Much like Grant Morrison killing Batman before one of the Christopher Nolan films came out, Marvel killed Loki before The Avengers movie debuted. Looking at the cinematic Marvel oeuvre, if there’s a character who has taken on a life of his own, it’s Loki. Tom Hiddleston’s performance of the upstart brother of Thor and ungrateful son of Odin has created a small cottage industry for Hiddleston that anyone can watch if they just pay attention to You Tube long enough. So you would think Marvel Comics would be able to capitalize on this by making a comic that starred the movie version of Loki, wouldn’t you? Well, think again. As a consequence of the Marvel event crossover event Siege, Loki was dead (for at least the second or third time in recent memory.) Yet thanks to a deal that Loki had previously made with Hela, the Asgardian goddess of death, he would never actually have a place among the dead and would be somehow immortal because of that. After Siege, Thor writer Matt Fraction resurrected Loki but instead of the equal but opposite number of Thor, the new Loki was a young kid. Reborn with a fairly clean slate, the future of kid Loki looked fairly bright. That is until Kieron Gillen got a hold of him.
Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery #s 622- 645 essentially boils down to a Norse question of nature versus nurture. Wiped clean of the sins of his past, could Loki become a hero like his brother or is Loki doomed to remain Loki? From the very beginning, Gillen answers that question with a resounding “maybe.” The first order of business for Loki is to fight in the Fear Itself massive crossover event. Gillen and artists Doug Braithwaite, Richard Elson and Whilce Portacio essentially rewrite Matt Fraction’s Fear Itself, shifting the focus from Thor and the Marvel heroes to Loki. As Loki does what Loki always does and begins forming alliances with Mephisto and Hela to fight his own grandfather, the big bad of this particular event, Gillen successfully writes a event tie-in that doesn’t require any reading of the actual event to read.
The question of can Loki be something other than Loki gets its answer early on as Gillen shows us that the methods Loki uses may never change but his motivations may be able to. As Thor is fighting the large battle in Fear Itself, Loki is off making deals left and right with demons and death goddesses. Even as he’s making these deals, he’s also plotting the many ways to double cross his temporary allies so that they actually see little benefit from their pacts. The old Loki would have done the same thing. In fact, in earlier issues of Thor, Gillen got to show the old Loki making similar deals with Hela and Mephisto. It’s actually those deals that got him where reborn as a kid and saved his godly life. But the old Loki entered into deals that were advantageous to him. This new Loki? He’s actually trying to save the world with an old bag of tricks. Never mind the fact that to save the world, Loki has to kill Thor.
You spend Gillen’s whole run watching Loki make one deal after another and then waiting for it to come back and haunt him. This Loki may have all of the moves of the old Loki but he’s young enough to note quite understand how the game is actually played. Nothing comes without a price and that’s especially true of Loki’s one ally during all of his schemes, Hela’s handmaiden Leah. His B.F.F. (even though neither of them seems to understand exactly what that actually means,) Leah is confidant, accomplice, tool and eventually an enemy of Loki’s as he uses her almost as just another prop in his schemes. As his gal Friday, Leah suffers because of Loki’s schemes in ways that he doesn’t realize and has little control over. For every victory Loki gains, he creates one more ghost that will later turn up to haunt him.
From the first page of Gillen’s first issue, it’s clear that there is no happy ending for Loki in sight. For as much as Loki can change, Loki had to remain Loki and the way he does that is through Ikol, his magpie with the spirit of the original Loki. Perched on Loki’s shoulder throughout most if this run, Ikol is the devil whispering into Loki’s ear without the counterbalanced advice of an angel. Ikol connives and schemes to get Loki to follow the paths that he does without ever revealing his own motivations. He’s the guide for young Loki in this life and maybe it should have occurred to Loki to seek advice from someone other than himself.
Gillen spends 30 issues of Journey Into Mystery making us love this precocious trickster. This young Loki may not be perfect but he’s a heck of a lot of fun. Eventually though, he stumbles into ways to betray almost everyone who wanted to trust in and unwittingly sets up an inescapable trap for himself. In the end, it’s him and Ikol, trapped in a cycle with only one solution which will cost Loki everything and ultimately prove that Loki will always be the Loki we know and expect no matter how well he hides it. So in the question of “Can Loki change?” the answer ends up being “yes” and “no.” Loki can change but how much and into what become the new questions that are left hanging at the sad end of young Loki’s adventures. As drawn by cover artist Stephanie Hans, the final tragedy of Loki is that he is Loki and that is one thing that he will never be able to change.