dark reign: the cabal


i chose to leave home. i’d already gotten everything i’d ever need: namely the frost will. will to power. will to thrive. unbeatable, unbreakable. perfect like a snowflake, strong like a diamond. the will to live. the will to teach. the will to teach children - to teach mutant children, like me - how to find… somewhere, within themselves… the will to do whatever it takes to survive. to save and protect those who can’t save and protect themselves… from whatever apocalypse in which they might find themselves… protection from whatever fires… from whatever flames… no matter how painful… and from whatever hells they find themselves burning in. no matter how they got there. that’s how i survived. time and time again, that’s my secret. i survived because i willed it to be. time and time again iv’e seen tyrants crush the powerless. i’ve been crushed by them myself. 

how did i survive apocalyptic fire? i simply refused to feel the flames.

The Mighty Thor: Loki’s Master Plan

When we Loki fans found out that the trickster of tricksters would play a role in Jason Aaron’s The Mighty Thor run, we were worried. A lot of Loki’s popularity in the comics came from a surprisingly well-crafted redemption arc, finally resolved in Al Ewing’s Agent of Asgard series. But Marvel canon is a notoriously fickle beast, and many of us were wondering how long it would last. Would Aaron acknowledge the story as canon, or disregard it in order to cast him as the villain once again?

With the first arc of the relaunched Thor wrapped up, our fears seem to have been proven right. After some initial confusion, he threw his lot in with Team Malekith by stabbing Freyja with a poisoned dagger, putting her at death’s door.

The latest issue cements this new alliance with a meeting between himself and Dario Agger (although the meeting hasn’t concluded yet, so we don’t know exactly what comes out of it). Naturally, all of this means that Loki fans are pretty angry with Jason Aaron right now.

But my question is: should they be? This is Loki we’re talking about, after all. Nothing is ever simple with Loki.

I think Aaron’s messing with our heads. The fanbase (not to mention Agent of Asgard itself) predicted this from the outset, which Aaron could have easily figured out by reading Ewing’s work and/or the mountains of hate mail he’s almost certainly received. Armed with that knowledge, he could easily be playing into our darkest expectations, feigning Loki’s relapse.

Why? Because Loki’s undercover, of course, and Loki doesn’t want anyone knowing about it - even all the observers behind the fourth wall. Aaron’s not throwing Loki’s delightfully meta character development to the wayside. He’s just taking it to the delightfully meta conclusion.

Let’s see the evidence.

The Story Acknowledges Loki’s Development

I don’t care what anyone tells me - Aaron’s proven that he understands what Gillen and Ewing have written, and recalls it in enough detail to sneak in subtle references whenever he thinks he can get away with it.

Take, for example, this page from the arc’s second issue:

“Loki writes his own story.” A bit on the nose, really, considering the theory I’m trying to bat for here (which basically implies that Loki himself is responsible for this plot twist). More than that, it showcases the character development he went through under Ewing’s pen. The old Loki was driven primarily by the actions and opinions of others. Screwing with Asgard because Asgard would never accept him for what he truly was. Attempting to prove himself as a hero to win over the good graces of his peers.

At the end of Ewing’s run, he learned to stop letting the opinions of others. He learned to accept himself for who and what he is: a Loki. We see that development here, with Laufey.

Also, in case you missed it, there’s this line: “And since you’ve been dead for so very long, father, I’ll forgive you for not knowing… but my story been rather fan-#@!&#&@-tastically good for quite a long damn while now.” Oh, Aaron, you sneaky little magpie, you.

In the third issue, the rabbit hole goes even deeper as we see all of Loki’s different incarnations. We get appearances from Teen Loki, King Loki, and even Kid Loki, who arguably has the best line in the entire arc.

This continues for many, many pages. And that’s not including all the other little details that get thrown (for instance, Loki still has the nifty staff he got at the end of Ewing’s run). Point is, there are enough winks and nods to the previous material to know that Jason Aaron is familiar with it on some level. Everything he’s writing, he’s writing with that stuff in the back of his mind.

But that only suggest that he’s read it, not that he’s adhering to it. So, in the interest of telling this story properly…

He’s Been Weirdly Helpful

Despite all appearances to the contrary, Loki’s already done quite a bit to strengthen Asgard. Beyond taking out a few of Laufey’s strongest warriors, most of his underhanded kindness came when he helped crash Freyja’s trial. Had it gone on unhindered, that trial would have been great for Malekith, further weakening Asgard while he made his power play. But alongside Thor, Loki provided the whimsical distraction that allowed Freyja to break free and start kicking the Thunder Guard’s collective asses.

Loki ended that battle prematurely by backstabbing Freyja, which, to be fair, seems pretty bad. But let’s consider the actual results of that…

1. Odin bugged out before he could kill Thor. That fight might have seemed like an even match-up the way Aaron presented it (a choice that angered a lot of old-guard fans), but Odin had a massive advantage in the form of the Odinforce. At full strength, he could wipe out entire armies. The only catch - at least according to recent lore - is that the Odinforce needs to be charged up, and that takes time. Loki’s backstab ended the fight prematurely, before the Odinforce was charged, effectively saving Jane’s life. If he hadn’t acted, Thor would no longer be around to stop Malekith.

