No Really, Trust Me: Pan’s Review of Loki: Agent of Asgard

After a confusing series of deaths, reincarnations, and redesigns, Marvel’s Loki is now starring in his own solo series: Loki: Agent of Asgard, and interestingly, the ill-gotten body he’s inhabiting these days happens to be late adolescent and devastatingly attractive.

Mark me down as scared AND horny

Mark me down as scared and horny.

In what seems to be an unapologetic attempt to cash in on Tom Hiddleston’s glorious face, the pert-nosed, bright-eyed, twelve-year-old Loki of Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery has been overtaken by the shadow of his old self, and has grown into quite the swarthy, chiseled specimen to boot. Though Loki has never before been deliberately framed as an object of attraction in the comics, it’s no secret that Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki in the Thor and Avengers films has earned him an overwhelmingly female fandom.

Marvel, it seems, is more than happy to give the people what they want, and in a laudable attempt at embracing diversity, Agent of Asgard writer Al Ewing has officially stated that Loki is canonically bisexual and “will shift between genders occasionally”. If this can be taken to mean that Loki is actually gender fluid (as opposed to, say, using female form simply for deceit, which he has done before) he is the first significant Marvel character to identify as such.

*raucous fanfare*

*raucous fanfare*

Unfortunately, Marvel does have a history of floundering in their attempts to write male protagonists for a female audience. A solo series starring Wolverine’s son Daken as a sexy, edgy anti-hero crashed pretty hard when readers realized that its only hook was “debauched bisexual quotes Nietzsche, hates father, and is occasionally shirtless”. Ewing and Garbett are now tasked with maintaining interest in a series that could very easily dissolve into “debauched bisexual quotes lolcats, hated father, and is occasionally shirtless”.

The question, of course, is: are they succeeding? Are Ewing and artist Lee Garbett (two straight men; an interesting choice, in my opinion) giving readers what they want and deserve in a female-targeted nontraditional comic, or have they set out with good intentions only to miss the mark entirely?

Issue the first (endearingly entitled “Trust Me”) was charming but inconclusive: Loki took some long-hoped-for steps toward reconciling with his brother Thor, had a bit of clever banter with the Avengers, and spent a great deal of time being devilish and charming. The story encompassed a single mission—rescuing Thor from a hateful spirit—and connected with Loki’s dark history, as it revealed cryptically that that mysterious miasma can take the form of something that looks suspiciously like… Loki himself.

When the font in the speech bubbles changes you know it's bad news.

When the font in the speech bubble changes, you know it’s bad news.

Overall, it was a promising start to a new series, but very much traditional in the genre, revealing nothing of the fascinating developments Ewing had hinted at. Issue the second, on the other hand, was far more telling. This issue—wherein Loki goes speed dating (yes, really)—introduces Verity Willis, who will be a recurring character, and re-introduces the Asgardian goddess Lorelei, with whom Loki has dealt before (and by “dealt” I mean “slept with”). Loki’s mission is to track down Lorelei and bring her home to Asgardia to be judged for various and assorted crimes. Mostly larceny: lots and lots of larceny.

Because Lorelei has a habit of teaming up with female criminals, Loki decides that his best course of action to get close to her is to shape-shift himself into a woman and gain her trust. It is specified in the comic that Loki thereby becomes entirely physically female and remains so for several weeks (I must admit, my mental image of Loki coping with tampons was a gem). Here is where the question of Loki’s gender identity first presents itself: he is certainly employing a female body as a disguise, but voluntarily maintains it even when not in Lorelei’s presence. Perhaps most importantly, when asked how he tricked Lorelei into thinking he was someone else, Loki’s reply is “I’m always myself.”

Let's play "spot the hottie who's new to this head-to-toe latex thing"

Let’s play “which of these three has clearly never worn a latex catsuit before”.

The verdict on Loki’s gender fluidity—or lack thereof—is frustratingly uncertain, and is likely to remain so unless Loki is shown taking female form simply for his own satisfaction, or unless his relationship to gender is unambiguously stated. As I mentioned, Loki has used female form purely for trickery in the past. For a period of time, Loki maliciously inhabited Sif’s body in an attempt to manipulate Thor, trapping Sif’s soul in another body in the meantime. He has also briefly taken the form of Wanda Maximoff (The Scarlet Witch) to trick the Avengers into helping him with a devious scheme.

