For those who discovered Loki through the MCU, it might cause a bit of cognitive dissonance to read the early days of the Lee/Kirby collaboration that gave us his foundational comic book counterpart. The Loki of today is a more thoughtful and well-rounded character than in his early days, but there’s no way to get to one without the other. Looking back in Loki Omnibus Vol. 1, the relationship between Loki and his brother and father was always a little more complicated than could easily be defined, even in their first appearances.
Even at his most spiteful, Loki had a point in his outrage towards the Asgardians, who pigeonholed him as a malevolent force in his infancy and often refused to allow him to grow beyond the mistakes of his youth. It’s true that he’s a lot more complex today, but so is Thor, and each of their character’s development through over the years has gone in tandem with the other’s. Regardless, Loki’s stint as a ruthless villain comes with a lot of hijinks, tricks, and pranks all his own, and even his gestative era gave Thor a nemesis who was always more than meets the eye.
Collects: Avengers (1963) #1; Journey into Mystery (1952) #85, #88, #91-92, #94, #97, #100-104, #107-108, #110-125; Thor (1966) #126-129, #142, #147-157, #167, #173, #175-177, #179-181; Thor Annual (1966) #2; material from Strange Tales (1951) #123; Tales to Astonish (1959) #101; Silver Surfer (1968) #4
No More Tears Left to Cry
The first appearance of Loki in Journey Into Mystery #85 is also the first appearance of mainstays like Balder, Tyr, Heimdall, and Odin, as well as the concept of a comic book Asgard, so this era is very much building the groundwork that we now take for granted. Loki wasn’t Thor’s first nemesis (that honor goes to the Stone Men of Saturn, who he fought in his debut two issues prior), but he would immediately prove to be the most frequently recurring. Even when Loki isn’t the central villain, he is almost always in some way involved in the challenges Thor faces.
In his debut, we see Loki has been condemned by Odin to spend his existence trapped within a great tree until any living creature comes to shed a tear over his predicament. Asgardians willing or able to cry over Loki’s imprisonment are few and far between, and indeed, it isn’t until a leaf from the tree falls into Heimdall’s eye that anyone sheds said tear. However shaky this claim to victory might be, it still sets Loki free, and he immediately goes after Thor.
It may go without saying that Jack Kirby’s art is incredible throughout his lengthy stint on the book, but what’s more, it’s fun to watch his style change with different inkers until he fully becomes the stylistic king we know him as today. By the time of Thor’s debut, he’d been working in comics in some capacity or another for something like two and a half decades, but he wasn’t done evolving into the bonkers science fiction that would ultimately define his career. Kirby and Lee both did some of their best work on Thor, and moments where the gods walk us through recollections of their great failures and triumphs, visually rendered to perfection by Kirby, are always a delight. This omnibus features a handful of other artists, including Neal Adams and John Buscema, likewise offering a visual counterpart to the grandiose narration of Lee. From beginning to end, it’s a beautiful book.
Friends of Loki
Even in the beginning, Loki is mercurial, and his resentment of Thor and the rest of the Asgardians is tempered by flights of fancy in which he imagines himself king. Yet he is still highly adept at forming bonds and alliances with others who have been burned by the gods. Seldom does Loki make an appearance in which he isn’t either teamed up or manipulating someone into doing his bidding, proving that whatever charisma Thor has isn’t limited to him alone. Sometimes through threats, sometimes through manipulation, and sometimes simply through the power of his offbeat personality, Loki has a tendency to get his way.
Loki’s alliance with Amora begins with her very first appearance in JiM #103, and it’s a great kickoff to one of the unsung supervillain friendships of the world. Loki repeatedly calls in favors from Amora and her companion, the Executioner. Loki and Amora always seem amused by one another even when he inevitably betrays her, and their quippy dialogue and mutual pettiness make them a delightful team-up.
Loki’s love for meddling also led to him giving Mr. Hyde and Cobra major power-ups so that they posed a serious threat to the thunder god. The two have surprisingly strong representation in the Journey Into Mystery era of Thor, and they make for some pretty great fight scenes. Loki has a guest appearance in Silver Surfer #4, which is one of the great underrated team-up issues of its era as the Surfer and Thor end up in a Loki-engineered fight before coming to understand that they have more in common than not. Journey Into Mystery #108 gives us a guest appearance from Doctor Strange (whose life is saved by a surgery done by Donald Blake). The Avengers come in after Jane Foster is kidnapped by Loki, who quite literally throws Blake’s cane out a window and bounces away with her.
Thor’s love interests change in this story, which first focuses on Donald Blake’s love for Jane Foster. Thor tries to bring Foster to Asgard only for Odin to deem her unworthy, forcing Thor to end things with her as he leaves the Blake persona behind. This leads him to rekindle his love with Lady Sif, who fights Loki more than once throughout the series. Meanwhile, Loki himself teams up with Karnilla, Queen of the Norns, who helps him due to her interest in Balder the Brave. Loki flirts badly and strikes out with Amora early on, and likewise gets nowhere with Karnilla, but their team-ups are where Loki is at his most interesting. A handful of misogynistic tirades aside, Loki is easily at his best with a partner.
Tales of Olde Asgard
Some of Loki and Thor’s childhood is told through the back-up features that appeared throughout much of Thor’s Journey Into Mystery run. These stories could travel into any part of the Asgardian mythos, but often enough showed deeds of valor by young Thor in his quest to rise to the challenge of becoming the Odinson. Fresh-faced, naive, boastful, and generally somewhat irritating, Thor’s brashness and his habit of not thinking things through is worse in his early days, while the conniving Loki consistently stands back and allows events to unfold before him. Thor’s good intentions combined with a lack of humility lands them in danger just as much as Loki’s machinations, and their relationship with one another remains fascinating even before the characterization from today’s world. As always, this is one of the most interesting relationships in comics, and it only grows more complex as time goes on.
Loki pulls out all the stops in his attempts to climb to power here, and it leads to some pretty bonkers moments, including him taking over the throne of Asgard the second that Odin goes missing and even switching bodies with Thor to wreak havoc on the city of New York, among other locales. Regardless of how outlandish his plots, Loki does have a knack for finding Thor in his most vulnerable moments and using his morality against him.
Loki of yesteryear was created to represent many of the things his Norse counterpart has generally stood for: greed, malice, rage, spite. His villainy has run the gamut, from truly horrible to well-intentioned moral compromise. This omnibus focuses on him as the nemesis of Thor, but things would not always be thus. That said, there are times even here when Loki refuses to use his full might against his brother, adding a layer that some forget ever existed in this time period. Though this is Loki at his most self-serving, he still has a flair for theatricality and killer sense of style, and he is a major part of what makes these early Thor comics as fun as they are.