Loki variants are officially a thing in the MCU.
While the first episode of Disney Plus's streaming series Loki reveals the titular character is in fact a variant of the Loki first introduced in 2011's Thor and achieved breakout cult status in 2012's The Avengers, it also reveals at its conclusion the apparent main villain of the show is another, different Loki variant.
Spoilers ahead for Loki episodes 1 and 2.
Episode 2 expands on this premise further, revealing in sometimes comic detail that the TVA - the apparent bureautic organization that apparently polices the proper passage of time in the MCU (yes, we're hedging on both of those things on purpose) - is aware of the existence of many Loki variants of varying appearances.
Make no mistake, the star of the show is the same fan-favorite Loki that died at the hands of Thanos in 2018's Avengers: Infinity War but who escaped the custody of SHIELD and the Avengers in the year 2012 via the Tesseract in some comical time-travel shenanigans in 2019's Avengers: Endgame.
But as revealed in Loki episode 2, who he and the TVA are up against (at least for the moment) appears to be a female Loki variant.
Variant versions of Loki - including a female one - are not a new concept. Marvel comic book history is in fact ripe with different incarnations of the God of Mischief. Most aren't the products of the manipulation of time like the current MCU Loki variant is, but there have been numerous versions of the character that have differed in gender and age and that have often switched lanes between villain, anti-hero, and even outright hero.
As it often does, Marvel Studios has seemed to once again pull from the deep Marvel comic book well and Lady Loki (as she's known in comics) appears to be at least the inspiration for the MCU's latest plot twist.
We still don't know that much about a character that only briefly appeared in the finale minutes of Loki episode 2 (and some information seemingly revealed on accident may or may not be intentional), so to cover all bases Newsarama will break down not only Lady Loki's comic book past but some of the other more prominent Loki "variants" from Marvel comics history that still could play a role in the series.
Loki Variant: Lady Loki
At the same time in the early '00s that the Avengers at large were going through their 'Avengers: Disassembled' break-up and devastation, Thor and the Asgardians went through a cycle of Ragnarok (in the appropriately titled 'Thor: Disassembled'), the recurring process of the death and rebirth of the Asgardians which in comic books often leads to periods of absence from the world, or to changes in some of the characters.
It's that last bit that is directly related to Loki specifically. Not long after Ragnarok, Thor was reborn as the sole Asgardian around (in a rebooted Thor ongoing title from writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Olivier Coipel). He searched for his kin, realizing that they were hidden in human form, waiting to be awakened as their true selves. With the help of the awakened Heimdall, Thor tracked the human forms of most of the other Asgardians to a place where they were imprisoned, seemingly by the Asgardian Destroyer (a mindless weapon that can be controlled remotely by anyone with the right spell, seen in the original Thor film).
However, it turned out this was all a scheme by Loki (still in human form), who was partially responsible for the Asgardians entering human forms, and who had gathered them in order to trick Thor into restoring him to full power - something Loki believed Thor would never do if he knew what he was doing.
But this all came with a twist - Loki was reborn as a woman rather than his usual male form. This isn't at all out of the ordinary for Loki on its face - in Norse mythology, Loki often takes the form of people and creatures of many different genders, and his Marvel Comics history involves plenty of shapeshifting and illusions as well.
(There's a little more to it in this case - with some typically Loki twists on the way - but we'll get there.)
Not all the Asgardians could be found and revived, but with as many of his people as he could muster in tow, Thor then used his godly power to restore the last piece of the puzzle - Asgard itself, which Thor brought to Earth with the realm's capital city of Asgardia floating high above the plains of the small town of Broxton, Oklahoma.
Though Loki claimed that her rebirth had also come with reformation from lies and mischief, even Loki's female form itself was part of a larger scheme which would spell disaster for Asgard once again, just as the realm and its people recovered from Ragnarok.
First Loki manipulated events through a complicated series of time travel adventures and magic rituals to have Balder installed as king of Asgard, and Thor banished from his home.
Joining a secret Cabal of Marvel villains led by Norman Osborn (then the leader of HAMMER, a kind of more aggro version of SHIELD that arose following Secret Invasion, in which Osborn was critical in repelling an alien invasion), Loki began collaborating with Osborn, Doctor Doom, and the rest of the Cabal to relocate the people of Asgard to Latveria.
