Telling the story of a young, heart-throbby version of the mischievous malcontent of Midgard, ‘Loki: Agent of Asgard’ follows the character as he embarks on a series of secret missions on behalf of his World. Being Loki, of course, he probably has some kind of ulterior motive going on, although it’s not like he’s going to tell anybody what that is. Well – maybe if they ask nicely. The book is by Al Ewing, Lee Garbett, Nolan Woodard and Clayton Cowles.
The first trade of Loki: Agent of Asgard is, as you might expect, about stories. A collection of stories, in fact, often wrapped within one another. While Journey Into Mystery was about self-mythologizing, here instead AoA is about wrapping yourself in the myths others have constructed for you. This version of Loki doesn’t tell his own stories and hope to live up to them – he lives within the various stories people are already telling about him.
Which makes Al Ewing an inspired choice to write the book. Having a similar authorial voice to Kieron Gillen, his writing echoes previous versions of Loki whilst having subtle differences in both language choice and personality. Here we have a Loki who actually is older than Kid Loki, and comports himself accordingly. He’s learned from the last few years, and started to learn how to play with his legend to subvert everyone’s expectations of him. He’s quicker with jokes, more interested in talking about other people than about himself, and is drawn by Lee Garbett to be expressive and attentive.
Garbett’s character work is assured right from the start, here. He begins the trade with a Dazzler cameo, which is a Smart Decision, but then goes on to readily tackle any and all situations thrown at him by Ewing. He effortlessly takes on sword fighting, magic spellcasting, comedic pauses, conversational scenes – he’s also gifted at expression and poise. Loki almost always looks people straight in the eye everytime he talks, and Garbett makes sure that they hold that gaze as he enraptures them. The character becomes magnetic from the way Garbett draws him, creating an immediate focus for Ewing to play into.
Clayton Cowles, no stranger to Loki, is also on excellent form throughout here. He’s asked to handle a lot of quips and one-liners in quick succession, and manages to pace them apart from one another and establish Loki’s speaking style. You can hear the character’s voice as he talks to people, complete with the pauses as he builds up to another pun or twist of the knife. Cowles is the one who makes the pages flow – Garbett’s sequencing is uniformly strong, but Cowles is the one who establishes a real sense of pace in the scenes.
Whereas JiM told a comedy in thirty issues and a tragedy in one, Loki: AoA tells the same progression within five. That seems a smart move, as we get the repetition of Loki’s lifespan out the way quickly – it makes for an entertaining story immediately, but also moves us away from expectation and into unknown territory. Having told a new version of ‘the Loki story’ where he rises and rises and then falls, subsequent issues of the series are now freed to head off in any other direction.
There is an element of repetition and stage-setting here, which is why the series benefits from Ewing’s compression. Once you grasp how the story is going to progress (and as you reach the last issue of this book, you have begun to predict what’s going to happen next, simply from exposure), the enjoyment of the series instead comes from the smaller stories within that greater narrative. It’s quite easy to break down each issue and see a series of two/three pages stories in quick succession – Ewing is careful to wrap up every new element he introduces, offering closure to each subplot introduced. Technically the issues are one-and-done, but in reality each issue offers ten or so complete stories.
One issue begins in a speed dating event, segues off into a heist plot, pauses to explain a bit of obscure mythology, has a one-page romantic plot, and then twists even further. Loki: AoA is all things at all times. That’s the charm.
Having so many stories at once means that readers are offered character study ahead of everything else, and Ewing and Garbett take the opportunity to throw lots of different whirring parts at their lead. He gets romantic stories and action sequences, espionage operations and moments of mythology. The consistency in his voice – threading a needle between the classic ol’ evil Loki, the well-meaning but defeated Kid Loki, and this Loki – unites all the different forms of storytelling together. That’s the through line which allows the series to connect every concept together.
What the book needs, however, is more distinction between the presentation of the stories. With the writing and art offering different takes around the same character, the colouring doesn’t always offer the same. Garbett changes his style in different ways to reference and reflect different types of comic book stories – a romance cover here, a silver-age sequence there – but the colouring is a little too consistent to really separate them for the reader. If Loki himself always shifts around the same basic principles (physically as well as personally) then the colouring does the same. It’s bright and bold throughout, but without a real sense of variation from page to page.
The consistency of the colouring, in other words, doesn’t fit in with the spirit of the book.
As I mentioned, Garbett does shift his style to sync up with each of the different stories, and proves to be star weapon for the book. There’s a sense of… recreational mischief in his artwork, with even the slightest of sight gags delivered with consummate ease. His characters have a sense of life to them, and you can see his body language develop over the course of the issues – everybody stands in different ways, and Loki’s stance switches when he lies. It’s subtle, smart stuff, and adds to the overall development of the character.
Strangely enough, the book doesn’t have the sexuality that I thought it would. As might be expected, the book kicks off with a shower scene and follows through with subsequent romantic suggestions between the various characters. But for all that, the series itself is fairly asexual – Loki doesn’t come across as having any interest in relationships or the characters offered him by the story, and there’s no sense of sexual tension anywhere. Hints are laid as to which characters are going to be sleeping with which, but there’s no crackle or spark between them. There’s a slightly mechanical feel there in the dialogue, which is only offset by Garbett’s ability to convey sexual interest in the body language.
Therein lies probably the main disappointment in the trade. There’s wit and charm in the characters, sure, but for all the creative team can capture comedy, tragedy, drama, horror, myth – the moments of romance don’t hang together as solidly. The Loki presented here is ultimately too flippant to be sexy, although I’m sure there are many of you out there who love a sardonic romantic.
The book ends with a very brief tease of Original Sin, the second storyline where Loki and Thor hang out with Angela for a bit and I’m sure nothing goes wrong. But interestingly enough, this stands alone as a volume. If I were reading this serially, I could easily decide “well, a crossover’s coming up next, so I’ll just quit reading here, no harm done.” The book tells the complete tale of Loki, as we’ve seen it time and again over the decades, and then decides to continue on for a second arc. On the strength of this trade, which grows in confidence across five issues, I’ll probably stick with it.