Marvel barely pushes the envelope
Loki, on Disney+, is pretty delicious comic-book fare for people who like that sort of thing. Marvel’s most rakish antihero, the Norse god of mischief, falls into a sort of time-trap after stealing the magical space cube known as the Tesseract. He becomes the prisoner of the Time Variance Authority, an inter-dimensional watchgroup headquartered in a realm with an early-season Mad Men design scheme. Tom Hiddleston, as usual, devours the scenery as Loki, scourge of Asgard and everywhere else. Owen Wilson plays Marvel’s most Wes Anderson-like character, a midlevel TVA bureaucrat named Agent Mobius. The first two episodes have been a buddy comedy, a game of mental chess, and also a fun and exciting time-travel action thriller.
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But that’s not why the show is getting attention. In a throwaway line in a piece of his TVA paperwork, the Norse god reveals that his gender is “fluid.” Meaning that, even though someone very much male-identifying plays him, the character is neither a man or a woman or any of the other 247 genders. He’s just Loki.
On the one hand, great. Loki is a near-immortal being obsessed with ruling the universe. He doesn’t have time to worry about pronouns. No character’s gender matters less than Loki’s. On the other hand, why is Disney pushing out this still-somewhat-progressive notion in its highest-profile summer series? Is that what the show is really about?
On the third hand, this concept of genderfluid Loki goes back almost a decade in the comics. Tor.com analyzed this in 2014, in an article called “is Loki canonically genderfluid now?” The Norse god Odin refers to him as having “both” genders. Loki talks about “sexual identity” meaning nothing to him. He exists outside of our outmoded binary definitions.
Along the years, it became fashionable to refer to Loki as the queerest of all Marvel characters. “He comes from a world that does not, for all we know, impose the same heteronormative standards as earth,” the Mary Sue opined in 2018. After all, proponents of Loki’s genderfluidity argued, according to Norse myth, he shapeshifted into a female horse in order to give birth to Odin’s mighty eight-legged steed, Sleipnir. As one does.
Images began to resurface of Loki wearing a dress in the 60s, of Loki being lurky in the 70s, of Loki having breasts and wearing lipstick in the oughts. He was totally genderqueer, the they/them antihero of the multi-panel splash page. In a line of comics meant for younger readers, Loki is a kind of fashion magnate, a “genderfluid demigod” designing gender-neutral costumes for the next-generation heroine Squirrel Girl.
I consume a lot of comics-based TV and movie content, but is this what actual comic books are now? Loki designing couture, talking about how he is neither a man or a woman, and going on to the FBI about “sexual acts”? I guess so. That’s some fairly edgy stuff for 12 year olds.
The TV show, on the other hand, relegates the “fluid” designation to one line on a hidden form. If you missed it, and you’re just watching the show without Wikipedia humming in the background, you’d be forgiven in thinking that Loki is just kind of a weird dude.
As episode two ends, ‘Loki’ reveals that the mysterious time “Variant” who was supposed to be an alternate-dimension Loki is actually a woman. The Internet buzzed with “a female Loki!” talk. Apparently, there is a Lady Loki in the ‘Loki: Agent of Asgard’ series. So there you go, a female Loki, a male Loki, and all the genderfluid Lokis in between, a Loki for everyone and for no one. Is he a man? Is she a woman? Or are they something else entirely?
Will this inspire a generation of children to want to be a power-thirsty antihero without a specific gender identity? Who knows, and who cares? The topic of fluid identity may be worth exploring, but in this context, which is a show about time-traveling, shape-shifting, multidimensional superbeings, it seems less than necessary and more like an amusing side game.
All hail Loki, ruler of the genderfluid universe!