With Thor banished and her scheme to take Asgard away from Earth and back into its place in the realms of Norse myth underway, Loki revealed her final insult to injury in her plans against Thor.
As it turns out, Loki's new form was no coincidence - nor was the fact that Thor's longtime paramour Sif was among the Asgardians who could not be restored. Loki's female form was in fact the body that was intended for Sif in the Asgardians' rebirth, which Loki essentially stole.
From here things escalate quickly, with Loki returning to his original male form (seemingly to let Sif die, though she was later rescued), and engaging in a bizarre series of manipulations against Osborn, who was also attempting to manipulate Loki. One of these plans even involved organizing a new squad of Avengers while impersonating the then-missing Wanda Maximoff - an illusion that was broken by Wiccan, her reincarnated son.
(Only comic books have family trees like that!)
It all culminates in Loki leading Norman Osborn and his burgeoning team of Dark Avengers (villains who took on the identities of heroes as Norman's personal enforcers, kinda Thunderbolts style) in attacking Asgard in the event story Siege, with Loki's plan being to use the powerful Asgardian artifacts the Norn Stones to remove Asgard from the Earthly realm of Midgard and become its new ruler.
But Loki, despite all his machinations, underestimates the viciousness of Norman Osborn and his lackeys, particularly the Sentry, who unleashes his villainous dark side the Void to actually destroy Asgard and send it crashing to the ground, much to Loki's own horror. Using the Norn Stones, Loki fights the Void to the death, with both of them seemingly wiped from existence as the Avengers defeat Osborn and the rest of his forces to save the day.
And much like with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in death, Loki's story was only beginning again.
Loki Variant: Kid Loki
As is the way of the Asgardians, Loki is reborn following his death at the hands of the Void. But this time, things are different - because of the power of the Void, Loki is reborn a fresh soul, with the stains of his past mischief wiped away, in the body of an adolescent child.
Kid Loki (as he's affectionately called) at first has no memories of his previous life, nor access to much of his Asgardian power, though he suffers nightmares fueled by his former life as a villain. Coming under Thor's wing, some of Kid Loki's memories and knowledge are restored, but he remains disconnected from his past, essentially a fully reborn Asgardian.
However, the other Asgardians don't see it this way - his former self was pretty much responsible for the destruction of Asgard, after all - and hold Kid Loki to blame for the acts of his old life. Even Odin, Loki's own adoptive father, holds Kid Loki in great contempt and scorn, leading to a rift between Thor and Odin over Kid Loki's fate.
Despite all this, Kid Loki really does try to turn over a new leaf as a hero, using his natural gifts for trickery to Asgard's advantage even as his family and friends distrust him. When even Thor starts to fear Kid Loki is returning to his old ways, Kid Loki becomes drawn into a mystery of his own which leads him to discover that some essence of his old self still exists, manipulating events behind the scenes in an attempt to be fully reborn in Kid Loki's body.
But Kid Loki rejects his former self entirely, proving he is a different person than his old, villainous self, and uses his own Asgardian sorcery to turn the essence of the evil Loki into a magpie named Ikol, essentially doomed to life as a bird.
Buckle up, cause things aren't getting less weird.
A lot of what happens next is extremely complicated and involves multiple layers of manipulation of Loki and by Loki, with numerous gods and monsters vying for control over Asgard.
First, the Serpent, a lost Asgardian god of fear, arose and created a new, Dark Asgard in the story Fear Itself. At the same time, Odin had rebuilt the original Asgard with the intent of declaring war on Midgard/Earth as part of his plan to defeat the Serpent who was Odin's own brother. Thor is imprisoned by his father for opposing the plan.
Working with Leah, a young sorceress with connections to Hela (whose history is incredibly complicated on its own), Loki frees Thor and begins a web of manipulation that ropes in Hela, Mephisto, Surtur the Fire Giant, and many others - all with a plan to stop the Serpent by rewriting his history.
Loki's plan ultimately works, although his secrets and manipulations once again put him at odds with the other Asgardians, including Thor. As a result, Loki and Leah return to Earth where they encounter Doctor Strange's arch-enemy Nightmare, a psychic being of fear who is collecting the magical fear power of the Serpent in order to create what Nightmare calls a "Fear Crown," an artifact that will give him immense power and make him the lord of fear - a position that would threaten the safety of reality.
