Major spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched Loki's fifth episode, so be warned!
With "Journey Into Mystery," Disney+'s Loki gave Marvel fans an easter egg bonanza as the titular God of Mischief acquainted himself with his unpredictable new surroundings, the end-of-time trash pile dubbed The Void. The episode answered some big pruning questions, brought Owen Wilson's Mobius back into the fold (thank the lawd), and set up Tom Hiddleston and Sophia Di Martino's star-crossed Lokis up for a space-fortress endgame. But I think we can all agree that the best thing about this penultimate installment was the treasure trove of references (variants) that honored MCU lore, Marvel Comics lore and even some real world urban legends.
So as we wait to learn exactly what is hiding (or being imprisoned) behind the giant smoke monster Alioth, let's take a look at the 20 wildest and most awesome visual references that popped up in Loki's "Journey Into Mystery." This isn't an exhaustive list, of course, and doesn't include elements that don't tie back to comic books or real life, such as the giant stone heads and those bird-like creatures. (We learned the story behind those details from production designer Kasra Farahani.) So without further ado, let's dive in, with the following entries listed mostly in chronological order, if not entirely.
Doctor Strange's Demolished Sanctum Sanctorum
From its earliest seconds, even before giving viewers the payoff on the Avengers Tower tease in Episode 4's mid-credits scene, Loki featured another familiar New York City location in ruins: Doctor Strange's mansion better known as the Sanctum Sanctorum. In case there was any doubt, the circular Seal of the Vishanti window is a dead giveaway. Unless this is all just an astral-projected illusion, of course.
Qeng Tower / Avengers Tower
Loki delivered one of its most blatant Kang the Conqueror references yet with the appearance of the Qeng Enterprises Tower. That comic-sourced company purchased the skyscraper from Tony Stark in the source material, and was run by a certain Mr. Gryphon, later revealed to be a variant version of Kang. Does this mean Jonathan Majors won't be wearing any three-piece suits in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania? Only if they come in purple, I'm sure.
Yes, I know that Alligator Loki was technically introduced in Episode 4, and that it's not a direct representation of a specific comic book Loki variant. But I don't think anyone would argue that the God of Reptile Mischief wasn't both wild and endlessly entertaining. He might very well be the most foul-tempered Loki, also, as evidenced by his impulsive and brutal attacks on his fellow namesakes. (R.I.P. Vote Loki's hand.)
A Pirate Ship Near A UFO
It's presumed that this pirate ship and this 50s-era UFO didn't arrive in The Void at the same time, but that juxtaposition was an early sign that "Journey Into Mystery" wouldn't be your average 44 minutes of television. However, if they did both end up in The Void simultaneously, it's a possible reference to future MCU villain Doctor Doom, whose first comic book appearance centered on both time travel and pirates, and whose 1980s appearance in a Spider-Man newspaper strip saw him taking control of a stereotypical UFO like the one seen in Loki.
The Huge Pile Of TVA Lunch Trays
For all the giant objects and entire landscapes that are sprinkled throughout The Void, one of the most innocuous visuals is that massive pile of lunch trays and trash, which is a major clue that the TVA does not employ dishwashers or custodians, and that its agents just prune any and all refuse out of the building. And they've clearly been doing it for a long, long time, considering those lunch trays are later shown to also be buried under layers of earth.
A Giant Yellowjacket Helmet
After featuring a bunch of non-specific massive stone heads, Loki delivered a giant-head reprise in the oversized form of the villainous Yellowjacket's helmet. It's a slightly different version of the helmet, presumably tying into its pruned variant nature, but is it hinting at Corey Stoll's return for the third Ant-Man film? Maybe not, but don't forget there's a version of the Golden Gate Bridge (and maybe the Bay Bridge also?) there in The Void, calling back to the film franchise's San Francisco location.
While the MCU doesn't always strictly avoid some of Marvel Comics' weirder elements from yore, I would have bet a good amount of money that the we'd never get a live-action take on the infamous Thanos-Copter, which made a single appearance in 1979 issue of Spidey's Super Stories. And yet there it was, in all its Thanos-indicating glory.
A Japanese Atom Bomb
Right next to the Thanos-Copter was another yellow object that would be far more destructive than the Mad Titan's chopper: an atom bomb. Production designer Kasra Farahani confirmed to CinemaBlend that this bomb was a visual homage to Stanley Kubrick's brilliant Dr. Strangelove, only with this version being a Japanese A-bomb. This was clearly taken from a timeline where Japan had access to nuclear weapons, which was/is not the case in the real world.
Frog Thor And Mjolnir
Beyond Thanos-Copter, the biggest fan-favorite moment in Loki Episode 5 was almost definitely the brief and frenetic appearance of Frog Thor, who has apparently been living a depressing existence cooped up inside a jar and unable to break through and regain control of Mjolnir. The jar is labeled T365, a reference to the 1986 Thor comic issue in which Thor is transformed into the mightiest frog of all. (Not to be confused with Throg specifically, since that moniker technically wasn't in the picture until decades later, although the TVA should fix that.) Writer and co-producer Eric Martin revealed that there were plans to feature Frog Thor earlier in the season, but the scene was dropped for time.
Easily the coolest drink of the late '80s and early '90s, the Ghostbusters-branded Ecto-Cooler was the burst of sugary refreshment that paired well with Saturday morning cartoons, at least until it (and weekend cartoons) were discontinued. So it's only natural that it's the drink of choice for Jack Veal's Kid Loki while lounging in his kingdom's throne.
