Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Trade Waiting - Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers

With the Thor movie imminent and interest in ye olde goldilocks at an all time high, I thought I'd take a look at one of my all time favourite Thor stories, the 2004 painted miniseries, Loki, finally reprinted and now retitled as Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers.  Hit the jump to find out why I love this comic as much as I do.


THOR & LOKI: BLOOD BROTHERS
Written by Rob Rodi, Stan Lee & J.M. Straczynski
Art by Esad Ribic, Jack Kirby & Olivier Coipel
Collects Loki #1-4, Journey Into Mystery #85, Journey Into Mystery #112 (Tales of Asgard backup) & Thor #12

For every hero, there is a villain.  Their story is almost always told from the hero's perspective.  However, there are two sides to every story and the self-titled 2004 miniseries, Loki (now rebranded Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers), did just that for the Thor/Loki story.  The character driven story follows Loki and we learn more about the character, his inner workings and motivations in this four issue miniseries than in decades of comics in a tale told in a manner that is remarkably similar to how John Gardner's Grendel told the events of Beowulf from the monster's perspective.



Loki triumphant.
The difference between Loki and Grendel is that this is an out of continuity tale as opposed to a direct retelling of previously known events.  It began its story with Loki triumphant, having bested Thor and his allies and conquered Asgard.  The story uses this premise to great effect, following Loki as we see what happens after a villain is successful and, in turn, learn more about Loki through his interactions with his prisoners, allies and his own quiet moments of contemplation.

Loki's motivations and thought processes are the best parts of this story.  Loki has always been an enigmatic character with varying agendas.  Some chalk this up to his being the god of lies or mischief and just basically wanting to cause chaos while others go with the jealousy of Thor or his upbringing alongside Asgard's favourite son.  Others still say it is simply Loki being Loki - there is no real motivation for him other than he is the villain and must be the villain and play his part in bringing about Ragnarok.  

All three of these motivations are explored in the story.  We follow Loki as he discusses his plans for Asgard now that he is in charge and he eventually makes his way to visiting his prisoners, such as Sif, Balder and his father, Odin.  Each plays off Loki well and typically lead their respective conversations.  Sif believes Loki is evil simply because he is Loki and has always treated him as such.  Only now does she thank him for proving her right in her beliefs.  

Odin 'defeated'.
Odin was of the mind that he failed his adopted son as a father and that is why Loki is the way he is now, though Loki quickly calls Odin on his lies during their conversation, bringing forth the knowledge and accusation that Odin only took Loki in to further polarize Asgard's opinion of Thor.  For how could Thor, the perfect son, not look and appear that much better when compared to Loki.  He even accuses Odin of fostering evil in Loki and refusing to see any good and only responding with ridicule and disgust at any accomplishments.  It was one of my favourite scenes in a story that had many great scenes as Odin's response is only silence and an inability to refute Loki's claims, thus proving his own, dark intentions for Loki.  How could Loki be anything but what he became in such an environment?  It brings up a lot of great nurture versus nature debate and the fact that, at this point in the story, Loki is already contemplating breaking the bonds of fate, which Balder told him of and Karmilla confirmed with magic for him, by sparing his brother.  To see him 'defeat' Odin in this moral debate was just a fantastically written scene. 

Speaking of Balder, their conversation follows the latter motivation I spoke of above concerning fate and if Loki is simply evil by fate's dark designs.  Loki learns of fate's grand plan for the Loki's across all realities and how in a thousand other realities, Loki is the villain and will always be defeated and punished for his actions.  Balder knows of these things from his near death experiences and brief time spent in Hel.  Loki was horrified at the prospect that he has no control over his actions and tries to deny the claims by trumpeting his victory over Thor and ruling Asgard, but the conversation shakes him and drove most of the story forward.  We learn a great deal simply through Loki trying to prove to himself, and thus the reader, that he is not evil or controlled by fate.  He is Loki and fate be damned.  It makes the ending, in which, after throwing off the shackles of fate and moving to free his brother, Thor, that much sadder as said Thor breaks free just as Loki comes to his resolution.  Unable to forgive or believe any words from the God of Lies at this point, it makes for a poignant ending that stays true to the classic stories of gods and fate mythology.  

Sometimes you hurt the ones you love the most.
Of course, speaking of this story without mentioning the artwork would be a crime most unforgivable.  Esad Ribic is absolutely phenomenal.  His painted art is some of the best I've seen in the comic medium and without his talents, particularly in regards to facial expressions, many scenes simply would have fallen flat.  From Odin's silent defeat to Loki's reactions to his mother's appearance in his court or even flashbacks to earlier defeats or experiences, it is all thanks to Ribic's art that these scenes are as powerful as they end up being.  My favourite scene, in particular, is nearly all silent panels with Loki contemplating why, if Thor is the only one whom ever loved him out of all the Asgardians, is he killing him and not the others.  The panels where Loki silently contemplates his own question before answering make the scene and his posture and demeanor as that answer - because Thor stopped loving him - are testaments to Ribic's craft.  

For extras, the new trade version comes bundled with two relatively unrelated, though Loki themed stories in the form of Journey into Mystery #85 and #112, featuring the first appearance of Loki in a classic Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tale, and the recent J.M. Straczynski and Olivier Coipel Thor #12, which showed Loki, with the aid of Hela, manipulating events in the past and acting as a pseudo origin story showing how Odin's father, Bor, died and how Odin, in turn, killed Loki's father and adopted Loki, all due to Loki's machinations.

It's clear these all have a Loki theme and, like the Loki miniseries, all give perspective to the Thor/Loki relationship or insights into Loki's mind.  I was actually surprised at how well Thor #12 stood alone and required little to no context or knowledge of that ongoing.  Definitely an inspired choice for additional content that really suited the style and tone of the trade.  And, of course, the Lee/Kirby tale was great for what it was and a welcome addition. 

The final bit of extra material was the standard sketches, unused covers and a two page original pitch for the project by Rob Rodi that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I would have loved to have seen more notes and earlier ideas for the series, but this was definitely a nice read and I'm glad they included it.  It's curious that they originally intended for a longer, more drawn out battle to end the story once Thor broke free.  Even more curious was that he had a quote and ending scene already planned in the original pitch that differs greatly from how it actually ends.

Verdict - Must Read.  One of the greatest Thor stories ever told just happens to be a story revolving entirely around Loki.  Fantastic character study of Loki, beautiful painted art and excellent extra material makes this the complete package.  A trade and story everyone should own and read.
Like this review? Interested in Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!


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