Given Loki’s former tendency to use women as tools for his own gain, his interactions with his female co-stars in this issue are something of a relief. His previous relationship with Lorelei revolved around trying to persuade her to sleep with Thor as part of a plot to remove him from power. In this issue, rather than turning her over to Asgardian justice, Loki asks (asks, not threatens) if she would be willing to lend her skills to a team he’s putting together for what he describes as “a caper”.

Lorelei herself remains rather exhausting in that her “power” is effectively feminine wiles. She uses sorcery to make men fall in love with her and thereby manipulates them into doing her bidding, et cetera, et cetera. Though she first appeared in 1983 and has some excuse inherent in being “from a different era,” there is plenty of precedent for writers tweaking classic characters to make them somewhat less… tired and predictable. There are far too many catsuited seductresses in comics already, and failing to give Lorelei a more complex modus operandi seems like a wasted opportunity. With any luck she will develop further as the series goes on.

Here comes trouble.

Here comes trouble.

The aptly named Verity Willis, on the other hand, brings a bit more to the table. Her unique ability is to detect lies: lies of omission, disguises, anything meant to deceive or coerce is impossible to slip by her. Though valuable, she reveals that her skill is also deeply problematic. Fiction of any kind causes her anxiety, and supposedly harmless childhood fantasies like Santa Claus made her distrustful of even the people who cared for her most. She is obsessed, therefore, with hard sciences like physics and mathematics because of their objective truth.

I must admit that with Verity I was looking forward to an aggressive, dick-punching take-no-shit female companion in the tradition of Leah and America Chavez, and when she turned out more vulnerable and mild-mannered I was a bit disappointed. In retrospect, however, I realized I wasn’t giving her enough credit. She isn’t the traditional—air quote—“strong female character” in the way that Loki’s previous companions have been, but she has an admirable level of complexity, and while spilling her guts to the god of lies may not have been the best idea, her moment of vulnerability is endearing and relatable. Even Loki seems to think so, as he promises her—with the sort of brutal honesty she doubtless appreciates—“there are people in this world who’ll never lie to you. Not me, obviously, but they do exist”.

Pictured: A Tough Front

Pictured: A Tough Front

Like most media, Agent of Asgard isn’t perfect, but as far as I’m concerned none of its problems are catastrophic or irreparable. In a medium with an overwhelmingly male audience, written and illustrated by overwhelmingly male creators, it represents good progress, and reveals that Marvel is genuinely aware of and interested in the female demographic. Loki’s bisexuality has yet to be dealt with in this series, but Ewing’s choices thus far have left me reasonably confident that it will be handled with decency (perhaps not staggering brilliance, but decency, certainly). It’s a series I’m looking forward to continuing, and in the interest of supporting an overall shift toward appealing to people who aren’t necessarily cisgendered, heterosexual men, I believe strongly that it’s a comic worth sinking my hard-earned $2.99 into.

7 thoughts on “No Really, Trust Me: Pan’s Review of Loki: Agent of Asgard

  1. I just picked up the second issue and really enjoyed it. It’s a relief to read a comic that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously and I’ve enjoyed the dialog Ewing writes for Loki. It’s clever and funny. I hadn’t heard that Ewing referred to Loki as “canonically bisexual,” but that could definitely make for an interesting comic, on top of all the plot stuff Ewing has managed to set up in the first two issues. I look forward to following your blog!

  2. On the one hand, the original myths emphasized Loki’s sexually protean nature.

    On the other hand, the original myths made it seem like that was a bad thing.

    With apologies to Chinatown, forget it, Jake, it’s Marvel Comics.

    That is to say, I don’t have high hopes for Marvel Comics.

    On the the third hand, the character “Verity” with lie-detecting powers sounds pretty neat. So maybe I’m being too anti-Marvel and the writers are going to make something good.

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