Wacky and magical, Al Ewing and Lee Garbett's "Loki Agent of Asgard" #1 is proof that blatant fan service can also make for a brilliant comic. It's an utterly enjoyable caper brightened by quotable moments and clever turns that only stopped making me smile when I had to laugh aloud.
Reviews use the phrase "for new and old readers alike" all the time, but this issue is actually actively designed for both. Aside from the surprise ending, it's an entirely self-contained adventure, but Ewing still manages to get the reader firmly into Loki's headspace. With a character that's gone through this many transformations, that's a whole lot of history to condense, and Ewing picks all the right bits to incorporate.
For experienced readers, the script also brings in a whole bundle of references: to Fraction's "Hawkeye," to the original "Avengers," to "Civil War" - and, of course, to Loki's love of breakfast meats. It even presents the references in a referential way, with plays on classic Marvel "true believers" captions. Admittedly, all of these events are unfamiliar to new readers, but they're incorporated so that they don't confuse. Rather than being integrated as real plot pieces in the issue's self-contained story, they're presented almost as FYIs from Loki's subconscious, so new readers don't have to absorb all this new information in order to understand what's currently happening. This approach is partly made possible by the character Ewing is dealing with. Loki is glib, so the writer can get away with tossing off lines about murder or betrayal because Loki would. Still, I have to respect the planning that it takes to create in-jokes for old readers without alienating the new.
These references aren't the only way that the issue is brilliantly set up. It's constantly turning expectations on their heads, both as a whole and from panel to panel. It doesn't just open and close with a surprise. Even the way it moves from moment to moment is unexpected. (Not to let loose a spoiler - but also most definitely to let loose a spoiler - if the portrayal of Thor initially seems irritatingly off, just finish the comic.)
Aside from the liveliness of the script itself, Lee Garbett puts so much character into everything he draws. From faces to body language, he makes even the most workmanlike scenes feel expressive and interesting. There was even one panel where I could tell that a silhouette was panicked - silhouettes don't have faces! With Cowles on letters, they made some beautiful panels out of what could have been cluttered, text-heavy pages. On one page in particular, there are no fewer than 11 captions, but they're worked perfectly into a lean, vertical skyscraper shot that makes the page feel almost empty. Woodard is also spot-on. I didn't love his colors in "Marvel NOW! Point One" #1, but here they're great.
With the best description of magic I've read in a while and a delightfully designed story, this first issue is much better thought out than most of its protagonist's schemes. "Loki: Agent of Asgard" #1 is everything I hoped it would be: joyful, sassy and just immensely well done.