback to the Walter Simonson run on Thor when the U.S. Military gave Asgard a stock of weapons that they later used to raid Hel. The article I linked to also points out that Loki had already murdered Balder at least twice before that story was even printed, making the use of guns here and King Loki slaughtering Balder yet again — as well as his releasing the Jormungandr — nods to older stories. To me, these elements are also an acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of comics as a medium.
Actually, there’s a lot of similarities between Asgard and comics in this respect. Both are full of characters who will seemingly never die — or, when they do die, don’t stay dead long — and in both cases their stories never really end, they just undergo slight changes while mostly reverting to the status quo every few years. Even Asgard’s version of the end of the world — Ragnarok — is an endless apocalypse which can, and has, been defeated. This kind of storytelling is a far cry from Loki’s statement that stories “have to end to mean something,” and it makes the end of the world presented by the final Incursion and Secret Wars a very different kind of apocalypse for everyone involved.
Why? Well, this final Incursion is a definitive end, the kinds of which neither Asgard nor the Marvel Universe has seen before. It’s not the end — we readers already know about Battleworld and the Marvel Universe that will eventually emerge from it, and even Loki knows that stories never really end — but it’s as close as we’re ever going to get with this particular set of characters, and the idea of an “ending” for Asgard creates a lot of freedom for both the creative team and the characters they’re directing.
For much of the Ten Realms, the end of the universe means they only have one last chance to resolve old grudges. For others, it means defending their lives for no reason other than sheer honor. No matter what, it’s a chance to see these God-like characters faced with their mortality at a level we rarely, if ever, get to witness — and again, Ewing and Garbett never fail to capture the sheer enormity and emotional weight of the situation.
As expected, though, the only two characters who believe that they aren’t facing their end are the two versions of Loki. Despite appearances to the contrary, King Loki isn’t fighting just to spite or destroy his enemies, but specifically to “stay alive.” Our new Loki, meanwhile, seems to have a plan up her sleeve involving Verity Willis which may just be the “most important thing there is.” As always, Loki is the wild card, but while they may face the end of everything in a far different manner as their friends, they’re still obviously effected by this apocalypse, both resorting to plans they’d probably never consider in any other situation. That’s why endings are such a valuable tool — even if it’s not a permanent, final ending, an ending still brings out shades and elements of its story that could never exist otherwise. The end of a story is its final chance to mean something, and seeing how our new God of Stories faces the end of her story, and whether she can finally find some meaning in it after she’s so often failed to in the past, should be absolutely fascinating, and may just make all this Secret Wars stuff worth it. After all, we could never reach this kind of ending otherwise.
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?