Vote Loki doesn’t entirely feel like a comic Marvel would put out. For all the Marvel polish that Christopher Hastings, Charles Beacham, and Wil Moss have imbued it with, at its core, Vote Loki has a quality of fan comics about it. It’s heart beats to the rhythm of a wildly strange fan production that would go viral online but the Big 2 companies would never publish. And yet, here it is, with Marvel indicia and a free Marvel app download code.
Caught by reporters after putting down an attempted mass shooting, Loki delivers some harsh but good-humored truths about politics to the people of the US and something inside him clicks. When comedians and reporters alike start to joke about a run for president, Loki gets a taste of what its like to be part of the 24-hour news cycle, and likes it. And so, Loki begins an exploratory committee.
Part of the fun of this issue is that Loki is, in his own very Loki way, rather hesitant about all of this. It’s not always clear if he’s actually planning to run or if he just wants the attention of a prospective or if there’s a difference. The story is a lot realer than you’d expect of a series where the Norse God of Mischief considers a bid for president. Hastings avoids leaning into the joke in favor of drawing you into this world. He also writes a particularly tricky Loki, one ambiguous, or perhaps absent, in his relationship to concepts like protagonists, antagonists, or sincerity.
But while Loki is generally fun, he doesn’t necessarily prop up the book the way you might expect. I mean, that was one worry I had coming into this book, that the idea wouldn’t support a series, and, it seems that I might have been right. But instead of doing his best to prove that worry wrong, Hastings side-steps it by making Loki a side character in his own story…or is he?
Enter Nisa Contreras. It’s pretty much impossible not to like Nisa. She’s the hero we really wish we could be. Even better, she’s not some perfect beacon of justice or a bland reader avatar, she’s flawed and she’s in over her head and she’s just great. If this series is remembered for nothing else, I’m willing to call it here and hope that it’s her character.
Of course, though, there is a political angle to this book. It’s hard not to see Vote Loki as a response to the climate of the 2016 American Presidential Election. Loki is obviously playing a Donald Trump-esque role, spoiling the race by spouting quotable lines and cleverly plotted shadows of ‘what he really thinks’, however he’s not only a parody of Trump but a potential opponent. As much as Loki exemplifies the kind of unchecked manipulative power that Trump brings to bear, he also calls it out, challenging all comers to lie half as well and half as openly as he would.
And if you’re not on the anti-Trump train, well, I think Trump looms large here, but there’s nothing so specific that it precludes you from enjoying. Bernie Sanders’ detractors have generally pegged him less as a lying politician than a clueless revolutionary, but it’s not hard to see elements of him lying in wait within Loki’s character, hopefully to be picked up more solidly by Hastings. Plus Loki’s shapeshifting and willingness to use it to be all things to all people definitely brings in shades of Hilary Clinton. Loki remains likable throughout, but, to give Hastings credit, he’s satirizing the entire field pretty well.
That gives Vote Loki a certain timely appeal (no pun intended), but, as I said, it doesn’t feel quite Marvel. For all that it has going for it, Vote Loki lacks purpose at this stage. I’m along for the ride because Loki is a great character and Chris Hastings is a terrific writer, but I’m not sure what will get the average reader into the store for this or this off the shelf of that store. Web and fan comics of this nature are free and attract an audience by giving them absolute choice on how they want to support the series and doing things that readers won’t see elsewhere. I’m thrilled to see Nisa’s story at Marvel, but there’s nothing quite outrageous or brilliant enough to make this a must read. Perhaps issue #2 will fix that, but natural reader drop off and the expectations of Loki’s last two stirling series could put the White House out of reach for Laufey’s son.
Another thing that helps this feel like a webcomics project is Langdon Foss’ art. Foss has a distinctive style that suits the off-color, humorous bent of Loki’s campaign, but I expect it will ruffle traditionalist feathers. Foss is no stranger to major publishers but his work definitely has a look that you’d sooner expect in a hip, indie convention’s mini-comics.
Foss brings a level of casual realism to the book. Little details like the way clothing is worn or who has tattoos communicates character in a way that’s not only welcome but feels notably vital in a book with a premise that’s so divorced from the average person’s everyday reality.
Unfortunately there are a lot of problems with the art and vitality is a big part of that as well. It’s ok to eschew the traditionally attractive on a book like this, but Foss has notable issues with faces, including, but hardly limited to, his dramatic lips. Movement is often limited and I wish that the subtle, but distracting butt-shots scattered throughout the book had been more limited.
These seem very much like conscious choices, but there’s simply not enough consistency between panels to explain many unflattering choices.I feel like this incarnation of Loki is supposed to be attractive, but not only isn’t he but the ways that he’s unattractive change from appearance to appearance. Whether his expressions slip into the uncanny valley, or his features become too weaselly, or the perspective on him just looks off the times when the title character looks off are simply too frequent and, unfortunately, these issues aren’t limited to the God of Mischief. With a rather flat color job keeping the energy low, the art is a distraction as often as it’s a draw.
Vote Loki is incredibly timely. There’s no denying that Loki occupies a unique cultural niche that allows him to poke some much needed fun at the mass hysteria America calls its election cycle and that Christopher Hastings is a perfect choice to write that story. The problem lies in whether that story feels necessary. There just isn’t quite enough to justify this series yet and, while it fits better than in most cases, Langdon Foss’ art neither adds significant visual appeal nor supports the strengths of the issue.
Hastings does some really nice things with Nisa and the role of the media in this issue, and that gives readers something to grab onto, however, like that same institution, it kind of feels like this series is reporting on this story just to have something to do. A fun diversion for those inclined, but forgettable in a way that one only wishes much of what it satirizes could be.