By Steve Morris

Who are fairytales and fables written for? They’re stories for children, morality plays written with the grandest and most exciting characters imaginable. So it stands to reason that nobody can live within the reality of a story quite like a child, as New Mutants #42 reveals.

The grand trick of the issue is that Kid Loki, who it seemed had realised he was caught in an illusion and returned to his real self… was pretending all along. He’s still the unknowing child Sigurd turned him into, and he thinks this whole thing is just a big game of play. The New Mutants have been led along not by a lie: but by a pretend.

That twist, besides being great fun, also shows off the blurring of the lines between Loki as villain and Loki as hero. His standard brand of evil is to use tricks and misdirection to frustrate the straight-shooting Asgardians, who live in a constant state of shock that things can’t always be sporting. Is that particularly different from a child playing along with what he thinks is an imaginary game, and throwing off his parents? “Luc” is fully invested in everything happening to him, so for him there is no real boundary between magic – which doesn’t really exist and is a fun game – and his imagination, which allows the magic to happen.

I’d go off on a paragraph about how “this mirrors the reader’s need to imagine magic possible in order for Journey Into Mystery to work on a conceptual level”, but do we really need that.

The New Mutants, being straight-shooters like the Asgardians, obviously fall for it completely – Magik and Karma, their sardonic anchors, being away during this storyline. Where is Karma, actually? She’s the best New Mutant, it’s a shame not to see her. Luc’s game of pretend is taken seriously by the team, which is what gives it the power it has: as we’ve seen repeatedly in this comic, a spell has more power if people believe in it inherently. If “Luc” is gone and “Loki” is back, then there’s an immediate confidence that the magic will be real: the fact it’s all pretend to Luc means that the illusion shatters for the New Mutants and they lose faith in the magic.

But… something *did* happen at around the same time Luc completed the spell… so maybe we shouldn’t be shutting him down so quickly? No matter what he looks like or how he acts, there is an essence of Loki within that body, regardless of form or intent. The magic is in there, whether he realises it or not.

Let’s tie that across to Loki’s whole deal with now, because that’s an intriguing thought: so as of the start of this series, he’s also switched out his old and “serious” brand of evil for sly and tricky anti-heroism; his old goals swapped out for new, more ambiguous ones. Being a child emphasises the switch from one status quo to another, with the clear visual of the shorter and milder Loki being quite clearly less threatening than the creepy adult form. The series used that switch in stature and posture to show how we should view Loki as less threatening, playing on the sort of body language Christopher Reeve used to differentiate between Superman and Clark Kent.

In turn, the stories for Loki within Journey Into Mystery could lean on that shorthand to quickly and firmly establish Kid Loki as a different person entirely. That’s the trick: that’s the pretend.

With Exiled, Loki has legitimately switched to be a different person, but he’s retained the same form he had previously so readers don’t get that visual impact of a switch. We also know that he won’t stay this way for particularly long, which is why the twist at the end of this issue plays out so well: we know he’ll switch back, but we didn’t realise he’ll switch back quite so soon. Timing caught us out and the comic was too smart for the readers to get ahead of it.

Which is something we should probably keep in mind for the switch yet to come: just as “Luc” is not someone we’ll see forever, so Kid Loki is also working on a limited timespan. We don’t know how limited that may be, but Exiled is a reminder that it’s inevitable that old creepy Loki will eventually reclaim himself somehow. What form will he take?

 

New Mutants #42
Writers: Kieron Gillen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Artist: Carmine di Giandomenico
Colourist: Andy Troy
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.

 

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