The many faces of Loki in Marvel comics
This article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Loki.
Loki comes in many shapes and sizes. He is, after all, a trickster, the god of mischief, and what's more mischievous than playing around with the constructs of form and gender that bind everyone else in the world?
This week's episode of Loki on Disney+ made clear just how much Loki can change, with the revelation that the dangerous "variant" being hunted by the Time Variance Authority is none other than a female incarnation of Loki (played by Sophia Di Martino). This is an evolution for the on-screen version of the character, but the history of Marvel comics is littered with Loki variants. Here are four of our favorites - who knows, maybe they can teach us something about where Loki is headed.
How Loki got this body: For a minute there, it really seemed like Marvel's Thor mythology had come to an end. The "Ragnarok" storyline in 2004's Thor #80-85 ended with Asgard destroyed, all of Thor's comrades and enemies slain, and the Thunder God himself drifting off into cosmic hibernation. When Thor finally re-emerged with a new series by writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Olivier Coipel a few years later, it fell to him to resurrect the rest of the Asgardians. He was reluctant to call back his villainous brother, so Loki got tricky - he stole the body of Thor's lady love Sif. Hearing of a dark-haired woman who called his name, Thor eagerly unleashed her Asgardian spirit, and was devastated to find his brother's eyes looking at him from under those black tresses instead.
What Loki did with it: Though Loki claimed this female form was an opportunity to change, he quickly got up to his old tricks of manipulating Thor and the Asgardians for his own mysterious ends. Though he eventually returned Sif's body in favor of taking up his classic form, Loki proved totally comfortable existing as a woman, and has done it again occasionally in the years since.
How Loki got this body: The seeds Loki planted in female form eventually resulted in the devastating siege of Asgard by Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers. At last feeling some guilt for his actions, Loki sacrificed himself to protect his brother from the supervillain known as The Void. But then, Loki never stays absent for long. When he reappeared, it was once again in a new form: This time, Loki took on the appearance of a young boy.
What Loki did with it: As seen in the Journey Into Mystery series by writer Kieron Gillen and artists like Rich Elson and Whilce Portacio, Kid Loki was determined to be better than his past self, though his fellow Asgardians couldn't help but resent him for all the trouble he'd caused in his previous incarnations. Kid Loki also accomplished the remarkable feat of assembling the modern team of Young Avengers. We've started to see seeds planted for the Young Avengers in previous MCU series (with Billy and Tommy popping up in WandaVision and Kate Bishop coming in Hawkeye), so we're just saying, don't be surprised if Loki ends up de-aged by the end of this show.
Young Adult Loki
How Loki got this body: On the meta level, it's easy to see why Loki looks like this now. This current incarnation is easily the most like Tom Hiddleston that comic-book Loki has ever looked. On the page, it required the help of the Young Avengers. As it became clear that team member Wiccan (the aforementioned Billy) was not just a powerful magician but a potential multiverse messiah known as the Demiurge, Loki tried to coach him in magic. His Kid Loki form, however, was too weak to contain such powers. So Loki convinced Wiccan to age him up a bit. Older than Kid Loki but decidedly younger than his original incarnation, this is how the trickster god has appeared on page ever since.
What Loki did with it: After achieving this form, Loki starred in the comic Loki: Agent of Asgard by writer Al Ewing and artist Lee Garbett, where he became a magical super-spy for the Asgardians. By doing the dirty work of the All-Mother, Loki hoped to make up for his past dark deeds. Later he tried running for president, briefly became the Sorcerer Supreme, and got caught up in the War of the Realms. Wherever he is now, you can bet he's still causing trouble.
How Loki got this body: Marvel's Ultimate line was an attempt, in the early 2000s, to engage new readers with fresh takes on the publisher's classic superheroes that were not beholden to decades of complicated continuity. The line's flagship book was The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, which became a major blueprint for The Avengers and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Ultimates brought new, turn-of-the-century interpretations to classic Avengers characters like Thor and Loki.
What Loki did with it: One of the most fascinating elements of The Ultimates was the genuine mystery over whether this version of Thor was the real deal, or just an up-jumped pretender with high-tech hardware. As it turned out, this mystery was entirely seeded by Loki, who used his reality-shuffling abilities to disguise himself as an unassuming human named "Gunnar Golmen" and convince S.H.I.E.L.D. that his brother was a runaway mental patient. It worked like a charm at first, but eventually Thor revealed Loki's deception and defeated the god of mischief with the combined might of the Ultimates and Asgardians.