Al Ewing on Redefining Loki, from 'Agent of Asgard' to 'Immortal Thor'
Writer Al Ewing reflects on Loki's evolution from the God of Lies to the God of Stories and teases the Teller of the Tales' role in 'Immortal Thor.'
Every good story needs an antagonist—and unfortunately for Loki Laufeyson, that's the role he was born to play. While the Loki of old reveled in wreaking havoc on his brother Thor, his whole persona changed when he was reborn anew as Kid Loki, a younger (and much more well-intentioned) version of the trickster god. After winning the hearts and minds of those in Asgard, Kid Loki discovered firsthand the devious nature of his older self, who had laid a trap that allowed him to cut Kid Loki's life short by taking over his body.
But the Loki who emerged from this self-betrayal was not quite the same Loki who set the trap. Wracked with the guilt of Kid Loki's death, this new Loki set out to erase the sins of his past by completing missions for the All-Mother, Asgard's rulers at the time. Along the way, his true nature came to light, and he was forced redefine himself once more. Thus, the God of Lies became the God of Stories… and that was just the beginning of his new saga.
Speaking to Marvel.com, LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD (2014) writer Al Ewing explained how Loki's role as the God of Stories transformed him into "a much more neutral and chaotic figure." He reflected on Loki's relationship with Thor, calling them "a great odd couple," and broke down the part Loki is set to play in IMMORTAL THOR (2023). He also praised artists Lee Garbett and Martin Coccolo, teased an upcoming flashback to Thor and Loki's childhood, and so much more.
MARVEL.COM: In LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD, Loki evolved from the God of Lies into God of Stories. What made this distinction so important to you?
AL EWING: A lot of amazing people had done so much wonderful work over the years on pushing Loki from a one-note villain to a more complex character—but at the same time, there was a sense that it could all easily go away, and Loki could become the Old Loki again. Comics is a tightrope between What Works and What Doesn't, and sometimes big changes don't get the time they need to generate an exciting new story before they're tweaked back towards the classic. That's no judgment on anyone—I've tacked towards the classic myself on occasion—but it is what the end of the previous Loki arc was about.
Kieron [Gillen] ended his JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY run by killing off Kid Loki in a way that was a statement on the inevitability of Bad Old Loki as the status quo, and that might have been that. However, the popularity of Tom Hiddleston as a younger Loki, and the desire for a comics version that reflected that, offered a moment to potentially break the cycle.
Kieron definitely seemed to be shifting towards that in the YOUNG AVENGERS story that followed, with the version of Loki he restored experiencing pangs of guilt and shame. That's what AGENT OF ASGARD became about: carrying on that story with a view to breaking the narrative gravity and freeing this new version of the character from the chains of nostalgia enough to really explore who they were.
Anyway, I figured the endpoint of all this was changing what Loki was god of to something more even-handed. In the myths, Loki's a trickster and a rogue, but it's often the cunning of the trickster that helps the gods out with some problem or other. After a couple of blind alleys—I pitched a continuation with Loki in the role of God of Change, but that wasn't quite it—it occurred to me that lies and stories were the same thing.
What's fiction? A lie you tell for entertainment. That implied a much more neutral and chaotic figure and, frankly, a more interesting one. I hear it made it onto a whiteboard in a writer's room somewhere, so it must have resonated.
MARVEL.COM: Additionally, AGENT OF ASGARD really reinforced Loki's gender fluidity. How does this aspect of his identity compliment his role as the God of Stories?
AL EWING: I'll admit I originally did it because it just felt right. On an emotional level, on a mythological level, on a story level, most of all on a gut level, it felt like who Loki was, and why would they of all people need a reason? Who we are belongs to us. But in terms of their role as God and Goddess of Stories—like I wrote in one issue, it's not just "some stories." Why would a God of the Tales not be fluid?
MARVEL.COM: Loki's relationship to Thor (and the rest of Asgard) is critical to the development of his identity. What is your favorite part of writing this particular dynamic?
AL EWING: As a reader, Kid Loki really did a number on me. That Loki felt like the future. That's why it hurt so much when Kid Loki died, because it was the only way at the time to preserve that future, to seal it off so it couldn't be tainted.
But one of the greatest things about Kid Loki and Thor was that they were friends as well as brothers. The few occasions Loki and Thor had teamed up before then felt like an event—if these two are fighting alongside each other, things have to be really bad!—but it was nice to see them just chill.
Of course, even then it was a Sword of Damocles, but now that that sword's dropped, it's nice to write them getting along. They make a great odd couple, which I think Marvel Studios' Thor: Ragnarok proved on the silver screen. Except when Loki takes the aspect of Thor's Enemy, of course.
MARVEL.COM: LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD blended the Viking feel of Asgard with the modern sensibilities of Earth, especially for characters like Loki, Sigurd, and Lorelei. When it comes to writing stories about the living myths who walk among us, how do you balance those two aspects? What are your most important considerations here?
AL EWING: It's what works for each character. Thor demands a certain poetic cadence; he even thinks in these grand soliloquies, which is a lot of fun to drop into occasionally. I borrow a lot from the great Walt Simonson in terms of Thor's tone of voice.
