By Steve Morris
This issue of Journey Into Mystery is all about shows of strength. Throughout, the various characters are all trying to establish themselves as dominant either verbally or physically – but at the end of the day, the issue concludes with Loki sat on the shoulder of The Destroyer.
The first character to try and assert some dominance is the Hel-Beast, who lands in Limbo after being murdered on Loki’s orders at the end of the last issue. Immediately upon crashing into the ground, the Hel-Beast reminds Loki of the tenuous agreement they had with one another, and how this is nullified with Hel-Beast’s death. The creature promptly then charges after Loki, trying to kill him as revenge. With this scene, we’re immediately reminded that the character does have agency beyond being a convenient method of transport for the young God, but also that wordplay is all-important here.
Loki, who commands the strongest understanding of semantics of anyone in the comic outside of the narrator, must have an awareness of this, but he also has no awareness of what it’ll be like when he crashes down in Limbo. He’s chosen to put himself in a life-or-death situation with the hope that he’ll be able to improvise some kind of escape from the Hel-Beast, which just goes to show how much he faith he must have either in himself, or in his plan. Possibly both.
Throughout the series so far, Loki hasn’t really questioned himself (except for in the perhaps blunt sequence in the first issue where he literally questioned himself). Mostly he’s asked questions of other people, thus saving him from having to interrogate himself in favor of instead establishing how everyone else views him. That is perhaps the most important thing for Loki: he needs to know what the heat is like in the room more than he needs to check his own pulse.
Ultimately he does escape the chase thanks to another display of power: Surtur appears and promptly eats the Hel-Beast. And this time it’s an undeniable show of strength we’re seeing – Hel-Beast talks back to Loki all the time but never manages to make good on any of his threats. Surtur, on the other hand, eats first and boasts later. That gives Loki another reason to panic, because he has to first escape an initial bombardment from Surtur before he’s able to turn to his eloquent forte: bartering. Once more Loki is throwing himself literally into the line of fire in order to pursue his plan to its full extent, and it shows a degree of courage and commitment we haven’t seen from the character before.
The ‘classic’ Loki seen in the first issue of the series was full of cryptic messages and backbiting comments. The image we’re shown of him is largely of a shadowy coward, who works away from the action and persuades others to do his bidding for him. By contrast, the young Loki has already started to show himself to be more headstrong and open to putting himself in danger, and it works to establish the character as someone who the reader can root for. It also shows the level of change in Loki, as the comic slowly starts to subvert expectations of the character and shift him into someone new.
After claiming a sword from Surtur – in exchange for promising him freedom, cementing the reputation that the God holds even in Limbo – Loki has a very quick scene where he escapes back to Asgard and has to ask a dwarf to help him get out of a tomb he’s shut inside. Again, Loki knows what the plan requires and where he needs to go in order to return to Asgard… but it would all have fallen apart without the little dwarf to open the door for him. As we see again and again, Loki’s relying on luck, chance and reputation more than he is on dominance or power.
There’s a throwaway line from Loki as he escapes Limbo, where he says “fare yet well! And similar Asgardian statements!” It’s only a small thing, but it does once against establish that the character sees himself as distinct and different to the rest of his Asgardian compatriots. He’s spoken to Thor enough to persuade his brother that there’s something new lurking inside Loki’s new body, and every other page he does something to try and further persuade the reader that we’re dealing with a reborn, renewed Loki.
With Loki in Limbo, the rest of his team start measuring one another up. The Disir bicker amongst themselves, in the process helping to establish their chain of command for the reader. Some of them want to start killing some of the people watching them, but the leader, Brun, shuts the idea down. It lets us see that Brun is the one who ultimately has control over that group, giving them a little clarity and character in the process. However, it also allows Tyr to note the very same, and he rather simplistically finds a way to put together an argument which allows him to punch Brun and knock her to the ground. In his own way, this is a show of power which therefore establishes him as the power amongst the group Loki’s assembled.
Whilst the others all try to establish who has the best swing, Leah sits on a child’s swing of her own, uninterested in the squabbles around her. She’s looking and following a bigger picture, just like Loki, and her calm announcement that Hela has been captured shows that she is somebody who plays to a longer-term than either Tyr or the Disir. The latter two are further humbled when they see the Serpent’s ‘dark Asgard’ creation fly over their heads, covering them all in shadows. If Leah’s disinterest wasn’t an example before, then this is a clear way of seeing how the power lies at this current moment in time.
The subversion of power continues as the issue heads towards that last page of Loki with The Destroyer. Loki heads to an unseen ally – who has an Asgardian font, suggesting it must be a fellow God – and persuades them to help him retrieve the Destroyer from Odin’s vaults. Loki makes a case which seems blunt to the point of disrespect, but still manages to convince the other person to help him out. As with Surtur, the Hel-Beast, Hela and Mephisto, Loki makes a strong but arguably quite shaky case, showing him not to have a base of power, but one of instability: but he still manages to turn people to his cause.
And by the end of the issue, there he is, sitting on the Destroyer’s shoulder. Perhaps this is how Loki shows where his power lies – it’s from how everybody else sees him. He may have become something new and different, but what matters is that everybody sees in him the thing that they need the most.
Published in August 2011
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.