By: Al Ewing (story), Lee Garbett (art), Nolan Woodard (colors)
The Story: What if the Norse gods had the power of automatic weapons fire?
The Review: Anytime you have a story that features a villain, former or otherwise, you’ll notice a lot of time is spent exploring his villainy, certainly more time than a hero’s story is spent exploring his heroism. You don’t need a reason to admire someone who does good, but evil requires more justification for your interest, I think. Hence the endless slew of childhood traumas that plague nearly all of our Big Two supervillains. Loki may be unique in that the only reason for his evil is he’s written that way.
Loki’s mission to do good in exchange for having his past infamy wiped from humanity’s collective consciousness is merely the starting point of Agent of Asgard‘s metafiction. Elwing takes it a lot further in this issue by making Loki’s inner conflict manifest, creating a relatively unique situation in which Loki is his own antagonist—and the greatest. If there’s one clear difference between the new, hipster-ish Loki and the original, goblin-esque Loki, it’s that Old Loki* sees much more of the big picture than his younger counterpart.
Interestingly enough, both share the same goal. New Loki’s piecemeal revisions of his life result in certain inconsistencies—”[g]aps” as Old Loki refers to them—in his narrative which Old Loki can now exploit to tell a “new story…of the past.” Perhaps Old Loki just wants to maintain the status quo, using his story to subsume the one New Loki is trying to tell. But his manipulations of a young Odin, a period that precedes even his existence, hint at more far-reaching ambitions. It’s difficult to piece together what exactly Old Loki is up to, though. Elwing’s recounting of Hreidmar and his three sons, the gold hoard of Andvari the Dwarf, the forging of Gram, and the coming of Sigurd all generally reflect the original Norse myths, but they’re not completely faithful. But is this because of Old Loki’s interference or merely because Elwing’s putting his own spin on these tales?**
Whatever Old Loki’s long-term aims are, he manages one clear achievement here: the rewriting of Gram’s origins, which in turn reframes our understanding of why New Loki has it in his possession. No longer is Gram simply a legendary hero’s sword with the power to reveal the truth. Thanks to Old Loki, Gram is a sword forged out of vengeance, its truth-telling powers derived from cursed blood, and fated to be the “bane of Asgard.” Odin didn’t leave Gram to New Loki by his own will; he was maneuvered into doing so by Old Loki’s direction. New Loki thinks he’s telling a new story with Gram, but this is a pretty familiar tale: Loki engaging in trickery and deceit for his own future benefit.
I would hate to view all this as saying that Loki can’t free himself from villainy, no matter how hard he tries—although he suggests that possibility himself from issue one. I’d prefer to believe there’s a more complicated message here, that Loki made a mistake trying to excise the unsavory parts of his past. True, his history is such that it compels him to repeat himself, but isn’t that the way it is for anyone going straight? This unwillingness to reform the hard way, with all the scrutiny on his past misdeeds, is just a way for him to escape punishment, basically, which perhaps means he deserves whatever Old Loki’s got planned for him.
Garbett’s art really has never looked this good. This is easily the tightest linework he’s ever done, and with Woodard’s polished colors, the art drifts into A-class territory here and there. The only thing stopping him from staying there is he still doesn’t have the same epic vision as the greats. Even his most splendid splashes—Old Loki traveling the World Tree, Sigurd slaying Fafnir—are well-rendered, but not striking to the point of being memorable. Garbett’s art is very easy to admire, but less so to revere.
Conclusion: An impressive bit of metafiction that’s also remarkably entertaining, with perfectly pleasing art.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * As I will henceforth be calling him.
** Okay, obviously, the use of an “M20 recoilless rocket launcher” to kill Andvari is all Loki.
– As for Loki’s riddle, I have to confess I was thinking of an answer that might be too vulgar for our female readers. Before I embarrass myself, does anyone else want to hazard their guess?