Though Loki and Leah are initially able to defeat Nightmare and the other beings of fear who are fighting over the crown, it surfaces again later, leading to Kid Loki's downfall.
In between Kid Loki's encounter with Nightmare and his eventual end (we'll get there), Kid Loki and Leah encounter Mephisto, the New Mutants, and even a group of ancient British deities known as the Manchester Gods who have connections to the mysterious Otherworld.
All of this culminates in the return of the Fear Crown - this time in Mephisto's possession.
With Mephisto now threatening the fundamental order of reality through the power of the Fear Crown, Kid Loki encounters his older self - seemingly freed from his form as Ikol - who tells Kid Loki that to defeat the Fear Crown he must cease to exist, giving himself over to rebirth with his old self. With one more trick up his sleeve, Kid Loki eats Ikol, absorbing his essence and creating yet another new incarnation of Loki, this time somewhere in between his old self and his younger self.
Loki Variant: Loki the Avenger
Still in the body of a child, but with some of the memories, powers, and even attitudes of his older self now restored, Loki finds himself embroiled in a new team of Young Avengers including America Chavez, Wiccan, Hulkling, Hawkeye, Noh-Varr, and more - all of whom Loki begins manipulating and lying to, with his deceptive nature even more prevalent now.
Loki helps guide the team, especially Wiccan, in fighting off several high-level magical threats - a process that includes both Wiccan aging Loki into a teen, and Loki activating the magic in Wiccan that will eventually turn him into the Demiurge, a being of pure magical power.
With the team saved from the magical threats against them, Loki's guilty conscience manifests as physical representations of people he wronged in his past, including Leah and his former kid self. Loki eventually confesses his manipulations, including the way he eliminated the previous Kid Loki and lied to the Young Avengers, dispelling the attacking manifestations of his guilt.
Though he feels changed by his experiences with the team, he departs their company, realizing that being Loki - a manipulator and liar - is in his nature, an unavoidable part of his personality that he can only work with, not against, to become the best version of Loki he can.
Loki Variant: King Loki
Leaving the Young Avengers behind, Loki returns to Asgard where he takes on a job as a kind of secret agent for the All-Mother, the three-in-one goddess who was ruling Asgard at the time. As Loki: Agent of Asgard, Loki embarks on several missions for the All-Mother that shake his confidence in Asgard and put him at odds with his family and friends once again.
When Loki, during his time as Agent of Asgard, finds himself totally unable to lie, he accidentally confesses all his crimes to Odin, including destroying his younger self. As a result, Odin banishes Loki from Asgard.
Back on Earth, Loki encounters yet another version of himself, a much older villain who wishes to turn the young Loki into himself, ensuring his villainous future. Instead, Loki once again turns the tables, allowing the older Loki (known as King Loki) to destroy him, which leads Loki to be reborn not as the god of lies, but as the god of stories - a slightly different idea that once again pushes Loki away from his dastardly past.
King Loki isn't done yet though, teaming up with the enemies of Asgard to destroy the vaunted realm and seize his place as King. But Loki the younger is undeterred, arriving in Asgard to chase off his older self - a return that wins him favor among the Asgardians who once despised him. However, burned by their previous actions, Loki leaves Asgard, letting its enemies destroy it, using his magic to collect the essence of the Asgardians so they can be reborn.
Things get a little funky here as the Marvel Universe underwent a period of destruction and rebirth in 2015-16's Secret Wars, which rebuilt Marvel's Multiverse. But thanks to his future knowledge and magical power, Loki is aware of what's coming in the Multiverse and excuses himself to a void of darkness alongside the essence of the Asgardians to ride out the changes to the multiverse.
There, Loki confronts King Loki, and the pair seemingly reconcile with young Loki telling King Loki that his influence has allowed him to transcend his dark fate and make a new path. Loki absorbs the essence of his older self and awaits the return of the Marvel Universe.
Loki Variant: President Loki
On the other side of Secret Wars, Loki returns to the Marvel Universe and, first getting once again embroiled in a complex web of politics as Malekith the Accursed attempts to conquer the Ten Realms, Loki eventually returns to Earth to pursue a totally different path - human politics, as told in the story Vote Loki.
