Review: Loki: Agent of Asgard Vol. 1: Trust Me trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

Even though I’m skipping over the rest of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers run at the moment, it’s important to read them before you read Loki: Agent of Asgard Volume 1 -- Trust Me. The change from Kid Loki to Millennial Loki is explained fairly well in this new title but it will have far more effect if you go through the character’s journey with him.

I admit that “Millennial” is probably not the best way to describe the newest incarnation of the God of Mischief, but he’s too mature, at least in physical age, to be “Teen Loki." Cynics -- myself included -- might accuse Marvel of aging Loki up to take advantage of the popularity of his cinematic incarnation, and while that may have been one goal, it turns out that it was the best move for the character as well.

One of Trust Me’s greatest strength is in continuity, both in terms of the wider universe and in Loki’s portrayal. After years of Gillen handling Loki, Al Ewing has seamlessly taken command of the character. He has the mischievousness and desire for redemption which defined Kid Loki along with the Old Loki’s potential for cruelty buried deep down. This old self is still lurking behind the scenes and is able to act as his own being. Many Marvel readers over the years have noted that the Asgardians keep making the mistake of trusting Loki and should just get rid of him. But this series demonstrates why that doesn’t happen: thanks to his mythical nature, Loki changes constantly, with some incarnations being useful and some being evil.

Taking a cue from Gillen and, in a broader sense, from Walter Simonson, Ewing uses myths and tales to drive the plot, with Old Loki going so far as to rewrite Norse myth to his advantage by using a rocket launcher against an immortal fish. (This is a mythology featuring a ship made out of the toenails of the dead, so I’ve literally seen weirder.) It interweaves with the childhood of Odin and the journey of the Norse hero Sigurd. He’s a major hero from Norse mythology who had never really played a part in Marvel’s Asgard until now but who clicks as an unhappy immortal. Sigurd is black, and given Idris Elba’s Heimdall from the Thor films, perhaps this is Marvel’s way of incorporating a black Asgardian without having to change their Heimdall.

The first few issues of Loki: Agent of Asgard target the heavily alternative-culture fanbase of Journey into Mystery and Young Avengers a little too strongly; Loki’s black nail polish is a bit much despite an otherwise successful character design. The first issue starts with him in the shower singing a modified version of “The Wizard and I” from Wicked and ends with him telling Thor that he writes slash fiction on the Internet. In fairness, however, these moments do fit in with Loki’s overall characterization and Ewing stops pandering after a few issues to give new readers time to get into the book. He also introduces a great new supporting character: Verity Willis, a tech expert who can see through lies to the point of being unable to enjoy fiction. She reminds me very much of Oracle with a bit of Penelope Garcia of Criminal Minds mixed in, and there seems to be more to her for us to discover.

Along with the new characters, Trust Me brings back Lorelei from Walter Simonson’s run. The younger sister of the Enchantress is an interesting character in need of a good plot, and Ewing gives her one by turning her into a first-class thief and grifter in constant need of money to fund an opulent lifestyle. She’s not quite a love interest; Loki and Lorelei’s last romance together ended poorly. Another returning character, from Journey into Mystery this time, is everybody’s favorite trolling devil, Mephisto. Watching him, Sigurd, and Loki outwit each other is a delight, especially when Mephisto pulls out one of the most cringe-inducing puns I’ve ever read in order to trick Sigurd. If Ewing is keen on bringing back other friends of Loki for the book, all I can ask is for Miss America from Young Avengers to appear.

Lee Garbett really impressed me with his artwork in Trust Me. I had seen his work before in X-O Manowar’s second volume and, while good, it wasn’t up to Cary Nord’s art from the trades before and after. Garbett has a sleek style somewhere between Jamie McKelvie and John Cassaday which matches the book’s tone nicely. He’s also flexible enough to pull off Ewing’s metatextual gags, such as a panel featuring Loki kissing Lorelei turning into an old '60s romance comic cover. The All-Mother, Asgard’s female ruling council, keeps appearing in strange places to yell at Loki, including in a punch bowl and on a video game screen. The latter may be Garbett’s in-joke towards Valiant, which used retro video game homage covers as part of a marketing gimmick.

Two things stand in the way of my full recommendation of Loki: Agent of Asgard -- Trust Me, and one of them is the aforementioned previous reading. While the story gives enough context, you don’t get the emotional impact without knowing the full Kid Loki arc. My other complaint is the price: $19.99 for five issues and a half-issue prologue taken from All-New Marvel Now’s Point One issue is really beyond what I like to pay. At least Marvel didn’t try to sell it as a $24.99 hardcover first. I do think that the quality of the book justifies the price increase in retrospect, so if you’re already invested, definitely keep going.

Next week: Is the upcoming Orion by Walter Simonson omnibus worth getting? If the first (and only) trade paperback is any indication, then absolutely.
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