Today, Ryan D. and Spencer are discussing Vote Loki 1, originally released June 15th, 2016
Ryan D: This story is as much about Loki as “The Great Gatsby” is about Gatsby; it’s a narrative told through the lens of Nisa Contreras, our Nick Carraway of the story, a former Daily Bugle reporter whose Lower East-Side block was devastated by an Avengers clash with Loki back in the Golden Age. Nisa distrusts the Trickster God implicitly, and her skepticism makes sense in this comic, with her pragmatics being a decidedly grounding force to a fairly outlandish idea. I wish that writer Christopher Hastings gave the audience a bit more characterization from Nisa, who at the moment is defined by her tenacity and care for the corrupt political election system, but I am sure further issues will allow her voice to be refined and heard.
Loki appears at a debate between the two generic, white, faceless political candidates which Nisa is also covering:
Artist Langdon Foss adds in some wonderful sight gags to this scene, such as the candidates’ podiums being labeled “L” and “R” to not-so-subtly point out how bipartisan American politics have become, which highlight and foreshadow the pastiches of the current political system which permeate this comic. Much like its contemporary election-based title, Citizen Jack, Hastings steers issue 1 away from directly attacking either political party, and instead focuses the lampooning on the foibles and follies of the “election industrial complex.” Loki soon thereafter foils an assassination attempt from the most popular evil syndicate in the Marvel Universe, Hydra, endearing himself to the American voters, and setting into motion his potential bid for presidency under the mantra of “I’d have the guts to lie right to your face. And you’d love it.”
The audience here experiences a new Loki, one whom I had not seen before on the pages of a comic book, who has a bit of a hipster, twenty-something Millennial vibe to him. His motivation seems be be fairly evident: running for president could be interesting, and Loki bores easily. This incarnation of him is rationalized as able to run for president because he, though a mythological figure, must be actually born of mortal hosts, and apparently was so in America. Loki also uses this conceit as a device to distance himself from his past nefarious deeds.
What I find most striking about his adherence to his godhood, however, is the fact that our protagonist Nisa proudly wears a cross. I find it fascinating to think of how Christianity as a religion survives in a universe full of magic, super/meta-humans, Inhumans, and gods; we seldom read about the papal bulls issued by His Holiness, the Pope, when Galactus rolls into Manhattan. The monotheist human vs. Norse polytheistic deity could lead to some interesting explorations of faith, especially if compounded by the role religion often plays in elections.
The crux of this title comes down to the idea — one quite familiar to American audiences at the moment — that pop culture relevance can be conflated with vague policy into a political career. I particularly enjoyed the panels dedicated to the meme-ification of Loki.
Remember: nobody means anything until they have their own entry on KnowYourMeme.com. This topic is more pertinent now than ever, seeing how this comic came out almost a year to the day that Donald Trump announced his candidacy, and while I have loved Christopher Hasting’s comedic stylings since fawning over Dr. McNinja when I was still in high school and his newer Gwenpool stuff, I think it will be difficult for this title to supersede the vitriolic pastiche coming from Citizen Jack. What Vote Loki has to its advantage, though, is what could be a very compelling character in Nisa Contreras driving the story forward, offering a dense foil to Loki’s gallimaufry of shtick and deceit.
Spencer! I found Vote Loki 1 to be a fun romp into the land of politics and a solid departure from the capes stories we’ve been having of late, though I have my worries about it. Where do you stand on that? What did you think of Loki’s point about the narratives which candidates construct, especially when considering that he, himself, is essentially a manifestation of an aggregation of stories? And do you think this title has enough fuel to burn for a successful arc?
Spencer: Loki isn’t just a manifestation of stories, Ryan, he’s the God of Stories, a title he earned in the pages of Loki: Agent of Asgard. If anybody knows about stories it’s him, and I’d say his theory about candidates looking to construct a narrative around them is absolutely on point.