Staging an attack on the two leading candidates for president of the United States, Loki ingratiates himself to the public, rising through the polls and becoming a frontrunner for office (though it's not exactly clear how he'll skirt the constitutional requirement that US presidents be born citizens of the U.S.).
Unsurprisingly, it's eventually revealed that Loki has been playing all sides of the election, and even working with his opponents to sow discord and chaos, which leads to Loki conceding the race and essentially helping install a new president.
Loki then goes to outer space to help corral the Infinity Stones - an adventure that leads to his one and only brief comic book encounter with the Time Variance Authority.
Loki Variant: Sorcerer Supreme
After this, Loki briefly tricks Doctor Strange into giving up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme, taking it for himself before a battle with the Void, the dark side of the Sentry that previously killed Loki, forces Loki to return the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme to Strange.
Loki then returns to Asgard just in time to get caught up in the War of the Realms, Malekith's invasion of the Ten Realms. Having convinced Malekith that he's on his side, Loki eventually betrays Malekith on behalf of Asgard, a choice that leads Loki to kill his biological father Laufey and briefly assuming rulership of Jotunheim, realm of the frost giants.
Bored of his rulership, Loki ventures to a place called the House of Ideas (yes, it's a meta in-joke based on Marvel Comics' nickname for itself) where the histories of many heroes are stored. Using his magic, Loki makes a deal to have his story rewritten to that of a hero, which comes at the cost of knowing he will eventually die a hero's death.
Returning to Earth, Loki confronts Nightmare again - a battle that leads to his imprisonment on the Raft. However, true to his nature, Loki escapes imprisonment and decides that he is now the god of outcasts.
And that pretty much brings things up to speed with where Loki is now - though given his nature as a shapeshifter and trickster, his status quo rarely stays in place for long.
Loki Variants in the MCU
Before the streaming show even began, the trailers for Loki showed the trickster apparently running for president, a la Vote Loki, though the brief glimpse doesn't offer any insight into how that storyline could be adapted to the show beyond the visuals.
And now it's been revealed that a female version of Loki (played by actor Sophia di Martino) is the murderous variant Loki the TVA has been hunting since before the main Loki variant was apprehended in episode 1.
There are still many unanswered questions about who this Lady Loki and what her agenda is and whether the TVA is being totally upfront about what its own real agenda is.
But even at this early stage, it's worth considering that Lady Loki's comic book scheme involved taking Asgard back to its own realm, away from Earth, and taking the throne - a story that could also easily find its way into Love and Thunder, especially with current Asgardian monarch Valkyrie reportedly seeking a queen as part of the plot.
As for Kid Loki, well, there's not much indication that he's part of the show specifically (including in the holographic variant Lokis seen early in episode 2), though Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has indicated that Loki will lead into Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness - a connection that could go beyond the simple implications of 'Variants,' alt-timelines, and the Multiverse.
Considering that Multiverse of Madness includes America Chavez in its cast (played by actor Xochitl Gomez) along with Wanda Maximoff, whose kids Billy and Tommy (themselves Wiccan and Speed of the comic book Young Avengers) may also factor into the plot, all of these simple threads could indicate that the film may adapt portions of Kid Loki's time alongside the Young Avengers. The core members of the Young Avengers have been steadily debuting in the MCU, and it's almost a certainty at this point that they'll form on the screen at some point.
Recall that in that story, Loki took on a role as a mentor to Billy/Wiccan, helping him reach his full magical potential - a role Loki could take on for any number of characters in Multiverse of Madness. There's also that tidbit where Loki impersonated Wanda Maximoff herself for a time, and also his stint as Sorcerer Supreme which he gained through treachery.
All of that could spell out a big part for Loki in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
And of course, there's the larger story of it all - Loki's constant search for redemption and to redefine his place in the Marvel Universe, which progresses with each new form or identity he takes on. If nothing else, Loki (the show) seems to be building to a point where the Asgardian trickster could redeem himself fully, as he did before Endgame, along with a path back to continued stardom in the MCU.
That said, the many lives of Loki Laufeyson from comic books also pave the way for Tom Hiddleston to do as several other big-name MCU actors have done and step away from the MCU while allowing the character to potentially continue on in a totally different form with a new actor.
We've said it before and we'll say it again - when Loki is involved, nothing, especially not his fate or his identity, can be taken for granted.
Of course, several of these variants appear in the Newsarama's list of the best Loki stories of all time.