Inside the secret Marvel Comics project by Tom King that inspired Disney Plus' Loki (and almost made Loki US President)


GamesRadar+ 19 July, 2021 - 05:12pm 5 views

Is there a season 2 of Loki?

With the exciting mid-credits reveal on the Loki finale this past Wednesday that the show would return for a second season, thoughts naturally turned to the sterling work of the creative team, including head writer Michael Waldron and director Kate Herron. empireonline.comLoki: Director Kate Herron Won't Return For Season 2

Is Loki Season 1 finished?

Season 1 ultimately ended as it began: With the God of Mischief (Tom Hiddleston) transported to who knows where to cause who knows how much trouble. (The finale also confirmed Loki will be back for a season 2.)'Loki' Director Kate Herron Answers Our Burning Questions About the Season 1 Finale (Exclusive)

Who is he who remains in Marvel Comics?

Alone in the Citadel at the End of Time in the Temple of Sleepers, He Who Remains is the last director of the Time Variance Authority (TVA). He creates and guards the Time-Keepers, a trio of beings who are fated to survive the end of eternity known as The Cataclysm. marvel.comHe Who Remains Powers, Enemies, History

How an unpublished Tom King comic inspired the hit Disney Plus show Loki

But, like in the show, there's a timeline where something different happened - a variant to the Vote Loki series…. Or depending on how you look at it, Vote Loki was the variant to something else.

Before Vote Loki by Christopher Hastings and Langdon Foss, there was another series in development at Marvel Comics: Loki for America by writer Tom King. Don't remember it? Don't beat yourself up, it was never published - or even announced. The only public reference that it existed is a little "Special Thanks to Tom King" credit in the pages of Vote Loki and Loki episode 5 - because in fact, Vote Loki was based on King's Loki for America pitch.

Loki for America was created by King in 2015 as the 2016 US Presidential race was getting into full swing. Like Vote Loki which would follow, Loki for America was about this classic Marvel villain running to be elected the head of the United States of America.

"Vote Loki was about what if someone truly evil - the literal god of lies - ran for US President, and was able to win," King tells Newsarama. "These are dated references, but at the time I framed it as a reality show where Game of Thrones meets House of Cards. It was a political thriller in a comic, the same way The Vision was domestic horror in a comic."

Let's back that up. King says "and was able to win." 

You don't remember Loki becoming President of the United States in Marvel Comics, do you? It didn't happen in the published Vote Loki series, but that was the plan that Tom King and Marvel had in mind for 2016 - the same year Donald Trump became the real-life US President.

When King, who lives in the Washington, DC area, first pitched the idea for Loki for America to Marvel, Trump hadn't yet become a seriously considered candidate - and hadn't even won the Republication nomination. What would've been this bit of weird synchronicity was something that King or Marvel couldn't even begin to fathom could've happened.

"I joke with people outside of comics about this. I originally pitched this at the 2015 New York Comic Con, as [Marvel Comics editor] Wil Moss and I were walking around," King said.

To frame this, this was after Donald Trump had announced he was running for president but months before the Republican primaries.

"As I told Wil, it's 'what if a guy who didn't have the best interests of America in mind ran for President?'" says the writer. "I mentioned Trump at the time, but Wil looked at me and said 'Trump's not going to win' and then asked more about the book. Nobody thought he was going to win. I agreed with Wil."

Although Trump has had a decades-long relationship with Marvel Entertainment, and its company CEO/chairman Isaac 'Ike' Perlmutter was a heavy supporter of Trump (and later worked in his administration), the idea Trump could win the highest office in the land wasn't imaginable - even by people who imagine for a living.

"It was so beyond the imagination of even our comic book culture. We can believe a huge purple man can eat planets, but two comic book professionals could not image Donald Trump as US President," says King. "It was beyond the horizon, even for people whose jobs it is to think multiverses ahead."

At the time, King was midway through his run on The Vision but hadn't become the 'Tom King' people see as a major comics writer after the success of The Vision… not to mention his run on Batman. 

And before you ask, King says he would explain how Loki, who as a non-US-born citizen, would legally be able to run for US President. He's saving that though, just in case.

