It’s the official release date for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, and posts on Norse Mythology, the Thunder God, and the Trickster Loki are cropping up all over the Internet. (Fantasy author Max Gladstone’s post on “The Real Loki” at Think Progress is one of my favorites.) I’m grateful to Marvel for drawing attention to Asgard, especially because it gives me the excuse to write about one of my very favorite webcomics, Thistil Mistil Kistil (TMK) by Sarah Schanze. It’s a unique spin on Norse mythology that features Loki as one of the major protagonists — and while he’s still a trickster with a distinct tendency toward chaos (and probably ADHD), he’s not the villain that the stories so often make him out to be.
The story begins with Coal, a young Viking warrior who ought to be on his way to Valhalla. But despite his heroic death, he’s brought to Odin and the All Father (with the help of an irritable Thor) explains that Loki has stolen the weapons of the gods and it’s up to Coal to get them back. Since Loki once saved Coal’s life, Coal believes he might just be able to accomplish the task — but Loki being Loki, it’s not going to be simple. Set during the Viking Era, with plenty of detail about the world in which the historical (rather than mythical) Vikings explored, TMK combines fantasy, history, and mythology in one big quest tale. And as Coal and Loki search for the missing weapons (because of course Loki doesn’t have them any more — that would be too easy!), new non-Viking characters–including shy Hedda, the former thrall, and Ibrahim, a Moor scholar–get pulled into the adventure.
I discovered TMK in 2010, through Comic Creators for Freedom, a group that does a fundraiser every year to promote awareness of and fight against human trafficking. That was where I first met Hedda, who doesn’t appear until Chapter 5 of the story (so I had to wait a while to actually see her appear). For people unfamiliar with CCF’s fundraiser, the comic creators collaborate on a desktop wallpaper featuring characters from each of their comics, which donors to the fundraiser receive. All of the donations go to the charity Love146. I’ve found several of my favorite webcomics through the fundraiser, and I feel good about supporting artists who are involved with the charity.
Flash forward three years and I’m still devotedly checking the site every Thursday, waiting for the next news of Coal’s adventures. Schanze does a wonderful job of moving the action forward, then suddenly backtracking to give the back story about a character she’s introducing. The pacing works remarkably well; by the time I catch back up to the story’s “now,” I’ve gotten completely attached to the character she’s introducing and can’t wait to see how they’ll fit into the cast.
I also have to say — I love Schanze’s Loki. I mean, just look at him. What does Tom Hiddleston have that this guy doesn’t? Schanze’s version of Loki is deceptively approachable, like he’s of course a good guy, and would never, oh, turn you into an acorn or seduce your horse. Which is what makes him so delightful, because Loki from the Norse tales is only a bad guy some of the time. At other times, he’s basically Thor’s road movie buddy, the Bing Crosby to Thor’s Bob Hope — or, probably more frequently, the Abbott to Thor’s Costello. While a lot of modern uses of Loki focus on the scarred wreck of a god out for revenge, Schanze gives us a trickster we want to trust. And that makes him all the more dangerous if he does decide to make a mess of things by the end.
Schanze has just finished chapter eight, which introduced the third (of four) major character besides Loki, and while Coal looks as though he’s just accomplished the first step in his goal to recover the weapons of the gods, there’s no doubt that he’s got a long way to go. Because the story isn’t just about Coal’s quest, it’s also about his growth from a cold (and, to be fair, dead) Viking warrior to someone who’s a little more human and has a little more empathy. Since these lessons on how to be more human are, in part, coming from Loki, there’s no telling what the end result will be — after all, there’s no hint of Coal being brought back to life, nor the expectation that he’d want that. But his growth, and his involvement with the people around him who come from very different backgrounds (Hedda is an Irish Christian, Ibrahim a Muslim from Cordoba), seem to be the real key to this story. And I can’t wait to see where it goes next.