Just like the solicits warned, "Loki: Agent of Asgard" #10 is a sucker punch of an issue. Al Ewing drops the two-year-old truth bomb from "Journey into Mystery" with relentless acceleration, while Lee Garbett and Nolan Woodard handle the violence and pathos of the story quite well. The result is a pretty devastating issue that leaves a whole heap of questions and opportunities for the series going forward.
Though most of this series has been designed for new readers, this issue will hit hardest for fans who are familiar with Kieron Gillen's run on "Journey into Mystery" since so much of the tension comes from Loki's long attempts to hide his crime from issue #645 of that series. The events will still move clearly enough for newer readers, but some of the pages may come off as more info dump than inevitable catastrophe.
Of course, that's the nature of superhero comic storytelling, and one of my favorite things about "Loki: Agent of Asgard" #10 is what a credit it is to its medium and genre. Big Two comics are inevitably mired in deep continuity and years of story, and that history can go both ways: allowing longer plots to build or dragging new plots down. Many series have to claw their way out of past events, but "Agent of Asgard" leans hard into the implications of the series before it. It's brilliantly structured to make use of the grander character arc, and that thoughtfulness pays off impressively in this issue.
It also helps that Ewing pays attention to all the characters here. Even Verity, the spectator in the story, doesn't disappear after a single protest, as many characters in that role do. Instead, Ewing keeps her in the panels, repeatedly begging Thor to stop, and it makes the scenes so much more uncomfortable.
Ewing also plays with expectations. Loki, trapped and devastated, isn't his usual quick-tongued, explanation-inventing self. He just repeats "I'm sorry" and "please" over and over again. I kept expecting him to say something, anything else, but Ewing only gives him useless, honest words. Thor gets taken on the real emotional rollercoaster, though. Ewing lets him be both monstrous and righteous, both unstoppable and helpless. He's furious, sad and furious because he's sad.
Lee Garbett goes all in on everyone's horribleness and helplessness. At points, both Loki and Thor look frankly pathetic. Thor transforms from an unrelenting rage monster, about to land a death blow, to a blubbering bear, hands fisted in frustration like a toddler. Meanwhile, Loki's limp, pleading posture looks like a literal crumpling of the serpentine body language he's had in past issues. I appreciate that Garbett really lets the sadness be ugly and overwhelming.
Nolan Woodard does a glorious job coloring the fight scenes. Though it's raining, he keeps the backgrounds in angry oranges and reds that contrast sharply with the pleasant scenes that open the issue. It's clear where the story takes a turn.
Letterer Clayton Cowles also resists going overboard with the shriveled italics and furious bolding. It'd be tempting to get histrionic with this content, but he does the same elegant, effective work as usual.
"Loki: Agent of Asgard" #10 made me both depressed for the characters and delighted for this series. "Agent of Asgard" continues to tap into what's messy and unfair about Asgard stories, while never letting its deeply self-destructive protagonist off the hook. I'm so curious and nervous for issue #11.