(Collects Journey Into Mystery #622-626)

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Artist: Doug Braithwaite

Journey Into Mystery was relaunched in 2010 with issue 622. In it, Kieron Gillen took the reborn ‘Kid Loki’ and made him the star of a highly entertaining, and rewarding series of comics.  To my mind, Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery may be one of the best series Marvel has produced in the last 10 years.  When it arrived on the scene it quickly established itself as the most ambitious, experimental, thoughtful and heartfelt book Marvel were then producing. In some ways, it was a harbinger of Marvel's current wave of critically acclaimed 'alternative' superhero books, such as Hawkeye and Daredevil and the more recent promising examples such as She-Hulk and Ms Marvel. Before JiM it seemed like all Marvel books had a similar feel (dark and dystopian) and a similar philosophy (militaristic and reactionary).  

In contrast to much of Marvel’s Dark Reign line of books, Journey into Mystery featured a main character that survived and prevailed by his wits rather than by depending on force of arms.  Further, Loki was someone for whom acceptance and consideration from his peers was more important than being perceived as a swaggering tough guy. An emotionally vulnerable child was certainly an unusual main character for the times.

As I love a short-cut , here is a little summary of Loki’s character in the context of this series, which I have just swiped from a post of our good Captain himself:

Journey into Mystery is about Loki as a boy (again), this time with foreknowledge of how his last life turned out, which he'd like to avoid (and he's got a raven named Ikol -- spell it backwards -- who is the reincarnation of his previous self, giving him bad advice). He's still the God of Mischief, but not of Evil, so he's extremely clever and not very good at being good and doing as he's told, but he's got a good heart and he executes elaborate plans that look like he's slipping back into his old ways, but usually ends up all right in the end. He also has to deal with universal loathing and suspicion from the other Aesir, with the exception of big brother Thor (whom he worships) and Sif (upon whom he has a crush). Speaking of crushes, he has a love/hate relationship with a similarly-aged handmaiden of Hela named Leah (spell it sideways), although it's kind of implied that Leah is an actual aspect of Goddess of Death, rather than just another little girl goddess. (I'm not explaining it well because I don't really understand it.)

Couldn’t have put it better myself,… which is why the pilfering.

As far as a discussion goes, it’s hard to know where to start with the enjoyment of this collection.

I suppose first of all, it’s a good start to Loki’s adventures in this persona.  We quickly find out where Loki stands in the esteem of his godlike folk (very low) and we get the background both historical (this follows on directly from Loki’s self-sacrificing death in Siege) and current. (As the run begins, Odin is freaking out at the arrival of the Serpent, the chief villain of Fear Itself, the ‘Big Event’ of 2010.)

This collection is titled Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself, and it has a fascinating relationship to that event.  Gillen has talked elsewhere how he set himself the task of ‘leaning into’ the event, by which he meant working with it, and ‘going with the flow’ of it, rather than merely intersecting it with the story he wanted to tell, or begrudgingly allowing a few issues of his series to hit the required editorially-mandated story beats before getting back to what he really wants to be doing.  Hopefully we'll talk some more about this.

There’s a lot to discuss about how the early arcs of Journey into Mystery relates to Fear Itself and how the two compare in dealing with a shared story set-up.  In fact there’d be a lot to learn in seeing how Journey Into Mystery succeeds completely in what it sets out to do with the story elements of Fear Itself, whereas Fear Itself, …itself is largely seen as a disappointing failure.

This first JiM collection ends in mid-adventure, as far as Loki’s clandestine campaign against the all-consuming threat of the Serpent is concerned, so perhaps that limits a complete discussion about the much-hyped Fear Itself and this humble tie-in to it.

But there's still much to discuss...

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I've just started reading this collection online.  Figs is right, this is very different in tone from other Marvel books of the day.  Kid Loki is not going to punch his way out of anything.  The first issue establishes a few key things:

- Thor is firmly in Loki's corner, which is good because no one else trusts him, and one Asgardian was shown to be ready to do Loki serious harm

- The Warriors Three are Loki's protectors, since Thor can't be everywhere.  They aren't happy about it, but they gave Thor their word.

- Thor not only missed his brother, it seems to me he see this as a chance for a fresh start for Loki, to send him on a new path where he won't become evil

- Loki sacrificed himself during Siege not out of a sense of nobility, but to carry out his new scheme, a new start to cause chaos in a new form.  Kid Loki learns this from Loki's spirit and knows he has to keep this to himself.  As mentioned above, Loki's spirit is in a raven named Ikol, and will be hanging around.

That's just from JIM 622, the first chapter. Gillen's writing is perfect here, he knows he is not writing super-heroes and it shows.  I haven't read Siege or Fear Itself and I wasn't lost a bit.  I would like to add Braithwaite's art was terrific, perfectly suited for the mythological setting of the story.

I know I loved JiM even though I had deliberately avoided Fear Itself at the time.  Gillen gives us more than enough to follow the action within these pages, and the first issue does have a wonderful feeling of a whole new start.

 

Thor is a fine character, both in these comics, and in the movies, but in both he is hard to write, I'd guess, and hard to make very interesting, because he's usually such a straight-arrow kind of old-school he-man.  Thor's affection for Kid Loki and insistence that he deserves a fresh start really humanises him in these stories.

 

And with a character that doesn't really say much, but lets his actions speak for him, you need a top-notch artist to get across some of what he's thinking in body language, and Braithwaite does indeed do a great job.