In general, I believe that people are more interested in a compelling narrative (or, more cynically, a narrative that panders to their preconceived notions) than the truth, and isn’t that what elections are all about? I mean, even television — which allowed citizens to actually see their candidates for the first time — drastically changed the ways elections were held, despite the fact that appearances shouldn’t have anything to do with a candidate’s viability. And “campaign promises” are openly mocked and acknowledged by just about everyone to be a joke. Elections aren’t about who candidates really are or what they really plan to do — they’re about who can convince the most people to vote for them, and managing your own image and meticulously crafting a narrative that will appeal to the broadest base of voters is a key dynamic of this.
Again, as a God of Stories, Loki is a perfect choice to undertake such a campaign, and even that itself is a damning reflection of the current state of American politics. Ryan’s right that the satire here isn’t quite as biting as one might expect, but that’s largely because it’s the year 2016, and this year’s real election cycle is so outlandish that anything Hastings and Foss included in this comic was destined to pale in comparison. This is the election where Bernie Sanders’ supporters fawned over him online, called him “Daddy,” and cyberbullied even other Democrats; this is the election where Donald Trump continues to be caught in lie after lie after lie and, instead of admitting any fault, somehow spins it to his advantage; this is the election where Hillary Clinton “dabbed” on national television and attacked Trump on Twitter with memes. It’s…it’s ridiculous almost beyond comprehension, and I can’t even blame Hastings for not trying to top it.
In fact, what’s scariest about the political aspects of Vote Loki isn’t that they’re part of some potential future we need to fear — it’s the fact that we’re actually already living them.
To point out the similarities between Loki’s campaign and Trump’s is almost redundant — anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock the past year should see them — but I thought this moment was one of the more interesting ones. Laureen’s speech seems like sheer lunacy, but there does actually seem to be a few individuals out there trying to get Trump into office because they believe that he’ll destroy the United States, allowing them to rebuild it into a better country. The more absurd a moment in Vote Loki 1 seems, the more likely it is to be based in some sort of truth, and like I said, that’s the most chilling aspect of this story: if we can so easily insert current political figures into a story this ridiculous, what does that say about our current political climate? Nothing good, that’s what.
So while Loki makes the perfect stand-in for our current crop of presidential hopefuls, I also appreciate that Hastings doesn’t overlook the depth Loki’s gained as a character over the past few years. Unlike Ryan, I’ve been following this incarnation since his rebirth under the pen of Kieron Gillen, and in that time he’s become quite the complex character. Loki (and Ryan) supposes that boredom may be his main motivation for seeking the presidency, but that’s too simple. As we’ve seen recently in the pages of Mighty Thor, this post-Secret Wars Loki’s true allegiances are a mystery; every move he makes has the potential to be a double, or even a triple, cross. Why would his campaign be any different?
That’s why using Nisa as a viewpoint character (as Ryan pointed out) is such a smart decision. The audience isn’t allowed to get into Loki’s head — instead, we have to watch him from a distance as Nisa and the rest of America does, and we have to try to guess his game in the same way they do as well. That’s never a boring task; every move Loki makes is suspect, but is that because he’s actually up to something, or just because we’re (justifiably) suspicious of him?
And the hints that Loki may be up to no good at too numerous to ignore, yet not at all conclusive. Why in the world is Angela, of all people, interested in helping Loki’s campaign, and why doesn’t Loki allow her to explain herself? Did Loki prearrange the Hydra attack, or was it just a lucky coincidence? Then there’s the evil grin Loki flashes when Nisa agrees to interview him, or even the mysterious phone call that gets Nisa’s editor to change her headline.
Between the background color slowly shifting to green and the way the final panel falls out of place as the scene moves forward, this seems to be implying that Loki manipulated the man, but there’s no hard evidence to prove it.
All of this fairly represents the complex, unknowable individual Loki has become: a being capable of almost anything, who may legitimately be looking for a shot at redemption, or who may instead be looking for power and control, or who may only be looking to bring his own touch of anarchy to the proceedings. Even here, Hastings and Foss reflect the grim realities of the political process: you never really know what kind of President you’re getting until they’re in office. Before then they’re too obscured by agendas and their own tall tales to ever truly be knowable.
To answer your final question, Ryan, I don’t think Vote Loki‘s concept could be maintained long-term, but as a mini-series, it’s pretty much a perfect premise. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it; not only do I want to see the continued adventures of Loki, but I also want to see if reality continues to be even stranger than fiction when it comes to this election.
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