"Loki for America would have been about the ups and down of his campaign, even as superheroes speak out against him," King says. "The Fantastic Four, for instance, would've said 'you can't vote for this guy!' and Loki would come back with 'Well, why would you believe the Fantastic Four? They stole a rocket ship'... twisting everything to make it his truth." 

Given how subversive The Vision was in its undercurrents, the concept for Loki for America (especially knowing he'll win) seems ripe for a very public kind of political satire. That was the intent according to King, owing to the comics writers who'd come before him.

"That's a fault of my writing. I write best when I write subversively," King says. "My best foot forward is putting superheroes in a position that connects them with their humanity."

King frames himself as one of the last people in a generation of comics writers that grew up with Watchmen as a "keystone" - nothing Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Brian K Vaughan, and Brad Meltzer as also part of this group.

"It's always seemed as though the goal was to do a Watchmen, a Dark Knight Returns; something that embraces the absurdities of the medium to transcend the medium."

"My stupid confidence all came out of that," King laughs. 

"The best way I can put it is this: Marvel became Marvel because one day Stan Lee just said 'fuck it' and started writing for himself," King says. "He'd been writing for 20 years, was about to turn 40, and was told to write superheroes again. He talked to his wife and the question became 'What if I just write what I want to write?'"

"That's a beautiful origin story, especially when you combine that with Jack Kirby."

King reveals that The Vision came out of a similar sense of last-ditch home-run-hitting, as at the time he was thinking about quitting comics.

"Omega Men had just been canceled, and there were all sorts of threats that Grayson would end prematurely due to continuity stuff," King says, referring to two DC projects of his at the time. "I didn't know if I wanted to be in comics, so The Vision became me saying to myself 'If I'm not going to be here long, I should do something crazy before I go.'"

King attributes Marvel's willingness to publish The Vision - and aim to, with Loki for America - to Marvel editor Wil Moss.

"And that's where Wil's greatness comes in. Wil was always there - just quietly very supportive," says King. "He never questioned, never asked for more action scenes or crossovers. I wanted to make the best book possible, and I got super lucky - he created an environment to make it possible."

Even to the point of successfully deflecting "pushback" from Marvel's executive editor Tom Brevoort, according to King.

So how would Loki have become President of the United States in Marvel Comics? It would've all actually been sewn up in the first pages of the first issue.

"Mostly what I remember is the cold open. Loki for America was going to begin with the day of the election, and the Democratic party had conceded the election and Loki had officially won the US Presidency," says King. "He's walking on a stage while people chant 'President Loki! President Loki!'. His brother Thor is even there to congratulate him, but leans in while shaking his hand and whispers 'You're not worthy.'"

"Loki is shaken by that but makes his way up to the podium. As he is about to talk, he's assassinated... shot dead," King continues. "Then a black page with the text 'One year earlier…'"

As this (and Loki for America) were never published, King ended up using this idea of a political assassination in the current DC series Rorschach - but with a much different setting.

King's Loki for America was tentatively approved by Marvel in late 2015, and Tradd Moore was in talks to draw the series. The Vision was performing well critically and commercially, so things were looking good for the project - but then King got an offer he couldn't refuse.

"I remember very specifically going into [then-DC co-publisher] Dan DiDio's office. He was like 'Ok, we want you on Batman, but you have to sign an exclusive,'" King says. "I hadn't even finished The Vision yet."

According to King, his first thought was to tell DiDio 'No' because he enjoyed working on The Vision and considered its team - Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Michael Walsh, Jordie Bellaire, Clayton Cowles, and Wil Moss - "the perfect team."

"I wanted to do more of that - more of those kinds of stories," King says.

But DiDio's offer for the Batman writing gig wasn't just writing Batman - it was writing the 'Rebirth' era version of Batman, complete with a new #1. That wasn't lost on King.

"Dan was offering me Batman #1, which can change your life - and did change my life. There's only been three of those in the history of comics," King says. "But I remember going home and talking to a friend who owns a comic book store in Massachusetts, and telling him I didn't know what to do. I had this great idea for a new Marvel book, and I'm a Marvel zombie going way back.

"Then he said, "Dude, it's Batman."

