NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Vote Loki" #1-4
Any western citizen knows that running a country's government and getting elected to the position are two completely different challenges. One demands experience, wisdom, strength under pressure, and accountability to not just a country, but history itself. But emerging as the most popular candidate for a political party can be... well, a popularity contest. And as the United States stands divided over the future (and present) of the nation, the most vocal on both sides could agree that the current campaign is, and has been, unpredictable.
No art or storytelling takes place in a vacuum, so it's no surprise that Marvel Comics would release a book following its own presidential campaign, written by Christopher Hastings - and placing Thor's infamously mischievous brother Loki in the lead role. That's right, the Asgardian trickster is running for the nation's highest office in "Vote Loki" - and the parallels between his own campaign and those of Donald J. Trump are hard to miss.
A God's Take on American Politics
Now before anyone picks up pitchforks or begins writing complaints in to the Marvel offices, let us clarify: "Vote Loki" isn't a direct parody, satire, or criticism of the unorthodox beginnings of the Trump campaign, but of the entire political sphere that surrounded it in its infancy. The story itself is as clever and concise a commentary as such a book could ever get, but from beginning to end, it's told with Hastings' tongue firmly in cheek (this is the same writer behind "Dr. McNinja", "Deadpool" and "Adventure Time"). In fact, this particular incarnation of Loki Laufeyson appears to be a direct lift of the character made famous in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The tale is told from the perspective of Nisa Contreras, a young reporter who learned of Loki firsthand when he destroyed her New York home (not said to be the final act of The Avengers but implied to be). And as the presidential candidates for each major party begin to emerge, Loki - for reasons not yet revealed - takes an interest. Appearing in the disguise of "Lucas from Buzzfeed," Loki acknowledges the double-talk, division, and "spin" that now define the modern world of 24-hour news networks, sound bites, and rhetoric.
And after saving the candidates from a HYDRA attack (what a coincidence, right?), Loki gives his thoughts on their potential straight to the American people.
Playing The (Social) Media
So, why would anyone think that the Asgardian who once told people to kneel before him or die would make a good president? In the panels that follow Loki's boast that the American people would "love" him for having the decency to lie to their faces, not couch dishonesty in political rhetoric (neither candidate, for instance, has experienced the "small business challenges" or "poor" of those they're speaking to), the point is made clear. It isn't who Loki is that makes him attractive, but rather what he isn't. Chiefly, a politician already playing the same game. And almost immediately, the public embraces him for speaking his mind, not saying the "politically correct" thing, and letting online meme culture do the rest.
It's played for a laugh, but it speaks to the very source of Donald J. Trump's attraction to voters cynical or disappointed in America's political machine as a whole. While Trump lacked the diplomatic experience or legislative career of his competition, it was viewed as just as much a benefit as a weakness: if the system is broken, then someone not already 'groomed' by its forces or conventions may be the only solution. Now, that implies that one views almost all of Washington as a corrupting influence - which many do. And before long, Loki's televised appearances backing up his stance turned whispers into shouts... that he should show his opponents how a real god of stories and narratives can do on the campaign trail.
Loki, Presidential Contender
Like all good satire, Hastings takes that idea to its extreme, with Loki embracing his status, wealth, greed and powers of manipulation as virtues in a time when they most definitely exist, but are deemed improper to admit. Not only that, but Loki revels in lying to his supporters, turning acceptance of his deceit into a form of honesty - one that entertains and thrills his followers, blurring the line between celebrity catchphrases and an aspiring politician. And in his way, Loki is being brutally honest and direct in a way that only an immortal supervillain really could be.
But again, the reason it works for Loki is the same reason it worked for Donald J. Trump. For many in the country, a life spent working hard, being taxed, and feeling largely ignored or taken advantage of by their political representatives is a recipe for resentment. It's those voters Loki is directly engaging, even using his own villainous history as a selling point (gaining ground for owning his horrors, and being proud of them - respectable, when you think about it). It's not so much a comment on Loki's villainy as it is a scathing indictment of how untrustworthy voters find experienced candidates.
In the end, clickbait headlines, playing the news media to his own ends, and even changing his gender to gain ground with female voters - and oh, yeah, a staged HYDRA attack on both candidates - are all Loki needs to emerge as the gaining independent.
Birth Certificate Controversy?
While Thor and Angela of Asgard may be helpless to stop Loki in his pursuit of the Oval Office, one obvious hurdle remains: Loki is from Asgard, not America. In the most on-the-nose wink from Hastings, Loki even wins his own "birther" controversy, concocting a new origin story that has him somehow born in Accident, Maryland. According to Loki, he's living the same mythic identity over and over, with this current version born in the States, then spirited off to Asgard by Odin - all information he offered before announcing his campaign, you know... in case anyone was wondering.
The story comes to a head beginning with that exact point, as Loki holds a press conference to prove to his detractors that he, unlike his competition, can afford to be completely honest. And by admitting that he was absolutely not born in Maryland, but that his birth certificate is authentic, a new line begins to be drawn. It's a line between those who support him completely on principle, as an unapologetic manipulator with unique power, and those who are open to his personality... but a little unsure of his exact plans and opinions.
The Wheels Fall Off
In an unexpected turn, Loki actually becomes a sympathetic character when he commits to telling nothing but the truth - including the fact that he never intended to win by turning one side of the country against the other. After all, Loki is the product of a monarchy, in which every subject should be devoted and loyal to their king - not just those who voted for him. But before he even realizes it, Loki has started a war of words, turning those who would support his opposition as the enemy of his own supporters. Again: a commentary on the "us vs. them" mentality of... well, just about everything in our world today, not specifically one real-life candidate or another.
Unfortunately, in perhaps the most poetically pessimistic twist, Loki states his intentions plainly: to lie because he likes it, to be president because he wants to be, and to play games with the Senate and Supreme Court because it will entertain him. To his supporters, that sounds just like the usual candidates they no longer trust (ouch), having hoped that Loki would quite literally destroy the entire broken system.
His support heads elsewhere, and Loki is left with some painfully-learned lessons. First, that being honest about being dishonest is a minefield to navigate once policy discussions begin. And most importantly, convincing people that the system is broken only works if you have no intention of keeping it running - and keeping out of the "game" of politics is easier said than done.
In the end, no side is taken on Loki's Trump-esque candidacy or 'big picture' pledges (neither of his opponents is detailed in any meaningful way). But no side actually needs to be taken. Hastings' case that delivering the best speech doesn't make you the best candidate speaks for itself. And the lasting message - that support can disappear as quickly as it's gained - applies to everyone who's ever put their name on a ballot.
The bottom line: Groot and Rocket say it all.
Vote Loki #1-4 are available now.