Loki: 1960’s Comics vs Today’s Films

Loki in JIM #92, 1963

In 1963, the villain whose scheme pulled the Avengers together was Loki.  This holds true of the recently released film as well.

In the comics, Loki first appeared as a foe of Thor one year before The Avengers came out.  In the four appearances of Loki, the creative team established that:

1)  Loki is Thor’s adopted brother and his nom de guerre is “God of Mischief”

2)  Thor was responsible for Loki’s longest imprisonment on Asgard (trapped in a tree)

3)  Odin is really lousy at imprisoning Loki.  Loki can do all sorts of magic even while wrapped up in chains selected by Odin himself

4)  Loki wants to humiliate Thor more than he wants to destroy him

5)  Thor cannot hammer his way to victory against Loki, he has to outwit him

Only by the fourth appearance is Loki ready to dabble in a takeover of Asgard or the Earth.  But a couple months later, in the first issue of The Avengers, the stakes are raised.  Loki is now “God of Evil” and intends to defeat Thor once and for all.  To do so he needs to manipulate The Hulk and the Teen Brigade (a group of teens that work with Rick Jones to monitor and calm down Hulk).

And so here is my first peeve with the 1960’s.  Loki as the “God of Mischief” is quite in keeping with the original mythology.  The original mythology has Loki committing acts of mischief and often times committing trickery against giants or dwarves to atone for his misdeeds.  For example, it is from a consequence of some of Loki’s mischief that Mjolnir is forged in the first place.  Loki in myth is really helpful to Asgard on some occasions.  It is not until his worst crime, the death of Baldr, that Loki becomes outlaw and ends up imprisoned in a cave.  The 1960’s lack this evolution of the character from mischief maker to outright evil schemer.

The last two films with Loki explore how a guy can go from being a jerk to being a really dangerous evil genius.  For the Thor movie, Loki is pushed from mischief to evil because he finds out he is a child taken from the Frost Giants.  This startling revelation makes Loki rage.  He feels that his second fiddle status to Thor the entire time they are growing up is due to his heritage; a heritage that was hidden from him.  Once Loki falls into the abyss, he further blames Thor.  It should come as no surprise that in his wandering of the abyss that he finds someone more powerful that is also more evil and falls in with them.  It takes years of comics to come and go before they explore the rage of Loki as completely as the two movies do.

My second peeve with the 1960’s is how forced the episodes are that trick Loki into defeat.  In the first issue of The Avengers, it is Ant-Man who outwits Loki, and he doesn’t outwit him so much as get lucky that Loki is standing on a trapdoor.  Now it makes sense that Ant-Man be the one to out-trick Loki.  Ant-Man in the early Avengers comics was a thinker much more so than Iron Man who was hiding his Tony Stark identity.

But there’s way too much deus ex machina to tricking Loki.  In one issue of Journey Into Mystery, the Asgardian’s pose as members of the United Nations General Assembly.  How they convince a bureaucracy like that to take a powder in such a short time strains the suspension of disbelief.  On the other hand, Hulk crushes Loki because of a simple flaw in Loki’s way of thinking.  To Loki, Hulk is a dumb brute and should be too simple to be a threat.  Unfortunately for Loki, it is the fact that Hulk is so simple that gives Hulk the edge.  Hulk doesn’t debate, he doesn’t take offense and retort.  Hulk smash!

There is much about the 1960’s comics that I like, compared to today’s comics.  But there is even more I like about the films.  The films seem to give me the proper balance between too simplistic of schemes and too complex.  Part of the charm of the films is that they don’t have five decades of backstory, sometimes cool sometimes not, that hang on a character.  The comics have to tell new stories, and with five decades of storytelling these new stories will be major departures from the old stories in order to keep interest.  But instead of inventing new characters, which happened in the 1960’s, they hang on to decades old characters and twist them this way and that.  Loki is an excellent example of a character who in the comics has been twisted this way and that, even to the point of being transplanted in a female body.

There is a freshness to the films, a similar freshness that the 1960’s have.  A film has to retell the origins of all the characters because not every movie-goer is a comic book aficionado.  I accept that and look forward to it.  The retelling of Loki’s motivation is one of the highlights of this current crop of films.

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