Marvel has finally revealed the real reason Loki, the Trickster God, became one of their greatest villains. Loki is undeniably one of Marvel's most prominent and recognizable bad guys; inspired by the Norse legends, he's so dangerous that in both the comics and the MCU, he's essentially the one who led to the Avengers first assembling.
There's something almost Shakespearean about Marvel's Loki, who has sought redemption time and again--but has found his own nature pulling him back to villainy. For that very reason Loki, who considers himself the God of Stories as much as the God of Lies, compared himself to the scorpion carried across a river on a frog's back, unable to resist the urge to sting even though it too will drown, simply because that is its nature. But it's always been interesting to speculate just how Loki became that twisted, slightly broken person.
The answer is revealed in Mackenzi Lee's Loki: Where Mischief Lies, a novel designed to fit perfectly into the comic book continuity. Surprisingly, though, a lot of Lee's ideas would work remarkably well on the big screen. So just what did force Loki down the path of evil?
Magic Was Not Accepted On Asgard
It all begins with an old prejudice in Asgard. Although he was brought up in the House of Odin, Loki always had a strong sense that he didn't fit in (simply because Loki possessed skills and abilities that Asgardians do not value in their royalty). The Asgardians expect their royals to be strong, haughty, confident, and physically powerful. Any abilities they possess tend towards the visibly destructive and spectacular. In contrast, Loki is a sorcerer, a master of subtle magics that tend towards deception and manipulation. Loki: Where Mischief Lies suggests that the Asgardians view sorcerers as near-outcasts, distrusting them. Some, like Amora the Enchantress, are sent to the Norns for training and expected to learn responsibility. Others, like Odin's wife Frigga, hide their powers away and only practice them in secret.
Loki: Where Mischief Lies suggests that this subtle prejudice affected Odin's relationship with his children, and Loki gradually became aware that his father preferred Thor. As far as Loki was concerned, he spent most of his childhood being placed in competitions he could never win: tests of strength, speed, and stamina, rather than intelligence and magic. The problem, however, is that on Asgard a sorcerer can sense the magic surrounding them, and the desire to tap into it becomes overwhelming. In the end, Frigga was forced to intervene and train Loki herself in secret, restoring something of the relationship between mother and child.
Loki's Fate Was Foretold - And He Knew It
Yet even now, Loki could have had another path, had he not been instinctively drawn to the power of stories. It all began when Odin glimpsed a vision of Loki leading an army of the dead in an invasion of Asgard; Odin hid himself away in fear, but a curious Loki was naturally unable to resist trying to learn what was going on, and he eavesdropped on a conversation between Odin and Frigga in order to learn the truth. In the aftermath of this vision, the distance between Odin and Loki began to grow, ultimately becoming a vast gulf. Ironically, Odin sealed Loki's fate when he unwisely chose to send the Trickster God to Earth, rather than allow him to participate in a high-profile mission (another decision rooted in his distrust towards Loki).
On Earth, Loki discovered the tales the humans had of Asgard, and he knew that they were more than mere legends. That was the moment when Loki began to surrender to his fate, to accept that he was destined to become the villain. He reads the words with a chill in his heart:
Time, he knew, was a slippery, changeable thing. But villain? Is that what he was destined to be? Was there even any point in trying to do the right thing if his future was already written in the myths, if he was the antagonist of everyone else's stories? 'Villain. Shallow. Manipulative. A cruel predator. The father of lies. He cheats. He steals. Murderer. Villainous. Villain.'
The tragic irony of Loki's story is that Odin had misread his vision, because Loki had already set in motion a chain of events that would see him bring an army of the dead to Asgard - where they could be safely conquered. There's a sense, then, in which Loki became a villain because it was simply what had been expected of him. His father's doubts were made manifest, and the legends became self-fulfilling prophecies.
Could This Story Work For The MCU?
Mackenzi Lee's story is a fascinating one, carefully tailored to fit with the comics. Surprisingly, though, it would work very well in the MCU as well. For all Thor claimed Asgard to be a place where science and magic are one and the same thing, precious few Asgardians appear to have truly mastered magic. As in the comics, the royal family in particular value strength and destructive power rather than the kind of sorcery Loki is skilled at. Heimdall was the one Asgardian who showed true mystical power, and - like the Norns in Loki: Where Mischief Lies - he feels like something of an outsider, almost an outcast from normal Asgardian society.
The MCU has called Odin's wife Freya, rather than Frigga, but it's not hard to imagine her having the same kind of relationship with Loki as in the book. Freya appears to keep her own magical abilities quiet in the MCU, but when she does use them, they're markedly similar to Loki's. In Thor: The Dark World, she uses illusions to deceive Malekith and the Dark Elves; perhaps she was the one who taught Loki those tricks.
Finally, it's important to note that the Norse legends appear to be almost prophetic in the MCU as well. After all, according to Thor Odin only adopted Loki after battling the Frost Giants in 1,000AD. Although the Asgardians kept a loose degree of contact with Earth over the next few centuries, with Odin hiding the Tesseract in Norway in 1409, there's no way the Vikings encountered the villainous adult version of Loki. That means the MCU's Loki could have visited Earth at some point and learned the legends and myths. There's no supporting evidence for this right now, but the possibility is there, and it will be fascinating to see if this idea is played upon in the Loki TV series.