Review: Loki: Agent of Asgard Vol. 2: I Cannot Tell a Lie trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

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

Out of the books I’m reviewing this month, Loki: Agent of Asgard Vol. 2: I Cannot Tell a Lie (released later this month) is the only one without any official Secret Wars ties, as well as the only one not written by Jonathan Hickman. It’s worth noting that there’s a bit of a gap between Trust Me and this trade. That story is an Original Sin tie-in called The Tenth Realm, which replaced both this title and Thor: God of Thunder briefly and revealed that Image Comics transplant Angela is their long-lost sister. The writers and main artists on both books contributed to that great mini-series, but there’s a major reason why I’m skipping ahead: Doom.

Recent events in the “Time Runs Out” storyline have focused on Doctor Doom’s role in the upcoming Secret Wars. This isn’t surprising: he had a key role in the original, and if there’s one villain who’s going to do something to stop the universe from blowing up before he can take it over, it’s him. Al Ewing positions Doom as wanting to be a god in his own way: if he can’t do it through power, he’ll do it through legend. It’s why he builds up the rumors of his powers and has legions of Doombots running around pretending to be him . . . and it’s also why he sometimes pretends to be a Doombot just to preserve the myth. The time Arcade struck a match on his armor is explicitly cited (Brian Cronin explains the whole backstory in this “Abandoned an' Forsaked” column).

While Doom’s power has risen over the last few years, Loki’s has diminished due to his numerous rebirths and changes. He has the same amount of magic but it’s clear to Doom (and the reader) that he’s not the Trickster of old. He’s kidnapped and imprisoned just after finding out that an older and very evil future version of him has been working for the Asgardians. I’ll have to bite my tongue about “King Loki,” as he’s called, since the amazing issue that explains who he is and what he does is collected in the trade right after this one. Loki has to face the fact that no matter the circumstance, no one will ever believe that he is redeemed. There’s a nice meta-textuality in this story; it feels like Magneto shows up at the end of the opening two-parter just to confirm this commentary on villains being redeemed and falling over and over again.

Magneto's actually there due to the events of Avengers and X-Men: A-Holes… I mean, Axis. I could spend a month listing my problems with that crossover but I’ll instead focus on how it allowed Loki, Agent of Asgard to further its storyline. Loki was going to have a major rise and immediate decline anyway; Ewing probably saved half a year by just attaching that plot beat to the opposite-day ray known as the Inversion. I’m not the only one dismissive of Axis; it’s clear that Ewing is mocking it with how Loki becomes the most wholesome goody two-shoes on the face of Midgard. At one point, he and his new paramour, the also-inverted Enchantress, teleport using the Power of Love. He shortly thereafter turns into a unicorn with a rainbow mane.

The heroic Loki taking on an evil Thor leads to something I don’t think anyone expected: Loki wielding Mjolnir to defeat his brother. It’s the ultimate sign of how good the Inversion has made him . . . and it’s also the turning point that leads to his fall from grace. The reversal of the Inversion leaves Loki unable to lie and he finally admits to killing and impersonating the real Kid Loki. Between this and their disbelief that Loki could ever wield Mjolnir, Thor and the other Asgardians cast him out as an exile. In an emotional callback, Volstagg weeps over the situation while he drives Loki out away; he was a father figure to Kid Loki in Journey into Mystery in addition to being the unofficial Norse God of Fatherhood.

Art duties in I Cannot Tell A Lie are split between Paulo Coelho on the Doctor Doom two-parter and regular artist Lee Garbett on the other four. Coelho seems to channel Walter Simonson, making the arc look very distinct and almost like it’s a separate mini-series; one very nifty sequence is a shot-for-shot homage to The Prisoner. While he has a bit of trouble drawing Valeria Richards to look like a three-year-old, that’s a common mistake (her brother’s age keeps changing, so why not hers?). Valeria is both adorable and effective as the precocious super-genius sidekick to Uncle Doom, teaming up with the lie-piercing Verity Willis to save Loki despite the fact that he’ll probably destroy Earth. Amusingly, she can see Verity while Doom can’t since she’s used to having an invisible mom. The Doom/Valeria banter is a key part of their moments in “Time Runs Out”; they had more to do in Axis by recruiting a team of Avengers, but I’ll get to that when I review Avengers World.

I called Al Ewing’s Mighty Avengers a book meant more for newer fans due to its ambling pace, and the current version of Loki has also been softer and more newcomer-friendly since Kieron Gillen’s tenure on the character. But Loki, Agent of Asgard overcomes those kinds of reservations to become a new classic in its own right. It depends on Axis for some of its plot mechanics but finds ways to explain -- or work around -- them as needed. As the world ends, Loki is ready to find himself, and I can only hope that he finds a place in Battleworld.

Speaking of Valeria and Uncle Doom, next week is a review of the first trade of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run and the first inkling of the stories to come.
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