Saturday, October 05, 2013

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #88

"The Vengeance of Loki!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(January 1963)

Loki's first appearance in Journey Into Mystery #85 was successful enough to warrant a return. With 50 years of history behind us, it's easy to say now that Loki is a top tier Marvel villain, at least in the top 5 of Marvel menaces. He's not quite there yet, but I do like that, like Doctor Doom, he has a clear and strong motivation that he doesn't waver from. Loki's mission in life is to humiliate Thor and make him impotent.

In his first appearance, Loki doesn't so much endanger people as he does inconvenience them, turning things topsy-turvy with ridiculousness. If Thor protects the order of civilization, Loki seeks to confuse it and throw things into... I was going to say chaos, but it comes across more like disarray. So far, even with the powers he has, Loki seems more like a nuisance than a real danger.

What makes Loki think he'll be successful this time is that he's watching Thor's adventure in the previous issue, and discovers that Thor is also Donald Blake. Remove his enchanted hammer from his hand for more than one minute, and Thor becomes powerless and reverts to an ordinary mortal. Loki gets really excited at the thought of exploiting this weakness, which makes sense, because it's really an inconvenient weakness. (This is one of my least favorite elements of the Thor stories; though sometimes it's used for genuine suspense, that suspense can also feel cheap and contrived. Also, Thor can never just put down the hammer for a couple of minutes if he needs to. On the grand scale of lame superhero weaknesses, it's about halfway up.)

Loki's plan is pretty decent, too. He hypnotizes Jane Foster, turns a tree into a tiger to attack her, and when Thor drops his hammer to save her, Loki puts a magic force field around the hammer. That's all there is to it. Then, after Thor becomes Donald Blake again, he just turns into a pigeon and flies away, leaving a very sad Blake behind.

Damn, Jack Kirby is really good at conveying sadness and desperation. It's not quite Sad Ben Grimm, but it's up there.

What's funny, though, is that Loki's really not much of a threat; he's still just making mischief. Nothing really dangerous happens, he just sort of inconveniences people or scares them. He has total free reign now to mess with the civilized world, and the first thing he does is go up to people and completely blank out their appearances so he can enjoy the panic. But he's like a child who enjoys being bad but accepts he's going to get in trouble, saying to himself "I'll wait another few minutes before I return them to normal." So, all along he plans to put everything back the way he found it? He's like a little kid, he's just playing. His next big act is to take a city block and turn all of the inanimate objects into candy, and almost pisses himself with laughter when a bunch of dogs start licking a kid's bicycle. Powers of a god; imagination of a four year-old.

In fact, he even has a chance to do something really evil when he heads north and sees a Russian MiG dropping an atomic bomb for a test; you expect he's going to do something really dangerous with that bomb, but instead he just turns the bomb into a dud and kind of giggles about it, while (hilariously) the Russian pilot worries aloud "How can we face Nikita now?"

It's just pranks. You're not really selling me on this threat to mankind. The guy's only real goal is to freak out the normals for a little while just because he knows Thor can't do anything about it and he likes rubbing it in the universe's face. Maybe he just needs Ritalin or something. Odin should make sure he doesn't have sugar.

In the end, Loki's foiled in the stupidest way; he goes to check on Thor's hammer and finds Thor standing there, already holding it. Is the hammer gone? Did Thor get it somehow? Loki lifts his force field only to find that Thor is actually a plastic dummy with a fake hammer, and then Blake jumps out and regains the hammer, still where he dropped it. Not exactly Kasparov and Deep Blue, is it?

Thor returns Loki to Asgard, humiliating him in the process, but, really: when it comes right down to it, Loki outsmarted Thor, depowered him, humbled him, messed with a bunch of people with his silly pranks, and then went home. He even saw some dogs! All he needs now is a balloon and a nap and maybe a juice box and that would probably be the best day he's had in a long time, what with Loki being a rambunctious child and all.

Stray observations:

:: Loki escapes from Asgard in this issue by transforming himself into a snake and slithering past Heimdall. Remember how he had been trapped in a tree for centuries and managed to trick his way out? Well, after being returned to Asgard by Thor in Journey #85, Odin just decides to firmly forbid him from returning to Earth. That's it. No chains, no prison cell... he's just at large. And on the honor system. All-Father, you really only have yourself to blame this time.

:: Behold: Loki, God of Fake Beards!

Why conjure an illusion when you can spend a quarter on a cheap prank? "And I would've gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids and your dumb Asgardian God of Thunder!"

Loki's not really evil yet; like I've said before, he's really there just to puncture some of Thor's dignity. It's hard for Thor to fight an enemy who doesn't just face him in open battle, but instead resorts to tricks and mischief. He's not the great villain he will be one day, but for all of my comments about him being a baby, I actually find Loki really fun. He's written with a strong, clear character; heck, even at this point he's more fully-realized than the Hulk. And he's more fun than Thor, because he doesn't have to be so noble.

Good story! I always like it when Loki shows up.

Next time: a strong contender for the lamest villain in the history of Marvel Comics.

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