By Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson
Throughout his acclaimed run on Thor, Jason Aaron has tackled many of the character’s most iconic friends, foes and whatever Odin happens to be this week. For much of the time, however, the Thunder God’s most devious antagonist (and most vexing sibling ever) remained off the table. When God of Thunder launched Loki was still Kid Loki, preparing to assemble his band of Young Avengers. Once Kieron Gillen’s time with the character wrapped, the freshly minted Young Man Loki came under the pen of Al Ewing. Ewing added his own wrinkle to the ongoing saga of a god trying his hardest to supplant the reputation of his former self. In a witty bit of meta, Ewing concluded his run with Loki deciding to pass on the whole Secret Wars commotion. Instead, he elects to “skip ahead a bit. See what comes after.” Loki’s Last Days ended with the God of Lies (or was it merely Mischief now?) stepping through a hole in the void. What came next? What had he learned from his time as an Agent of Asgard? Would he remain more or less benign when the Marvel Universe breathed anew? It was a fittingly ambiguous grace note to this chapter in the character’s story.
Hence, when Loki popped up in the pages of Aaron’s Thor for the first time a couple months ago, declaring that “It’s good to be evil again” readers were unsure how much to believe him. Would the God of Lies fib about being bad or was he telling the truth about his untrustworthiness? Striking a balance when writing this type of slippery character is not easy, yet Aaron does it winningly. #2’s initial glimpse of how he would handle Loki was great and it only gets better in #3 as Loki and Thor face off again for the first time.
#3 is centered on the first encounter between Loki and Jane Foster’s Thor. Jane has a bit of history with Loki, none of it pleasant and knows the last thing any intelligent being does is listen to what he has to say. So, she comes out swinging, instigating a free for all with not only the current Loki, but conjuring’s of various forms he has assumed over the years. Aaron lends this element of the story a playful spirit which is well suited to the Asgardian trickster. The various Lokis banter with each other, quibbling over the best method to proceed. When the current Loki protests that “you’re all in my head!” Kid Loki immediately rejoins “Not me. I’m dead remember?” (Yeah, missed you too Kid). Mixed in with this humor is plenty of dynamic action, especially once Lady Loki takes on Thor, woman to woman. These two elements are knitted together in Thor’s initial decapitating strike which Russell Dauterman illustrates with a macabre glee.
One of the features that makes this confrontation so compelling is how Aaron never loses the thread of character. The Loki’s each have their own voice and sense of self, reflecting their moments in his evolution. Rising above each of these is the current Loki. Aaron skillfully writes Loki so that the reader is never entirely sure how much to trust him, if at all. Aaron riffs on the work of Gillen and Ewing by having Loki continue to express his desire to toss out the old tired stories and write something new and unpredictable. There is also a melancholy air about him, fitting for his (pose of?) earnestness. At the same time, Loki is openly allied with the Dark Elf Malekith, admitting that all of this chaos was merely a distraction from a more dire threat. Has Loki grown so jaded that he is now suicidal? Does he trust in his sibling to save the day (and his own neck along with it)? Or is there something even more complicated at play? Aaron keeps all of these possibilities in the reader’s mind, while also proving yet again that Jane Foster is a heroine worthy to wield Mjolnir.
All of this is stunningly rendered by Dauterman. Somehow the artist continues to outdo himself with each new issue. The battle scenes come alive with an insane energy which conveys the magical confusion of the sequence. His detailed pages brings out both the slapstick and the excitement of Aaron’s script. His design work for the various faces of Loki is impressive as well (good to see you again Cat Thor Loki). Most importantly, his facial expressions convey a wide range of personality, not only across the spectrum of Lokis, but the current one in particular. One of the reasons that Aaron’s words are able to remain as open-ended as they are is that their spirit is matched by the art. When Loki muses that there are even graver threats ahead, he speaks with an expression open to multiple readings.
As mentioned above, the overarching theme of Loki the last several years has been one of rebirth. First Gillen, then Ewing depicted a god striving to be other than what he had been, a process growing out of Loki’s desire to be less predictable. Regardless of how tangled his machinations, everyone knew how they ended: betrayal, followed by a hammer in the gut. And what fun is a predictable trickster god? In The Mighty Thor, Aaron and Dauterman honor that past work, while never losing their own voice. As a result they have given the God of Lies what he most truly wanted: a fresh story which feels entirely unpredictable. It is also simply a delight to read.