177a Bleecker Street has a new occupant: Loki Laufeyson, the God of Mischief. It’s a wild change for Marvel’s Doctor Strange series, and one you’d think the heroes of the Marvel universe would immediately see as something to be corrected and dealt with. Some do, but surprisingly, certain other characters are fine with where Loki is.
Image: Marvel Comics. Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire.
Doctor Strange #381 – by Donny Cates, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire and Cory Petit – kicks off with a declaration that Marvel has been teasing for a while. Stephen Strange is out as Sorcerer Supreme, and in his place is perhaps one of the worst choices possible, Loki. Considering Loki’s penchant for, well, being Loki, you’d think the moment this happened, the Avengers, X-Men and every other superhero group would be knocking on the Sanctum Santorum’s door demanding to know what mad scheme Loki has up his sleeves this time.
And yet… they aren’t. The world seems mostly OK with it all. Zelma, Strange’s apprentice in the most recent run of the book, is wistful for the days of working alongside Stephen but seemingly OK with palling around with Loki so far. The normal people of the world are fine with coming to Loki for their magical problems just as they did with Stephen. Even Thor herself, despite appearing in a grand fashion to ask Loki what the hell he thinks he’s playing at, quickly relents when the troubled Asgardian pleads to her that he wants to do good in a role that Stephen Strange was forced to abandon, and to actually enact positive change.
The thing is, this is Loki, and saying one thing only to mean the exact opposite is kind of his whole thing. Sure, he helps Thor by revealing a planned Frost Giant invasion hidden from Asgard’s detection by magic he now has dominion over. But what he doesn’t tell her is that those same magical powers have also let him know that she’s really Jane Foster. And Loki’s claimed many times in the past to be operating under noble intentions, only to have ulterior motives.
The stage is set for doubts to be sown about Loki’s true intentions when we also see him hanging out with other mystical Marvel heroes – who are absolutely not happy to see him hold such a powerful mantle. This goes double for Scarlet Witch, who spends most of her time in this issue essentially walking around fuming about how bullshit this all is.
You see, Wanda – who spent all of her recent solo series travelling the world trying to fix the broken state of magic – hates what Loki now represents: A nonchalant disregard for order and the way things were. That, and the fact he’s frequently been a villain she’s had to help fight against – but it’s essentially down to the fact that he represents chaos to the order she fought so hard to preserve.
Loki wants to fundamentally change the power of magic in Marvel’s universe. The idea that magic enacts a toll on its wielder, that they have to pay a price for using it, is fundamental to the vast majority of most mystical Marvel characters. In exchange for vast power, magic users have to pay a vast price. Loki thinks that’s absurd, and makes an offering to the mystic beings of the cosmos: Use magic as powerful as you want, and then come to him, and he will “pay” the price for you, using his Asgardian fortitude to weasel himself out of any horrifying or even fatal effects. Now being of two worlds – a God with magic his fellow Asgardians could never imagine, and a Sorcerer Supreme whose abilities as an Asgardian make him capable of wielding magical power others physically cannot – makes Loki one of the most powerful and dangerous people around, so it’s a pretty dangerous proposition.
Loki proposes this radical revision to established magic rules because he wants to uncover one particular secret Stephen Strange kept from him. When handing over the keys to the Sanctum Santorum, Strange blocked off one room with a legendary incantation. Even with his wild “sacrifice” on the table, no one wants to even contemplate helping Loki with this challenge. Loki leaves his fellow mystics behind in a huff, and it’s a sign that not everything is as it seems with the new Sorcerer Supreme.
Wanda seems to be the only person who realises this, turning to Stephen Strange (now “retired” as a veterinarian) to implore him to get back in the fight. But not even he wants to bother with Loki any more. He lost his mantle fair and square, Stephen says, and what’s more, being a sorcerer was never about stopping people like Loki for him. It was so he could help people again.
Doctor Strange #381 makes it clear that there’s reasons to believe that Loki is up to something terrible with his newfound power, even as he puts on the front of an embattled, poor Asgardian who really wants to do good this time. But so far, it seems like the only person to understand the threat the trickster-turned-sorcerer represents is Scarlet Witch – and she has a lot of people to get on her side before she can really figure out what Loki’s up to.