With Thor otherwise occupied -- he's hanging out with the New Avengers these days, and teaming up with Iron Man on Free Comic Book Day to punch the future of weather in the face -- Kieron Gillen gives us an issue that opens with "The Remains of Asgard." Asgard has fallen during "Siege," and Falstaff and Balder and the others are left crawling out of the broken pieces.
Well, the issue actually opens with Kelda in Broxton, Oklahoma, wrapping up a long human-and-goddess love connection plot that was begun by J. Michael Straczynski early in his run on the series, but even though the Rich Elson art for the Kelda sequences (as we cut back and forth between the fallen Asgard and the glowing lady in Broxton) looks nice enough, the Kelda plot just isn't as interesting as what's going on elsewhere. It feels like leftovers that have sat out on the kitchen counter for a little too long. There's a fresh pizza pie on the table, a pizza pie called Loki will always be Loki and all of this is basically his fault.
So let's get back to that.
Now that Asgard is broken, lying on the ground in a heap of rubble, the plot wheels Loki long ago set into motion are finally coming to a halt. And Gillen gives us the showdown between Loki and Balder, king of Asgard. Billy Tan continues to do some of his career-best work on these Asgard sequences, playing Loki as a dignified schemer who has lost his dignity. Or as a barely-controlled maniac trying desperately to maintain his composure. Tan, who never seemed to be able to use body language to his advantage during his "New Avengers" run, gives Loki and Balder (and Falstaff and Tyr) strong visual personalities. Tan carries plenty of the weight of the story in this issue, and he carries it well.
But the highlight is the dialogue between Balder and Loki. Balder, who exiled Thor for his own gain, even if he didn't realize it at the time. Loki, who rants, "I am Loki, the fire that burns. And why does the fire burn?" (pause.) "I know not. But I am he…"
As he showed in the "Siege: Loki" one-shot, Gillen gets Loki. He writes him from the inside out.
"Thor" is maybe more interesting without Thor around. At least with Gillen and Tan doing their thing.