Journey Into Mystery: FEAR ITSELF
In the beginning, many of the answers ended up being 'LOKI'.
Kieron Gillen took on the task to write a rather young version of the trickster Norse god Loki for this quaint long-time series, Journey Into Mystery. His run lasted from issues #622-645 starting with the first arc entitled Fear Itself. I'll try to contextualize where this continuity falls in the Marvelverse but only very briefly since I've only researched about it and not actually read it myself.
From what I understand, Gillen's series starts right after the events in the major crossover event SIEGE where Loki tricks Norman Osborn into doing something catastrophic which has resulted with the 'Void', and as that clusterfuck takes the toll, Loki suddenly grew a conscience midway through it, and needed to repent for what the Void had transpired (which I think wiped out realms across time and space or something). He tried to undo the damage but the Void 'sensed' it and attacks him viciously right before Thor's eyes. Loki sincerely apologizes to Thor under his dying breath.
Basically, it was much like what happened in the last few scenes of Thor: The Dark World, only Loki in SIEGE really bit the dust and his brother was heartbroken for a while until he discovered that Loki--being Loki--managed to erase himself in the Book of Hel which allows him to cheat death, so that his soul just gets reincarnated (I assume for eternity) each time he dies. So Thor searches for the reincarnation who turned out to be living as a street vendor/thief in Misgard (our realm). Thor confronts him and gives him back his old identity though Loki still remains in the same form of that child. Understandably, NO ONE IS PLEASED ABOUT THIS, and they have every right to it. Iron Man was probably ready to kill this young Loki if it wasn't for Thor passionately defending his reasons why he brought his brother back. Even Odin was not happy about this development. But everyone just kind of left it alone rather than face the wrath of the god of thunder. After all, to a lot of people, it would be morally unnerving to execute a boy of ten or twelve for the crimes his old self had committed. So, reluctantly and with some mistrust, everyone decided to just give the boy a chance to prove them wrong. Hence, Kid Loki is born. This is where Gillen's series picks up.
Now I think Al Ewing's Loki: Agent of Asgard can be considered the second act (or sequel) to Gillen's own run where the latter has a twenty-something Loki still trying to wipe his ledger of crimes clean but his time by going on missions as assigned by the All-Mother who currently rules Asgard. I liked that series so far but it's still untidy in a lot of places (especially the second volume) which is not something I could say for Gillen's Journey Into Mystery.
This was well-paced, thoughtful and tons of fun. Kid Loki has become my new Damian Wayne (current Robin of DC's New 52). There are parallels to their journey; both are young boys who are heavily misunderstood as a whole because of their dark backgrounds (Kid Loki is a reincarnation of a monster while Damian Wayne was raised by the League of Assassins to one day replace the Demon's Head), and in spite of this darkness they are still pretty much 'children' whose youth and determination to fight back against the prejudice that their lives have been defined with is what makes up and sustains their emotional character arc for their respective series.
I suppose I just have a thing for badass kid characters so Kid Loki was once again a resonant figure for me. I find him adorable in a lot of ways since Fear Itself began but this doesn't lessen the seriousness of the story arc itself. Here Kid Loki tries to do something about his bad reputation by using his cunning and tricks for the good of everyone; even if the very people he wants to save and protect don't believe he is ever capable of change.
And that's the central theme of Kid Loki's arc (and, to some extent, Ewing's Agent of Asgard): he either CHANGES or DIES, seemingly until he gets it right. After all, he's immune to the permanence of death and will be reincarnated over and over. The irony is not lost to me; reincarnation by virtue is change but Loki's greatest challenge remains the majority's overall perspective of who he is. Is he forever bound to be cast in the role of villain? Won't his new good deeds ever erase the rotten ones--the atrocities--in the past that he has committed?
Much like AoA, Gillen's Kid Loki is almost a meta-commentary of the narrative for a villain archetype itself, a criticism of the stifling concept of black and white morality and humanity's tendency to pigeonhole bad guys to a doomed cycle of evil and misdeeds. Fear Itself is still the first arc of this run but Gillen effectively addresses this issue through the way he writes and portrays Kid Loki who so desperately wants to prove he can be a good person--but perhaps this is only possible if people will also allow him. It's not a one-sided journey which is unfortunate for Loki. Luckily, his brother Thor does have faith in his capacity to grow and evolve into a hero.
And maybe this time Loki earnestly wants to be a HERO. Just once. You could tell how much he craves for it and how much he will work hard to prove he can be worthy of such esteem.
My favorite issue for this volume is the Spotlight one where Kid Loki spies into the various conversations of the people in Asgard concerning their opinions about him. What he found has not been encouraging and yet Thor promises him this:
In a nutshell, Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself is recommended for all you closeted and avid Loki fans out there who want to get to know more about this enigmatic character in the comics medium. I find that both writers (Gillen and Ewing) are taking interesting turns in trying to unravel Loki's role as a villain and whether or not it's possible for him to establish and re-define himself with whatever 'label' he chooses to be identified with.
I think that we all do that in our lives. Loki's story helps us further internalize the discussion as to whether or not we can truly be the masters of our fates; the captains of our souls.