The Polybius Arcade Cabinet
While the E.T. Atari game may be the most notorious video game that's ever existed, Loki referenced the most notorious video gave that's never existed: Polybius. The 20+-year-old urban legend supposes that the government created an arcade game in the 1980s that triggered specific psychoactive effects in players that was reportedly then used for data analysis. Hardly nefarious in today's data-mining world, by all means. In any case, its existence in The Void is obviously proof of the cover-up!
The Return Of Mardi Gras Loki Variant
Like the TVA trays, Mardi Gras Loki (probably not his actual moniker) is a callback to Loki itself. As the most dazzling member of Vote Loki's soon-to-mutiny clan in Episode 5, this beads-wearing variant already showed up earlier in the season, albeit in digital form. It occurred in Episode 2, when Mobius used a projector device to show off as assortment of odd-looking Lokis that were previously captured by the TVA, with others including the Frost Giant and Soccer Player variants.
That Pizza Car (Probably)
Considering Loki shares parents with Pixar properties such as Toy Story and Cars, it can't be a pure coincidence that the voice of Lightning McQueen is driving a vehicle reminiscent of the Pizza Planet delivery truck, can it? While Skinny's doesn't seem to be a direct reference, I take it as an opposite of something round and planet-sized. And this potential reference works better when combined with...
Oswald And The Martians Marquee
This theater marquee shown when Mobius drives up in the pseudo-Pizza Planet truck is advertising the feature Oswald and the Martians, which is a solid reference to the 1930 short Mars, starring Mickey Mouse's spiritual predecessor Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. That said, the possible Disney synergy on screen there is somewhat muddled by the fact that Mars was produced by Universal Pictures during Oswald's post-Disney years. (Though he later returned to Disney thanks to a bonkers 2006 deal involving NFL commentator Al Michaels.)
The Dashboard Hula Girl
Shown on the dashboard within the Skinny's Pizza truck is a Hula Girl decoration, which definitely isn't the first time Marvel TV shows have featured such an item. Fans will likely remember the (different) Hula Girl ornament in the Funnel of Love food truck that WandaVision's Darcy and Vision steal in Episode 7. Though it was first used as an important totem in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with Chloe Bennet's Daisy keeping one in her van during her Skye years, and also as a reference to Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson and his life-altering Tahiti experiences. That said, we still don't really know how connected Loki and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are, all things considered, though James Gunn would say they are not.
The USS Eldridge
One of the strangest urban legend/conspiracy theories of the past 100 years was dubbed the Philadelphia Experiment, which began its life in the 1950s as a rumored military experiment carried on by the Navy that successfully made the massive real-life ship the USS Eldridge invisible to enemy radars. That soon expanded with more unverified reports of matter-transportation, brainwashing and gravitational anomalies, even resulting in a popular 1984 film "adaptation." Hard to tell whether that story is more or less believable than a giant smoke monster destroying it at the end of all time.
Ronan The Accuser's Dark Aster
In James Gunn's first Guardians of the Galaxy film, Lee Pace's villainous Ronan the Accuser traveled around in an age-old spacecraft called the Dark Aster, and its fairly specific shape definitely pops up in the background of The Void later in the episode. That said, it's possibly a smaller version of the ship, which was 3-miles wide in the film, but doesn't appear to be that large in Loki, though it's also possible a large part of it is underground. On the flip side, perhaps it's the size difference that made it worthy of being pruned.
A Hydra Helicarrier
S.H.I.E.L.D. is known for its massive air-bound Helicarriers within the MCU, with its massive turbines serving as a familiar visual cue for each of their appearances. However, Loki sets up the idea that the dastardly Hydra took control of one or more of the Helicarriers within an alternate timeline. Or, if one makes the unlikely supposition that only "good guys" have Helicarriers, then maybe the implication here is that Hydra was a virtuous and heroic organization in that timeline. Pffft, yeah right. They definitely stole it.
The Sphinx With Its Nose Still Attached
Of all the alt-existence details found in The Void, perhaps my favorite was the appearance by the Great Sphinx of Giza, only not quite the one that everyone has been used to looking for many centuries. The Void's Sphinx still has its nose intact, as opposed to the real-world version, which lost its schnozz to presumed chiselers at some point in the first millennium B.C.E. Definitely one of the oldest artifacts in The Void that Loki viewers were privy to.
The Living Tribunal Statue
Speaking of references to old AF items, just as the magical half-battle against Alioth was getting started, Loki gave viewers a couple of shots of a (presumably giant) stone head of the Living Tribunal. Within Marvel lore, the Living Tribunal is a veiled and multi-faced being whose existence is as old as the universe, and who is known for keeping the multiverse intact. It's not clear if this was the actual head of the pruned Living Tribunal, or merely just a statue version, but it's interesting to think about the multiversal ramifications if it was the "real" character's disembodied head. After all, why would a statue version be important enough to get sent to The Void?
BONUS: The Burger Chef Sign
The Burger Chef sign shown in the later scenes of Loki's "Journey Into Mystery" isn't a Marvel or MCU easter egg and while it is indeed a reference to the real-life burger chain that was eventually bought out by Hardee's, the sign in the show appears to be exactly the same as ones that existed during the restaurant's heyday. So what was the reason for it getting pruned into The Void? Perhaps this is the biggest mystery of all! If only I had a couple of 15-cent hamburgers to scarf down while mulling all this over .
There you have it, sports fans. (Maybe the final will feature some alt-universe sports reference, where the Cubs won the World Series for 108 years in a row.) I can't imagine how Loki will follow up on that wild ride with its Season 1 finale, but I can't wait to find out when it hits Disney+ on Wednesday, July 14. For shows that won't necessarily feature dozens of bonkers comic book easter eggs, be sure to keep track of everything throughout the 2021 Summer TV schedule.