King signed the DC exclusive contract and agreed to write Batman, but was able to work out a deal with DiDio to allow him to finish work on The Vision.

"When I broke the news to Wil, he was understanding," says King. "He came back a little later and told me that Marvel still loved the Loki for America idea, and would pay me some money if they could still go ahead with it with someone else. I said sure."

King finished The Vision, and then began an exclusive deal with DC that continues to this day. Moss and Marvel did follow through with Loki for America and it ultimately became Vote Loki. While King says he's never talked to the Vote Loki creators about the project, he did speak with a surprise party who was almost the one to write this series.

"Chip Zdarsky, who is super nice, was originally supposed to take over writing Loki for America. He reached out," King reveals. "'Tom, they gave me this book. I don't want your blessing, but wanted to talk to you as a pro would do.'

"Such a Canadian," King says with a laugh. "I told him 'Go for it! You're the perfect pick.'"

Ultimately Vote Loki was created by writer Christopher Hastings and artist Langdon Foss, with Tradd Moore drawing the covers instead of the interiors as originally discussed. 

King tells Newsarama that he attempted to read it, but found the origins of it too raw for him to handle.

"I read the first two issues of Vote Loki, actually. I dipped in," says King. "But in that, I found I couldn't read it. I'm sure it was fantastic, but psychologically it was super hard. This is my own thing, but it was like looking down a path you considered but didn't ultimately take."

That being said, the President Loki as seen in Disney Plus' Loki is definitely based on his Vote Loki appearance - and by extension, King's idea for Loki for America. When asked before the show premiered if that would be "psychologically super hard" to view, King said no - and was going to watch it with his kids.

Disney Plus' WandaVision was inspired heavily by the setting and tone of his The Vision series. King says he enjoyed it immensely - especially to be able to impress his kids.

"When WandaVision came out, I tied both of them down to watch it and explain what it's based on," says King. " They're impressed with everything, and for me, the whole reason you work is that response. Receiving that amazement back from your kids. Doing something that became something them and their friends talk about."

There's a key difference between WandaVision and Loki, as one was based on a comic project that was published and the other was something only a handful of people know about (until they read this article). 

King first learned of President Loki's involvement in Disney Plus' Loki the same time we did - when he appeared in a trailer. The first thing he did was pull up the email from Marvel where he was asked to sign over the idea for someone else to develop. Tom King agreed to it at the time but finds it funny now at how his idea has grown.

How much did he get paid by Marvel for them to keep Loki for America, which later turned into Vote Loki and then was factored into the Disney Plus Loki series? 

"It's funny because that's less than the money I got as a Marvel intern back in the '90s - and then I didn't even publish anything!" King says.

When it's all about the god of mischief Loki, it feels kind of apt.

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Kate Herron Won’t Return For 'Loki' Season 2. But She’s Left Her Mark on the MCU. 19 July, 2021 - 04:49pm

The director of the hit Marvel Studios Disney+ show walks us through the finale—and shares her hopes as she hands off the reins.

If she could turn back time, there isn't much Loki director Kate Herron would do differently. She transformed a beloved side character into a protagonist. She blessed Marvel fans with their first canonically bisexual character. And she introduced the multiverse, drafting up perhaps one of the biggest cliffhanger reveals since the end of Avengers: Infinity War. In other words, Herron's Loki was a humongous deal, even by Marvel's increasingly oversized standards.

Still, it's not easy for the director, who's also known for her work on Sex Education, to hand off the reins. Herron has revealed to press that she has no plans to return for Loki season 2, preferring to leave the chaos of the multiverse to the whims of another. Marvel just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and she has other characters to conquer. But the MCU will continue to feel her impact for years to come, should the studio's Phase 4 become a Phase 5, 6, 7 and 8.

After Loki season 1's momentous finale—in which Jonathan Majors appears for the first time as a variant of Kang the Conqueror, named He Who Remains— grabbed some time with Herron to learn what went into such a carefully crafted reveal. And the director took a few moments to say goodbye.

I knew from day one. I think we were always ironing out story in the sense of, we wanted to get there in the best way. But it was always the intention that they would meet He Who Remains at the end and the multiverse would be born. So I knew that massive secret going into it, yes, and I'm very honored that I got to be part of launching that part of the next phase.

