Features and Columns · TV

‘Loki’ Explained: Unpacking the TVA’s Comic Book Origins

The new Disney+ series adapts some of the strangest stories hidden within Marvel Comics. We plunge into the long boxes hoping to divine the franchise’s future.
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By  · Published on June 9th, 2021

Marvel Explained is our new ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. In this entry, we explore the Loki premiere and unpack the Kafka-esque hell known as the Time Variance Authority. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

When we last saw Loki (Tom Hiddleston), he was feeling victorious. The year was 2012. Sure, the Avengers had foiled his plan, and he was caught in chains, but their Hulk was easy to manipulate, and a quick mocking wave sent him into a rage. The green brute erupted from the stairwell and sent the dimwitted Tony Stark sprawling upon the ground. While Earth’s meekest heroes fretted about Stark’s flailing person, the trickster god bent down and retrieved the Space Stone from their unguarded carrying case. With a thought, Loki found freedom many, many miles away.

As we see at the start of the Loki premiere, the fallen Asgardian wastes no time picking himself up by the bootstraps. He finds the nearest soapbox, a Mongolian boulder, and establishes his height above the curious travelers who have come to investigate the being that dropped from the sky. But, before he can rattle off his burdensome “glorious purpose” speech, three agents step forth from seemingly nowhere. They return Loki to his chains and drag him back to their place of employment, the TVA, or Time Variance Authority.

These TVA minions know what we know. Loki does not belong in Mongolia. He belongs in Asgard; he belongs in a cell. If he does not find his way there, Thor: The Dark World will not go the way it needs to go, and the butterfly effect will catastrophically alter the proper franchise flow. The Avengers get a pass for mucking about the timestream because what they do was fated to happen, but what this variant Loki is doing is not part of the plan.

Who’s plan? The Time-Keepers. Huh. Let’s get weird.

These three cosmic deities first constructed the TVA after a cataclysmic multiversal war that nearly saw the end of everything. The Time-Keepers pruned the mighty multiverse bush into one singular temporal branch to prevent such an apocalypse from ever occurring. It’s a one-way strand, and those on it must forever march forward. If they dare make their own path, the Time-Keepers send in the TVA to retrieve and correct the anomaly, often eradicating it from existence.

The Time-Keepers have bumbled about the comic books since 1979 but haven’t been that active during the last 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 delighted in temporal tinkering) were destroyed, and another where the Time-Twisters thrived.

In the reality where the Time-Twisters were destroyed, a god-like entity known only as He Who Remains (as in, remains from the reality that previously existed) established the hopefully superior Time-Keepers. Naturally, at least when time travel is present and paradoxes are abundant, He Who Remains was eventually revealed to be the final director to hold a position in the TVA. Cue the music, “I’m My Own Grandpa!

Nearly a decade later, also in the pages of Thor (#371), the TVA makes their first appearance. Similar to how they appear in Loki, the TVA is an absurdly bureaucratic organization hailing from the far future. Every employee was born into service, and most of them are clones of clones. By maintaining their genetic line in such a fashion, the TVA avoids infighting and increases efficiency.

The TVA worships order. Time flows in one direction. Everything happens as it was meant to be. They make sure of it.

A rogue like Loki is their Anti-Christ. And if there are two running around the TVA’s meticulously curated garden, they’re about to have a disastrous work week. Now, let’s consider if there are three or four or more Lokis running around. There goes their vacation time. Lol, as if the TVA had vacation time, but it’s all hands on deck.

The TVA consists of Justices, Minutemen (the minions Loki initially met), and Managers. Mobius (Owen Wilson) is a particularly scrupulous manager, and as such, he’s often called to handle the most troublesome temporal intruders. That means Mobius is the guy who gets facetime with the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four, and now, Loki. When he gets those troublemakers in check, he can move over to the real problem children like Kang the Conqueror.

Kang has yet to appear in Loki, but many believe that one of the stone ornamental Time-Keeper statues bears a striking resemblance to actor Jonathan Majors. The Lovecraft Country star is already slated to appear as Kang in the upcoming AntMan and the Wasp: Quantumania sequel, and since the Avengers villain is a notorious time-traveling scoundrel, Loki and its TVA would make an excellent locale to seed his treachery.

Throughout the Loki premiere, our misplaced Asgardian attempts to weasel his way before the Time-Keepers. Considering that his magic, and, in fact, all magic, including Infinity Stones, is rendered useless in their realm, Loki wants what they got. Clearly they’re the most powerful beings in the universe. However, that’s a no-can-do, according to Mobius. Even the compliant manager has never seen the Time-Keepers in person. And if they won’t grace his presence, they absolutely will not grant Loki a meeting.

Space gods who prefer the shadows puzzle Loki. If they were gods like him, they would be routinely making their might known. Something is fishy there, Loki thinks. And he might be right. What if Kang has infiltrated the Time-Keepers and their TVA. By episode’s end, we’re told that another Loki variant is the real threat to the time-stream, but what if that’s actually a distraction? What if Kang the Conqueror kickstarted this multiverse madness that will erupt in the Doctor Strange sequel, revealing the time-displaced despot as the next big bad Thanos?

If you’re giving yourself a headache squinting at statues, there is other evidence in the Loki premiere that suggests a Kang the Conqueror connection – Mobius’ boss, Judge Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). That’s quite the handle and one that is extremely significant for Marvel readers. In the comics, Ravonna Renslayer spurned Kang after he spared her kingdom his wrath. He expected the future princess to reward his charity with romance, but Renslayer refused. For you see, she was royalty, and Kang was a mere commoner.

To woe Renslayer’s affections, Kang brought the Avengers to her future and battled them vigorously. Once again, his desires were denied, and Renslayer partnered with the Avengers to destroy Kang. To add insult to injury, Kang’s armies turned against him, and he partnered with the Avengers when his back was against the wall. The skirmish ended (in Avengers #24) with Renslayer throwing herself in front of a laser blast meant for Kang, and he spent his next several appearances rewriting the timestream and creating alternate realities where his romance could flourish.

What the MCU has taught us so far is that reading too much into comic book plots will not predict the cinematic future. Instead, Marvel Studios treats the source material like a Vegas buffet. They grab a big plate and stuff their film with all manner of flavors, but they’re not concerned with the cook’s original intention. This is their meal, and they’ll pile it their way.

Loki‘s Judge Renslayer does not look like her comic book counterpart, and her path will not follow the character that came before. She is woven from the same Marvel Comics time-tapestry that contains the Time-Keepers, the TVA, and Kang the Conqueror. In Loki, Renslayer speaks for gods that don’t show themselves. By merely appearing in the show, she conjures a greater threat, and that threat is Kang.

Or Kang could be the new Mephisto. We kept waiting for that devil to appear in WandaVision, and we started seeing him in every stork, bunny, and cicada. When all was said and done, the villain who strutted her stuff in episode one was indeed the series’ big bad. Hum it with me, “It’s been Agatha all along.”

So, hoping for Kang when a diabolical Loki is already causing severe chaos across the timestream may just be more fruitless speculation. All good Kangs come to those that wait. That was the case for the multiverse. The possibilities blossomed in Avengers: Endgame. The hints trickled down in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Promises were dashed in WandaVision, but now, Loki provides.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)