2. Odin is now focused on bringing down Loki. And, through that grudge, anyone he happens to be associated with. Like Malekith. Bonus: Thor gets some breathing room.

3. This is the important bit: Freyja’s not dead. Let’s flashback to his little confrontation with Cul after the battle was over:

“Your blade was poisoned, they say, though the fact that she isn’t already dead tells me you’re either very bad at the art of poisoning or very, very good at it.” Loki’s obviously no slouch when it comes to poison. The implication, then, is that Loki was never trying to kill Freyja in the first place - only look like he was trying to kill her. She’s still out of commission, but that just means she can’t spark the civil war that Loki has so kindly averted.

4. Malekith now trusts him completely. Not two issues ago, the elf tried earning brownie points with Laufey by sending Loki to die. With this one action, Loki has completely changed Malekith’s mind about him… even though he didn’t advance Malekith’s cause at all.

Summing up the situation, Loki has… given Odin a target other than Thor, drawn Odin’s fire toward Malekith’s alliance, kept Asgard at peak strength, and put himself in the perfect position to undermine Malekith’s plans. He just had to sacrifice his mother’s short-term health and his own reputation to do it.

He’s Already Undermining Malekith

As I mentioned at the beginning, the latest issue is framed around a meeting between Loki and Roxxon CEO Dario Agger, Malekith’s pet human. He’s worried that Malekith is planning to betray him once Dario outlives his usefulness, and he’s looking for allies capable of helping him out. Enter Loki, who has a talent for granting godlike powers to idiot mortals.

Loki hasn’t been in this alliance for five minutes, and he’s already playing the different factions against each other. It bears an uncanny resemblance to his behavior in Dark Reign. He joined Norman Osborn’s Cabal, played them all like fiddles and threw them all under the bus at the right moment, ending up with exactly what he wanted. If that’s what he’s doing, he has precedent.

Malekith has destroyed at least two Roxxon bases already, and that’s not the foundation of a healthy, trusting relationship. By playing on Agger’s paranoia, he can set Roxxon up to turn on Malekith of its own accord, sewing chaos in the ranks. It shouldn’t be hard, considering what Agger is.

Controlling his temper can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.

He Has No Motivation

“I’m sorry, mother, but you never should have sent me to them.”

The last, most damning point I can think of. Look at Loki’s expression right before he stabs Freyja. Look at what he says after he does the deed. Stabbing Freyja was clearly something he didn’t want to do.

So… why, then? Why betray Asgard? Why poison one of the only two people in the Nine Realms that actually trusted him? Why cozy up to Laufey, a father he despises (and has been routinely trying to kill him)? Why sacrifice his reputation so callously after all the hard work his past two incarnations did to salvage it? Why try to conquer Asgard for Malekith, of all people?

This, more than anything, is why I don’t believe Loki’s betrayal is genuine. He always has a reason for stabbing someone in the back. Are those reasons often petty, spiteful and insane? Yes. But they are still reasons. And as far as we know, Loki has no reason to back Malekith in this fight.

Remember: Loki isn’t an enemy of Asgard anymore. Last we left off, he’d left those shenanigans behind completely. He was a neutral force, siding with neither the Asgardians or their enemies.

We still don’t quite know yet what the title “God of Stories” entails. We don’t know for sure what Loki’s agenda is. He could have some personal vendettas to resolve. He could be playing both sides for his own gain. He could just be trying to figure out where the hell his brother is.

But he’s not evil. He’s just messing with our heads.

Trust him. He knows what he’s doing.

Welcome to the first edition of Potential Phase 4! It’s glorified fan fiction really. Marvel, please hire me.

This week, we’ll be covering my most-wanted potential film, Avengers: Dark Reign.

The Background:

In Marvel Comics, the Dark Reign event occurred after the Skrulls ever-so-secretly invaded Earth. Taking the credit for their defeat, Norman Osborn, also known as Green Goblin, rose to the position of Director of H.A.M.M.E.R., usurping Tony Stark from his position in the then dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. Osborn would form an alliance with Namor, Emma Frost, Hood, Doctor Doom and the female Loki called the Cabal to run the world from darkness. Forming his own Dark Avengers, he would fool the world, and eventually lay siege to Asgard itself.

The Premise:

For the MCU, it is clear that Dark Reign would have to be switched up a bit, given that the events leading up to it will not happen. So, here is how I envision it:

In the aftermath of Infinity War, the Avengers are broken. After banding together one last time, and suffering crippling losses, it is decided that the team could not continue. However, on returning to Earth after the climactic battle with the Mad Titan Thanos, the heroes would discover that the world they left not so long ago, was no more.

Tony Stark carefully hid the fact that he was responsible for the creation of the insane AI Ultron after the robot’s attack, but Norman Osborn has blown the proverbial whistle. With the world against the Avengers for bringing such destruction upon them, a Dark Reign begins. Bringing together his own team of villains in the guise of heroes, as well as forming an alliance with our own heroes’ nemeses, the man who is also the Green Goblin runs the world.

The Avengers are Disassembled. He has won.

So, in replacement of Secret Invasion, Osborn (Who is hopefully part of the Spider-Man deal), reveals The Avengers’ greatest failure, and runs the world on the back of that.

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