I would say [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige, his whole company is very collaborative. He has his plan and his design for where he wants the films and the TV shows to go with these characters, but it's really a collaborative studio. And it's generally I think always a case of ”best idea wins.” None of the creative team ever felt we were being restrained. On our show, we had a producer called Kevin Wright who was an executive at Marvel, and he essentially was steering the Marvel side of things and making sure that, yeah, we weren't venturing places we couldn't, but also he was so key in the story as well.

I just thought it was so funny, and I loved it. And I loved as well how [Richard E. Grant] played it—it’s how we talk to pets, like, “Oh, they feel like this,” and the owner would be like, “Well, no, that’s not what they’re saying.” That felt very real.

I've always been a fan. It's how I got the job because I saw Tom [Hiddleston] in Thor, and I was like, “Oh, this is such an interesting interpretation of the character.” I was just so excited with what Kevin Feige was doing with him in the MCU, and I think Tom’s performance brought such empathy and wit and charisma to this amazing character. But at the same time I loved the vulnerability there and the pain. It was so exciting to me watching him go from villain to antihero over the last 10 years. So when I found out they were making a show about Loki, I was very determined to get in the room for it, and they luckily met me and here I am. I would say I chased heavily after it as a Loki fan.

I have an “emotion Bible” I wrote when I was working on the show to help me track where characters were at different points in the story. With Tom—for example, that speech he gives to Sylvie at the very end of the show? That was something we were working on right up to the day we filmed it. The line, "I just want you to be okay," that came from Tom. I love that the Loki we have at the end doesn't want the throne, when in episode one he does.

Something that I thought was cool that I wanted to bookend was: The first thing said to Loki in our show is, “Who are you?” And we end on the same line as well at the very end: “Who are you?” And I think that's sort of the big question of the whole show.

On the one hand, yes, as a fan I'm like, “Oh wow, this is a big responsibility.” But I think the fun thing in [He Who Remains] being a variant—which alleviates some pressure, not all pressure, but some pressure—is that he's a variant of his own kind, so he's He Who Remains. He’s not Kang.

Working with Jonathan, he's one of the greatest actors out there. So I think, for me, it was just about giving him the space to play. He improvised a lot of lines around the wonderful script. Even in his clothes by Christine Wada, I loved that you can't necessarily place his outfit in time or a specific culture because he's this character that's lived across so many different lives. But also the clothes have a pajama-like quality to them because he lives at home. So I think, in the hands of an actor like Jonathan, that's just really fun, working out where do we go big and where do we make it small and draw the audience in.

She has that amazing moment with [Mobius] in episode six where she's like, “You betrayed me.” And I completely agree with her! He betrayed their friendship, and he sided with Loki, and when she's making these decisions she does think it's for the sake of the Sacred Timeline. So I'm excited to see where she'll be going.

It was important to acknowledge because it's founded in the comics. Loki has been written as bi, he's also been written as pan, and it just felt like this is a show about his identity, so let's acknowledge it and make it canon. You can never predict how people are going to feel, but we assumed that probably there'd be discussion around it just because it is a big moment for him.

So there’s a shot of Loki in episode six that was so important to me. It’s toward the end when [Sylvie has pushed him back through the TemPad portal] and we push in really slowly on him because he's gone on this amazing journey. He found someone he connected with, and he looks heartbroken. But it was important to show that “Lokis always survive,” and so you have that moment where he collects himself and thinks, No. I still have fight. And I’m going to fight.

So, for me, I’m excited to see, where is Loki? Where are they going to take him? We've done so much groundwork in his character, I'm just excited because I feel like there's so much more about his identity to be explored.

And then all these amazing other characters we have: Where did Ravonna go? Who is B-15? Where are Mobius and Sylvie? We leave her in the Citadel, and she looks shell-shocked and full of pain, and she's on a much earlier part of her journey [than Loki] in terms of self-healing, so I think it'll be really fun to see where she ends up going. I'm really proud to have been part of Loki's story. I gave it everything in my heart and my soul. I'm excited to see what fresh eyes will bring.

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