Loki, the wicked black sheep of Asgard, is the adopted brother and archenemy of the Norse god, Thor. He’s known as the “God of Lies and Mischief,” and he revels in spreading chaos and upsetting the plans of his fellow noble immortals—as well as finding schemes and ploys to tout his intelligence and wit in front of humans and deities alike. It’s because of Loki’s preference for brains over brawn (which stands in direct opposition to his brother’s typical meathead operating procedure) that he also happens to be one of the few supervillains of the Marvel realm that fans tend to root for. Within the comic-book universe, he made his first appearance in the late 1940s in Timely Comics’ “Venus” comics, and has since continued to appear in films, comics, and most recently, the Thor and Avengers films (as portrayed by a very droll and perfectly cast Tom Hiddleston). Here’s a little bit of background on Loki and his rise to comic-book fame.
Mythology: Loki isn’t a creation of some American comic-book company—he’s actually a deity from traditional Norwegian mythology. While his origins vary widely, he’s almost always portrayed as a sort of shape-shifter that can take the forms of many different creatures, including fish, bears, seals and other human beings. He’s a mischievous and clever deity, who’s often depicted in Old Norse poetry as a sort of “trickster.” When it comes to interacting with other gods, his motivations are capricious at best: Loki helps, or hinders, the gods of Asgard (one of the nine Norse home worlds, our human world being Midgard) when it best suits him and no one else.
Origins: The Marvel-version of Loki (his full name in the Marvel world is Loki Laufeyson) as we know him now was introduced in Journey into Mystery in 1962, and his character was redesigned by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—his now-iconic appearance, complete with his gold-horned helmet and lime-green suit, can be attributed to the comic-book masters.
His origin story was also developed during this time as well. Odin, the ruler of the Asgardian gods, waged total war against his people’s sworn enemy, the frost giants of Jotunheim (also one of the nine home worlds). The Asgardian king slew the ruler of the frost giants, Laufey, and while he was exploring the former ruler’s main fortress, he discovered a god-sized baby that had been hidden there. The child was Loki, and he was the son of Laufey—he’d been hidden away because his father was ashamed of his minuscule and sickly appearance. Feeling pity for the boy, Odin adopted him as his own. Loki grew up alongside Odin’s biological son, Thor, and the two were as different as night and day: Thor epitomized the values of the Asgardians with his incredible strength, bravery and love for battle; Loki, on the other hand, was slight, and lacked his brother’s affinity for combat. But Loki was extremely clever, and he utilized his intelligence to master sorcery, thus nearly matching him in terms of overall power to his brother. Loki, building upon centuries of resentment for his treatment by the Asgardians as the “lesser” brother, sought to rule Asgard and punish his brother. While he has come close to seizing the throne, he hasn’t yet been able to vanquish Thor.
Powers: Much like the Norse version of Loki, the Marvel version of the trickster god is adept at shape shifting (he’s even been known to impersonate Captain America), but his magical abilities go beyond mere parlor tricks: He can cast force fields, fly, teleport and transform inanimate objects into living being. But his real power is his intelligence. He’s outwitted his far-stronger brother and other Marvel superheroes on many occasions—he’s even somehow managed to cheat death by removing his name from the Book of Hel (a sort of book of the dead).
Loki’s intelligence and wit make him one of the most dangerous (and one of the most beloved) supervillains in Marvel comics. The success of the Thor and Avengers films, as well Tom Hiddleston’s popular surprise appearance as the character during this year’s Comic-Con, show that Loki isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of the troublesome Asgardian shortly.