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There’s more to Disney Plus’ new series “Loki” than Tom Hiddleston’s admittedly unmistakable charm, as great as that may be; the Marvel version of the mythical figure, which debuted in 1963’s “Journey Into Mystery” #85, has more than half a century’s worth of comic book history of mischief and troublemaking behind him, with his crimes ranging from the near-genocidal to the utterly mundane. If the TV show has left you wanting more, then here’s where to find it.
‘Loki’ Omnibus Vol. 1
The earliest appearances of Marvel’s Loki are a strange thing to revisit from today’s perspective; he’s at once more archly, stereotypically evil, while also managing to be almost cartoonishly unthreatening. (In his very first appearance, he’s defeated by getting stuck in a piece of construction piping, and then almost drowning; when he first faces the Avengers, he falls down a trapdoor and gets stuck in a lead-lined furnace. It’s all very silly stuff.)
Nevertheless, this is where everything begins, and there’s a certain thrill watching Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and their peers figuring out how to make Loki work in real time, in front of everyone’s eyes. The upcoming Loki Omnibus collects the character’s major appearances from the first five years of his existence; think of it as Marvel Loki 101.
‘Thor’ by Walt Simonson Omnibus
If there’s one thing that Thor fans can agree on, it’s that the mid-1980s run on the monthly comic by writer and artist Walter Simonson is arguably the high point of the character’s comic book existence. Running from 1983 through 1987, Simonson modernized and redefined the hero and his supporting cast with stories that ranged from the epic in scope — Asgard is attacked and Odin falls! — to the intimate.
In amongst it all are some of the best Loki stories ever told, including his attempt to, essentially, use a love potion as a way to take over Asgard, and what happens when he gets his ultimate revenge on Thor by turning him into a frog. (You’re really not ready for the adventures of the Frog of Thunder, I promise.) Beautifully illustrated and unfailingly fun, it’s a high point for all involved.
‘Loki: Mistress of Mischief’
Audiences may think of Loki as Thor’s brother — half-brother, technically — but things are more complicated than that, which only seems fitting considering just how slippery Loki can be when he wants to. When the character returned to comics after what certainly looked like certain death some years earlier, Loki reappeared as a woman.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski (“Sense8″) and artist Oliver Coipel transformed Loki into a none-more-goth femme fatale for their 2007 relaunch of the “Thor” comic, but her need to cause the kind of trouble that only benefits her in the long run stayed exactly the same… up to and including a super-villain team-up with Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis Norman Osborn, amongst many others.
‘Journey Into Mystery’ by Kieron Gillen: The Complete Collection Vols. 1 and 2
Loki died again in 2010, but that wasn’t the end, of course… except, it kind of was. What followed was the birth of a new kind of Loki that didn’t fall so easily into “hero” or “villain” categories, and sought redemption for his past sins. Oh, and he was also a child — which meant that even those who hadn’t immediately turned against him weren’t too willing to take him seriously when it mattered.
Kieron Gillen and Doug Braithwaite used this as the basis for a story that redefined the character as one in his own right, doomed to a particular kind of tragedy from the very start. Their “Journey Into Mystery” run is funny, moving and just might convince you that the Lord of Lies isn’t really a bad guy — or, at least, he doesn’t have to be.
‘Young Avengers’ by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie Omnibus
Not content with being the character responsible for the formation of the original Avengers, Loki ended up joining the Young Avengers — before you ask, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a group of teenage superheroes — in 2013, just in time for the team to defend against an existential horror that threatens multiple realities at once. Everyday stuff for the superpowered set, perhaps, but Loki ends up complicating matters in unexpected ways that just might not be as nefarious as they seem in this fast-paced, delightfully queer mash-up of teenage angst and superhero soap opera.
‘Loki: Agent of Asgard’ – The Complete Collection
If there’s one lesson that everyone familiar with Loki really should have learned early on, it’s that he can’t really be trusted to follow orders — something that the Time Variance Authority is currently learning in the Disney Plus series. Unfortunately, it appeared that Asgard’s ruling bodies hadn’t realized that by the time this 2014 series began, with Loki a somewhat untrustworthy spy in theory working for his home kingdom… ish.
What followed is a suitably twist-filled, surprisingly touching story by Al Ewing and Lee Garbett about self-determination, the ability to defy destiny, and just who and what Loki really cares about. (Spoilers: it’s not only himself.) A key text for anyone interested in serious Loki-ology.
‘Loki: The God Who Fell to Earth’
And so, we come to where the God of Lies currently is, in terms of Marvel’s complicated comic book mythology: a 2019 series in which Loki — who has, yet again, died and come back to life — tries something new: being a good king to the Frost Giants.
That’s not as easy as it might seem, not least of all because no-one believes Loki has turned over a new leaf, Loki might not actually be back from the dead after all, and most importantly, it’s kind of boring to be the ruler of a kingdom in the first place. “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” writer Daniel Kibblesmith and Oscar Bazaldua keep both plates and heads spinning with this collection of the most recent “Loki” comic.
‘Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The New Fantastic Four’
But wait, you say: What about the Time Variance Authority? Where can I find out more about them? Part of the answer is actually in the list above; the group was first mentioned during Walter Simonson’s “Thor,” but their first appearance on the page came during Simonson’s time on the “Fantastic Four“ comic, when their “Office Space”-esque potential is taken to the limit and beyond. (There’s also the chance to see the Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider team up to become a new Fantastic Four and fight monsters and aliens, if that’s your thing.)