Sigurd, meanwhile, has been living on Earth forever and has totally acclimatized to the U.S., so he's completely lost any "Asgardian accent" and talks normal. That fits with his character; his whole deal is that he quit being a hero of the tales to be a hero on the mortal scale.
Most of the other Asgardians are somewhere between the two. Essentially, the more time you spend on Midgard, the less formal you get. So Fandral, who's rarely seen outside the Golden Realm, talks a very highfalutin' game; Amora, less so; Lorelei, less than that. Everyone's got their own tone on the scale.
That brings us to Loki, who until the start of all this was very Asgard-centric. In the '60s, there'd be a lot of long-distance schemes, and Midgard cities were treated as an amusing novelty to have fun with—but with the change to Kid Loki, there comes a general falling-in-love with phones and tech and social media, because Kid Loki is a kid, and that's something that sticks. So Loki's a little looser from then, but still quite Asgardian and formal in tone.
At the end of AGENT OF ASGARD, I signified the change to God/Goddess of Stories by Loki just going Full Midgard and beyond. They're talking like a hopped-up trash punk, because that was a queer aesthetic I was being exposed to a lot at the time and it spoke to me. A decent chunk of that remains, since I brought back that persona with a vengeance in DEFENDERS, but there's still a lot of the higher-register tonality that's crept in since. At the end of the day, if a line sounds right, it sounds right; if not, it gets tweaked until it does.
MARVEL.COM: You've recently returned to Loki in IMMORTAL THOR. How has the God of Stories evolved for this particular tale? What function does he serve?
AL EWING: I feel like Loki is an important supporting character/antagonist in THOR comics; you can't really do without them. Or maybe you can and should, if you're trying to recover from some massive surfeit of Loki, but generally, if things have been kept balanced enough to let Thor shine as main character, Loki serves a vital secondary function.
That's the case here. Thor's the star, but Loki has a vital role as a kind of sidekick who's also a recurring problem, and to do that we had to make a couple of tweaks. Basically, we had to finally answer the question of "Is Loki friend or foe?" and the answer is "Yes." Rather than treat "When will Loki betray everyone?" as a scary question looming in the background or as something that won't come up—which can only end in slightly disappointing ways, as either Loki turns Full Evil and loses or his growth or they were, once again, Nice All Along (Or ARE They????)—we treat it as just part of the mythological condition.
Loki can take their aspect as Teller of the Tales—which is a necessary function and sometimes demanded by Thor when the King of Asgard needs his Skald—but the Teller of the Tales is also Thor's Enemy. You never know when Loki's going to flip to that mode, just that there's a very good magical reason for it. There IS a very good in-story reason for it, which will be explained at about the mid-point of the run.
So hopefully, we have a new status quo at the end of this where Loki isn't binary good/evil and if that switch flips, it's a terrible tragedy, but more a situation where Loki can function as a villain, which many writers would like to have back, and they can do that without a huge regression. Loki can even put on the old costume if you want! Go full nostalgia, knock yourself out—there's just a potential in-world reason now that doesn't break everything.
MARVEL.COM: Tell me a little about working with Lee Garbett and Martin Coccolo. What do they bring to the table?
AL EWING: They're both fantastic artists, first and foremost, and it's been an absolute joy and pleasure to work with them. In chronological order: Lee really got under Loki's skin in a way that caught the attention of fans, and he was always great at the epic mythical stuff and the emotional beats, but his design for God of Stories Loki was a real high point. He just caught exactly what was needed and brought it to life.
So many of the panels in those last four issues just capture Loki's personality exactly, and there's a reason why so many have become meme'd since. (The "I identify as a bitch" panel that does the rounds every so often on social media is Lee's art—not my words, sadly, though I appreciate the spirit.) It was great to have him back recently to properly reintroduce that aspect of Loki to the continuity. Lee's a good friend who I still see occasionally at cons and so forth. I'm always happy to work with him again.
As for Martin: once again, this is someone who captures emotions and personality as well as the big, epic moments, which is absolutely vital for the kind of book this is. In terms of Loki, it was Martin who designed the new "Teller of the Tales" look, from the direction that it should be an absolute Bowie-level glow-up, so that alone should place him in the ranks of the top Loki artists.
He's also done an amazing job of translating Javier Rodriguez's take on the character—which was more fluid than I'd asked for and knocked me out of some self-limiting thinking—to his own magnificent style. One day, we'll meet up in the flesh. I'm not as big a con-goer as I used to be, especially anything that involves air travel, but it'd be nice to tell him in person what a great job he's doing.
MARVEL.COM: What are you most excited for readers to see from Loki in IMMORTAL THOR's upcoming issues?
AL EWING: Did I mention people nostalgic for the '60s Loki costume? Those folks are about to get a sustained treat as we take a look back, far into the ancient tales, to the original pre-Mjolnir Thor/Loki odd coupling, hot and fresh from the Prose Edda by way of Rascally Roy Thomas and adapted for the modern day—as they meet the Utgard-Loki for the first time.
Don't miss Loki's next move in IMMORTAL THOR (2023) #5, on sale December 13!
Celebrate two new timepieces from the Marvel | Citizen Collection, the “Loki” timepiece and the “Avengers 60th: Beyond Earth’s Mightiest Limited Edition Box Set.” See the new timepieces for yourself, and learn more about the "Loki" timepiece collaboration today.
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