Hope for Loki

"Nordic Myth" | Art by Nero749. Used with permission.
I’ve always had a soft-spot in my heart for supervillains—maybe it’s because of my Catholic upbringing, maybe it’s because I want everyone to be happy, or maybe it’s because deep down I know that under the right (or wrong) conditions, I could have become one myself. No villain has a more special place in my heart than Loki. He’s the god of mischief, and we all know and love mischievous characters (Fred and George, anyone? Jack Sparrow? River Song?). There is something redeeming in their character—something loveable.

And I mean, Loki’s not really a bad guy, right? Sure, he tried to kill his brother and father; sure, he tried to take over the Earth… but can you blame him? Every effort he makes to subjugate anyone is sort of sad—he lashes out like a spoiled child looking for approval, grabbing at the respect he believes he deserves by force because he doesn’t believe he can get it any other way. It’s pitiable; mostly because if he had accepted the true forgiveness and affection that is constantly offered to him by his family, he might have used the burden of his “glorious purpose” for something great instead of attacking the Earth. Plus, can someone who loves his mom so much be completely irredeemable?

Everybody has a backstory, everybody has trauma, sadness, disappointment—and not everybody is equipped to deal with their feelings in the same way. Whether you’re a superhero or a villain, something happened to get you there and depending on what resources you had to assist you in recovering from it, you might have done better or worse. Bruce Wayne had Alfred, Clark Kent had great adopted parents, the X-Men had Xavier. Who did Loki have?

You can see that Loki wants to believe that he can be forgiven and accepted.

In a terrible war, Loki’s entire family and most of his race was wiped out. The individual responsible for the death of his parents adopted him. He grew up with a brother and was told that either of them might someday be king—that he had equal chance of taking Odin’s place on the throne. All the while, he felt smaller, weaker, and less socially accepted than Thor. And people didn’t seem to trust him. He was different. And he never knew why until he was an adult.

How isolating that must have been, and how distressing to finally find out the truth after growing up knowing something was out of place. His adopted mother loved him, but that love was pretty much all he had. The shock and sense of betrayal convinced him that Odin and Thor could never consider him an equal.

Loki wasn’t like the Asgardians, and if he had been made king, it’s doubtful that he would have been accepted. Loki was set up for disappointment. Of course, I can’t blame everything on his upbringing; he still had choices, and he made the wrong ones.

Ultimately, I believe that the difference between a superhero and a supervillain is a tiny one—I believe the difference is hope. If something awful happened in your past (I’m looking at you, every single person on the planet) and you believe that redemption is possible, or reconciliation is possible, or justice is possible, you might have the will to work for it. But, if you see no hope in healing or a good outcome, you might abandon yourself to despair.

I see myself in my favourite villains and I feel like their stories could easily have been mine. I already have a decent supervillain backstory, and feel like I could have gone either way. I was always one of the youngest and smallest kids in my class, and I felt awkward everywhere I went. I was bullied every day for being weird and ugly. I never really felt like I fit in even with my “friends.” Like many Generation X-ers, I was always just waiting for a freak gamma ray or nuclear accident to unleash my super powers so that I could defend myself (I already had freakish upper body strength–and I didn’t even work out. Where are the genetically-altered spiders when you need them?). Luckily for everyone, I never did get superpowers. Luckily for me, I had people and a God in my life who helped me to find hope. And because of my own experiences, I believe in redemption—heck, some of the best Saints began as the worst sinners.

Ultimately, I believe that the difference between a superhero and a supervillain is a tiny one.

Each time Thor reaches out to Loki in the recent Marvel movies, there is a hesitation—you can see that Loki wants to believe that he can be forgiven and accepted. He has the desire, but the hope just doesn’t get there. In The Avengers, we are given some insight into Loki’s turmoil in his conversations with Thor:

Thor: We were raised together, we played together, we fought together. Do you remember none of that?
Loki: I remember a shadow, living in the shade of your greatness. I remember you tossing me into an abyss, I who was and should be king!
Thor: So you take the world I love as recompense for your imagined slights? No, the Earth is under MY protection, Loki!
Loki: And you’re doing a marvelous job with that! The humans slaughter each other in droves, while you idly threat. I mean to rule them. And why should I not?
Thor: You think yourself above them?
Loki: Well, yes.
Thor: Then you miss the truth of ruling, brother. A throne would suit you ill.
Loki: I’ve seen worlds you’ve never known about! I have grown, Odin’s Son, in my exile! I have seen the true power of the Tesseract, and when I wield it…
Thor: Who showed you this power? Who controls the would-be-king?
Loki: I AM a king!
Thor: Not here! You give up the Tesseract! You give up this pointless dream!… You come home.

Like many people who have experienced a trauma, Loki resigns himself to a lack of hope. He chooses to rebuff anyone who tries to show him another choice. He ignores his brother’s plea and offer of forgiveness. Even after Loki had done some pretty bad things, Thor gives him a chance to “come home.” But he refuses.

Loki isn’t really a hard-core villain; he repeatedly shows signs of inner conflict and a desire to be accepted. I believe that he could be good.  He might not have the hope necessary to move past his wounded pride, but I have hope for him. I mean, really—any boy who loves his Mama the way Loki does can’t be that bad.

Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Jen is a pastoral minister, wife, mother, ninja and writer. She loves sci-fi, superheroes, and classic literature, and prefers to share her Catholic faith through such lenses. Her book, "Comic Con Christianity" is available from Paulist Press.
Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

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