Marvel finally gave the trickster god Loki his own TV show, but with a major twist: there’s more than one Loki. In addition to Tom Hiddleston’s charmingly slippery version, we’ve met a lady Loki, named Sylvie. Plus an older Loki played by Richard E. Grant, a child Loki, and… an alligator Loki? If one Loki was entertaining, how much better is it to watch a whole crowd of them?
Welcome to the hottest trend in geek entertainment: watching beloved characters meet other versions of themselves. Ben Affleck’s Batman is set to appear in The Flash alongside Michael Keaton’s incarnation. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won an Academy Award for throwing a party and inviting a host of spider-people. And that’s just scratching the surface: more than ever, our heroes are discovering new ways to be their own best friends (or, in some cases, frenemies.)
There’s a special thrill in getting to see different versions of a character coexisting, sort of like variations on a theme. When we were growing up, the toy industry trained us to love the infinite varieties of toys, like Arctic Armor Batman, or Happy Holiday Barbie. And for serious fans, this is a chance to see the whole span of a character’s history, all at once. But there’s also something deeper going on: when Lokis collide, we can get a deeper insight into what makes Loki, Loki — and we can see how slightly different circumstances could shape any of us into a radically different person.
Most of these stories take advantage of the concept of the multiverse—an endless series of alternate universes in which things are the same, but different. The traditional multiverse story is something like the movie Sliding Doors, exploring how a single choice could spawn two very different realities. But lately, the multiverse comes especially in handy if you want a hero to meet himself (except that the other version is a farm animal.)
You’ve probably fantasized, at some point, about going back in time and giving some advice to your past self. Or maybe, getting to see how your life would have turned out if you’d gone to law school the way your parents wanted. Getting to meet another version of yourself sounds like the best type of therapy you could possibly get, especially at a time when so many of us are feeling lost and unmoored, in the wake of a traumatic era.
The trend of variety-pack heroes predates the covid-19 crisis, but this latest crop of stories arrives at the perfect time: we’ve all been trapped indoors, spending way too much time with me, myself, and I. We’ve also been more dependent on social media and other apps that reflect us back to ourselves, pushing us further towards extreme solipsism — which makes the meeting of the Lokis a valuable metaphor for our experience.
Also, before covid-19 we were all accustomed to sharing different facets of ourselves in different contexts: we had our work selves, our family selves, and our social selves. During the lockdowns, those different personae were collapsed into a single entity — and as much as we missed our friends, we also missed big parts of our own personalities. We all want to believe that, like Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes.
Lately, we’ve also had to make rapid, radical adjustments in our worldview. Breathing the same air as someone else became potentially lethal, and meanwhile, we all adjusted to the shock of seeing previously-inviolable institutions degraded and politicized. The version of me that lived in 2016 wouldn’t recognize the me of 2021, in many ways.
So when we see a crowd made up of a single person, it helps to reassure us that we can be bigger, and more varied, than the person we are now. And not just because we can see the people we’d be if things had gone differently (as in Sliding Doors), but because we can see all the people we are capable of being right now.
Such stories also offer the opposite sort of reassurance, however: no matter how much we might change, we’re still the same basic people, at our cores. Loki is always Loki, even if sometimes he’s an alligator.
We need heroes for more than just punching evil in the face. Our greatest heroes (and anti-heroes) are always on a quest for their own identities, and they spend at least as much time soul-searching as looking for the latest McGuffin. Lately, our heroic stories have provided a valuable reminder that if you look long enough, you’re bound to find yourself.
White Gatekeeping in YA Harms Teen Readers (Bookriot)
The second season of Tuca and Bertie is somehow even better than the first. This show is just a pure amazing delight, and I’m going to rewatch every episode at least five times. I’ve started quoting this show every day.
They’re not new, but I’ve been listening to a couple of 2007 albums nonstop lately: Trombone Shorty Live at Jazz Fest 2007, and Tribb to JB by Chuck D and the SLAMjamz Artist Revue. I found both of these things by looking for more tributes to James Brown — the Trombone Shorty set includes an incredible medley of James Brown songs (with a bit of Parliament thrown in), but is also just a pure raucous party from beginning to end. And Tribb to JB is a collection of James Brown covers with the Public Enemy frontman, featuring a band that could hold its own with the classic lineup of the J.B.’s.
I’ve been doing Instagram Live sessions with authors I love, and you can watch the archive here. Our next sessions are with Mike Chen on Saturday at noon PT, Tina Connelly on Weds 7/21 at 11 AM PT, and Andrea Lawlor on Saturday 7/24 at noon PT.
My next book is Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories, out August 17. You can pre-order it now, and add it on Goodreads. It’s also on NetGalley. Over at Jezebel, Rose Eveleth writes, “while there is (annoyingly!) no one thing that can make writing easy and amazing, Charlie Jane Anders’s book did something possibly better: it made me want to write. The book is full of incredible joy, wisdom, and energy.... I highly recommend pre-ordering if you sometimes (okay, maybe a lot of the time) find yourself wallowing in sadness and wondering how anybody could write while the world burns.”
Coming in November: my first full-length short story collection, Even Greater Mistakes. You can pre-order it, add it on Goodreads, and request it on NetGalley. Publishers Weekly called this book “powerful and emotional,” and said, “Each tale immerses readers completely and effortlessly into the tense scenarios Anders imagines. The result is both rewarding and impressive.”
And of course, I have a young adult trilogy! The first book, Victories Greater Than Death, is out now. And the second book, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, is out next April and already available for pre-order.