Marvel Explained is our new ongoing series where we dive into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news to divine the future of the franchise. In this post, we explore the Loki premiere and unwrap the Kafka-esque hell known as the Time Variance Authority. Yes, prepare for SPOILER.
The last time we saw Loki (Tom Hiddleston) he felt victorious. The year was 2012. Sure, the Avengers had foiled his plan and he was trapped in chains, but their Hulk was easy to manipulate and a quick, mocking wave enraged him. The green monster broke out of the stairwell and sent the stupid Tony Stark to the floor. While the meekest heroes on earth worried about Stark’s beating person, the trickster god bent down and took the space stone out of her unguarded tote bag. With one thought, Loki found freedom many, many miles away.
As we did at the beginning of the Loki For the first time, the fallen Asgardian wastes no time lifting himself up on the bootstraps. He finds the nearest soap box, a Mongolian boulder, and notes its height above the curious travelers who have come to examine the being that fell from the sky. But before he can tear down his arduous speech about “glorious intentions”, three agents appear to emerge from nowhere. They bring Loki back to his chains and drag him back to her workplace, the VAT, or Time Variance Authority.
These TVA henchmen know what we know. Loki doesn’t belong in Mongolia. He belongs to Asgard; he belongs in a cell. If he doesn’t find his way there, Thor: The Dark World won’t go the right way, and the butterfly effect will disastrously change the right franchise flow. The Avengers get a permit for messing with the flow of time because what they’re doing was meant to happen, but what this variant of Loki does isn’t part of the plan.
Who’s got the plan? The timekeepers. Let’s do something crazy.
These three cosmic deities built the TVA for the first time after a disastrous multiversal war that almost saw the end of everything. The Time Watchers cut the mighty multiverse bush into a single temporal branch to prevent such an apocalypse. It is a one-way street and those who are on it must march forward forever. If they dare to go their own way, the time guards send the TVA to find and correct the anomaly, and often eradicate it.
The Time-Keepers have stumbled upon the comics since 1979 but haven’t been as active in the past few decades. They made their first appearance in Thor # 282, where their clash with Odinson resulted in two realities. One where their Time Twister allies (three other alien creatures who enjoyed time tinkering) were destroyed, and another where Time Twisters thrived.
In the reality where the time twisters were destroyed, a god-like entity known only as He Who Remains (as in the reality that existed before) established the hopefully superior time keepers. Of course, at least when time travel is there and paradoxes abundant, He Who Remains was eventually revealed as the last director to hold a position on the TVA. Keyword music: “I’m my own grandfather!”
Almost a decade later, also on the pages of Thor (# 371), the TVA appears for the first time. Much like how they appear in Loki, the TVA is an absurdly bureaucratic organization that originated in the distant future. Every employee was born into the service, and most of them are clones of clones. By maintaining their genetic line in this way, the TVA avoids disputes and increases efficiency.
The TVA worships order. Time flows in one direction. Everything happens as it should. You take care of it.
A villain like Loki is their antichrist. And when two of them run through the carefully curated garden of the TVA, they have a disastrous work week ahead of them. Now let’s consider whether there are three or four or more Lokis walking around. Your vacation time goes by. Lol, like TVA is on vacation, but everyone is on deck.
The TVA consists of judges, minutemen (the henchmen Loki initially met) and managers. Möbius (Owen Wilson) is an especially conscientious manager, and as such he is often called in to deal with the most difficult temporal intruders. That means Mobius is the type to face the Avengers and the Fantastic Four and now Loki. If he keeps these troublemakers at bay, he can move on to real problem children like Kang the Conqueror.
Kang has yet to appear in Loki, but many believe that one of the stone Time Keeper statues bears a striking resemblance to an actor Jonathan Majors. The Lovecraft country star is already slated to appear as Kang in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania sequel, and with the Avengers villain being a notorious time-traveling villain, Loki and his TVA would be an excellent place to start his betrayal .
During the Loki premiere, our misplaced Asgardian tries to find his way from the time keepers. Considering that his magic, and indeed all magic, including the Infinity Stones, have become useless in their realm, Loki wants what they have. They are clearly the most powerful beings in the universe. However, according to Mobius, this is a no-can-do. Even the obedient manager has never seen the timekeeper in person. And if they don’t honor his presence, they will absolutely not allow Loki a meeting.
Space gods, who prefer the shadows, puzzle Loki. If they were gods like him, they would routinely show their power. Something is wrong, thinks Loki. And he might be right. What if Kang infiltrated the timekeepers and their TVA. At the end of the episode, we’re told that another variant of Loki is the real threat to the timestream, but what if that’s actually a distraction? What if Kang the Conqueror started this multiverse madness that will break out in the sequel to Doctor Strange, revealing the time-delayed despot as the next great evil Thanos?
If you are puzzled over squeezing statues, there is other evidence in the Loki premiere that suggests a connection to Kang the Conqueror – Mobius’ boss, Judge Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). That’s quite a handle and one that is extremely important to Marvel readers. In the comics, Ravonna Renslayer scorned Kang after sparing her kingdom its wrath. He expected the future princess to reward his charity with romance, but Renslayer refused. Because you see, she was a king and Kang was a simple citizen.
To lament Renslayer’s affection, Kang brought the Avengers into their future and fought them vigorously. Once again, his wishes were denied and Renslayer teamed up with the Avengers to destroy Kang. To make the injury worse, Kang’s armies turned against him and he teamed up with the Avengers when his back was against the wall. The skirmish ended (in Avengers # 24) with Renslayer throwing himself in front of a laser blast destined for Kang, and he spent his next few appearances rewriting the time stream and creating alternate realities in which his romance could flourish.
What the MCU has taught us so far is that reading too much in comic book stories won’t predict the cinematic future. Instead, Marvel Studios treat the source material like a Vegas buffet. They grab a big plate and fill their movie with all sorts of flavors, but they don’t care about the chef’s original intent. This is their food, and they will stack it up their own way.
Loki’s judge Renslayer doesn’t look like her comic book counterpart, and her path won’t follow the character that came before. It is woven from the same Marvel Comics time rug that contains the Time Keepers, the TVA, and Kang the Conqueror. In Loki, Renslayer speaks for gods who do not show themselves. By just appearing on the show, she conjures up a greater threat, and that threat is Kang.
Or Kang could be the new Mephisto. We continued to wait for this devil to appear in WandaVision, and we saw him in every stork, rabbit and cicada. When all was said and done, the villain who strutted with their things in episode one was actually the show’s great evil. Hum it to me: “It was Agatha all along.”
Hoping for Kang when a diabolical Loki is already wreaking havoc in the entire timestream might just be fruitless speculation. All good kangs come to those who wait. That was the case with the multiverse. The possibilities blossomed in Avengers: Endgame. The clues leaked through in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Promises were removed from WandaVision, but now Loki delivers.