How Self-Delusion Lead to an Alien Invasion

I love a good villain.

I remember being disappointed that Loki was going to be the villain in The Avengers.  I was hoping for a more famous villain.  However, that was before I watched Thor and realized that Loki is badass.

In fact, I think that Loki is my new all-time favorite villain.

In How to Write for Comics, Loki’s co-creator Stan Lee noted that all supervillains must have a motive.  It isn’t enough for him to plant a giant bomb under the city “because I’m a supervillain!”  He has to have a reason to destroy the planet or subjugate it.  Loki, Lee recalls, has one of the basest motivations for his grandiose schemes of destruction.

Loki’s plans are on a grand scale.  He aims to destroy his father’s enemies, his true parentage, using the focused energy of the bifrost in Thor.  In The Avengers, he offers the Tesseract to Thanos for rule of the entire earth.  Subjugation and genocide are implied in his rule.

But why does he want to do these things?  Because he wants his father to see him as the superior heir.  That’s right: simple sibling rivalry is the motivation to obliterate a city in The Avengers.  While most brothers destroy treasured toys to sate their sibling rivalry, Loki blows up cities, kills 80 people in two days, and becomes a wanted war criminal — all to impress Odin!

And the worst part?  Odin states that he loves Loki as his own son; no need for the bloodletting and invasion of earth.  Or the genocide of the Frost Giants.  Loki’s murderous scheming is for nothing because Odin already thinks of him as Thor’s equal.

Why does Loki keep killing humans, genociding Frost Giants, and turning powerful superweapons over to death-obsessed demons when he’s been told that his father loves him as the equal he is trying to appear to be? Simple: powerful denial.  And writer Joss Whedon crafts three scenes in The Avengers to show this.

The first scene has Loki speaking to The Other through the scepter.  The Other tells Loki that his “ambition is small, and born of childish need.”  The Other hits pretty close to home here, since sibling rivalry is an extremely childish motive.  But Loki presses on.

The second scene is where Loki forces a crowd of people to kneel before him.  He says that, in the end, humans will always kneel.  A lone man rises, and says, “Not to men like you.”  Loki says there are no men like him.  Then the old man hits Loki with the terrible truth: “There are always men like you.”  As much as Loki thinks he’s unique, there are always despots who crave the subjugation of people.  Loki isn’t special, and this man has the gumption to say so.  Loki decides to kill this man, mainly for speaking the truth Loki denies.

The final scene is with Agent Coulson.  Coulson tells Loki, “You’re going to lose, you know.  It’s in your nature.”  What is Loki’s disadvantage?  “You lack conviction.”  Loki’s only true motive is to look better than Thor.  Beyond that, he doesn’t care.  He has nothing bigger or better to stand up for.  He only seeks to prove himself, but he doesn’t even need to do that.

Three times Loki is told something harshly true of himself and his motivations.  Three times Loki presses forward without accepting it.  Loki lives in a very powerful state of denial about who he is, and it is this denial that fuels his supervillain status.  Were he to accept that truth that he thinks small and has a childish need to prove himself, then deal with this reality, he could be a force for good.  Instead, he ignores the facts and rationalizes the obvious in service of the preconceived notion he must prove to Odin his the superior choice for Asgard’s throne.