Rehabilitating the Devil in ‘Loki: Agent of Asgard’ #1 [Review]
It wasn't so long ago when no-one gave a toot about Loki. He was the most generic of Marvel villains, a scowling horn-headed heel who was evil for the sake of being evil. Marvel even turned him into a woman for a while in a desperate bid to give him a new dimension.
He's come a long way since. The old Loki would have been a terrible choice for a solo title, but in 2014 he's an obvious candidate -- a rising rockstar character with a passionate fanbase who flood the convention floors with cosplay of all his incarnations. Loki: Agent of Asgard is a book whose time has come.
MINOR SPOILERS follow.
A hefty share of Loki's newfound popularity is due to Tom Hiddleston's smirking snake-charmer performance in the Thor and Avengers movies, which uncovered the villain's vulnerability, soul and smoulder. Writer Kieron Gillen provided the other half of the puzzle in his work with Doug Braithwaite on Journey Into Mystery and Jamie McKelvie on Young Avengers. Loki was reincarnated as a boy with a clean slate, which he proceeded to dirty up thanks to his unrelentingly devious nature.
Now Al Ewing and Lee Garbett get to tie those threads together -- the reformed villain who can't quite help being a villain, and the young swaggering sexpot movie star. That's where the last few years have led us; to a matinee-handsome Loki who dances in the grey area between hero and villain. The question is, does Loki: Agent of Asgard represent a successful synthesis of Loki's many faces?
The answer presented in issue #1 is a resounding yes. The story, "Trust Me," by Ewing, Garbett, colorist Nolan Wood and letterer Clayton Cowles, tidily sets up Loki's new status quo as a special agent for the All-Mother, the triple goddess who now rules Asgard. It also establishes exactly how Ewing and Garbett plan to play with our expectations. And it opens with Loki naked and steamy, so it even tells us that it's going to be that sort of book.
All right, technically it opens with Loki stabbing Thor through the chest. This felt like long-game foreshadowing, but in fact this is tightly-written story; we loop around to that moment before the twenty pages are through. It turns out there's a much nastier sword dangling over this storyline, and to say more than that would be to say too much.
What I can say is that Ewing is clearly having tremendous fun with his trickster protagonist. The story is a swift shell-game conducted by a smooth-talking huckster. Loki is narrator as well as star, and of course he's an unreliable narrator, but he's witty enough to dazzle and charm as he misdirects.
Comedy is clearly going to be a big part of this book. The easiest way to sell a liar is to make him charming, and the easiest way to charm is to make someone laugh. Ewing writes humour very well, but it's Garbett who lands it. Garbett can draw an iconic and imposing superhero, but he can also make them human, comic, expressive. His Black Widow is wonderfully sullen. His Thor is a perfect brute. And of course, his Loki has the most devilish smile, even when it's not on his face.
If the book is going to live or die by what the Loki fan-base thinks of Garbett's Loki, I hope they're as persuaded as I am. The character is not Tom Hiddleston -- and it would be distracting if he were -- but Garbett knows how to make him dashing and pretty, and the new McKelvie-designed costume is sure to be a cosplay hit this convention season. Fur-lined coat; black nail polish; shin guards; Henley; what's not to love?
Based on the first issue, Loki: Agent of Asgard deserves to be a success. Who could have thought we'd say that about a Loki solo book five years ago?
It's been said there are no bad characters, and maybe that's true. This seductive and duplicitous new Loki might argue that it depends on your definition of "bad."