 

Journey into Mystery arrived on the scene only a month or so after the Dark Reign had ended and the Heroic Age had begun.  It perfectly hits that spot.  As I say, Dark Reign books all had the same feel and tone.  The Marvel line was very homogenous and all the books felt like they were part of a single story, to some extent.  A lot of the Dark Reign books ploughed a very narrow strip of ground between some kind of drab, po-faced CSI/NCIS style storytelling and the aesthetic of summer blockbusters with their empty spectacle and bombastic meaningless violence.

 

Journey into Mystery is a sort of declaration that there was a richer panoply of human feelings and storytelling styles out there to draw from.  High fantasy, literary tricks, myth, and metafiction are all evoked in the first issue, which contrasts with the flat style that had preceded it. 

 

I'm sure that on some level it is a reaction on the editorial level too against such a strongly centralised range of comics which the Dark Reign period necessitated.  After Dark Reign, Marvel had the confidence to let go a bit and let some talented writers tell stories more in tune with their own sensibilities.

 

I see a degree of confidence in Marvel's recent run of slightly alternative superhero books like Daredevil, Hawkeye, Ms Marvel and She-Hulk.  They've cornered the fanboy Big Event / continuity market and they can let things hang out a bit here and there, gaining critical and creator bonus points without risking too much.

 

I don't usually have much good to say about the Big Two, but Marvel have been impressing me a bit lately...

Fear Itself kind of brought the summer blockbuster ethos of superhero crossovers to new heights of bombastic grandstanding and empty spectacle, so it makes for a great comparison with Journey Into Mystery.  The main point of comparison between the two is how detailed and stuffed with incident and events Gillen’s tie-in is compared to Matt Fraction’s 7-issue Big Event.

 

Perhaps I'm being overly reductive in saying that Fear Itself just catalogues of series of physical confrontations, either between the ‘Good Guys’ and the ‘Good Guys’, or between the ‘Good Guys’ and the ‘Bad Guys’, ... but not by much!  Conversely, Gillen's Journey Into Mystery  presents us with a series of stories within stories, packed with characterisation, labyrinthine plotting and power-politics.

 

As an example of the concentration of incident and events that Gillen is aiming for, the first issue begins with the story of the seven magpies who begin their flight just after Loki is killed during the Siege It segues into a traditional quest narrative as 'New, Improved' Loki follows a series of cryptic clues in order to receive an interview with his previous self, and finally ends with a dramatic few pages showing us young Loki’s view of the macho grandstanding going on in Asgard in the preparations for war.  So instead of just telling us the set-up of the series, which many writers would do, we get a slew of dramatic and intriguing pages filled with marvels and incident.

 

On the level of literariness and ambition, there's yet more…

 

The prologue of the Magpies flight, with its scope of mythical and Romantic imagery, clearly signposts some of Gillen’s artistic purpose too, which was to write a story which owed as much to Gaiman’s Sandman as to ‘the mighty Marvel manner’ as interpreted in the first decade of the 21st Century.  The magpie Ikol seems to be a callback to the raven Matthew in Sandman, who was strongly hinted to be a reincarnation of the character Matt Cable from Alan Moore’s celebrated Swamp Thing run. One of the magpies even earns the contempt of the little congregation by turning carrion eater like Matthew and pecking out the eyes of a corpse on their journey. 

(I think that one panel could be read as Gillen arguing with himself over the degree to which he should be following Gaiman's Sandman.)

Consider too, the Magpie’s reputation as a thief.  The kind of referencing and ‘borrowing’ I’m highlighting here is a kind of literary thievery that Gillen is somewhat ‘owning up to’ by kicking things off with these birds.

 

I’ve mentioned the debt this series owes to Gaiman in previous posts here on the board, but received pretty short shrift.  However, Gillen himself would later declare of his series: “It’s Pop Sandman in the MU.”

So Gillen is placing this series in a tradition of comics that is more literary and ambitious than the usual fare.  Understatement, pop culture and literary references and re-readability are all part of that.  Check out this nursery rhyme and compare it to the fates of the seven magpies in the opening pages of the book.  I only noticed this last night, whilst researching this post, and I received an added little thrill to realise that the final line of the poem points forward to the resolution of the entire series!  That’s pretty clever!

 

To echo Mr Dunbar, that’s only the first issue…

Not a comment on the material (which sounds great), but a continued numbering of Journey into Mystery should have begun with #126, since JiM was officially renamed Thor with #126. For some reason they apparently treated all or most of the Thor comics after that as if they were JiM to come up with the 622 number.

You're actually making a Marvel book sound interesting to me: no mean feat! I actually had considered reading along on this one, but there were no library copies readily available. I can fix that problem eventually, through interlibrary loan if necessary.

Richard Willis said:

Not a comment on the material (which sounds great), but a continued numbering of Journey into Mystery should have begun with #126, since JiM was officially renamed Thor with #126. For some reason they apparently treated all or most of the Thor comics after that as if they were JiM to come up with the 622 number.

Actually, they cancelled Thor in the mid 90s and continued the numbering of *that* series into a Journey into Mystery title back then (for almost 20 issues), so in a way this does carry on the numbering of that series. It is just a comic book tradition.

Figserello said:

Journey into Mystery arrived on the scene only a month or so after the Dark Reign had ended and the Heroic Age had begun.  It perfectly hits that spot.

When you think about it, from this point forward, the character of Loki kind of represents the Marvel Universe as a whole.  His normal dark and evil self during Dark Reign, embracing his heroic identity during the Heroic Age, shuffled off to join a new team of youngsters during Marvel Now!, and in another new title for All New Marvel Now.

As an example of the concentration of incident and events that Gillen is aiming for, the first issue begins with the story of the seven magpies who begin their flight just after Loki is killed during the Siege

Check out this nursery rhyme and compare it to the fates of the seven magpies in the opening pages of the book.

I thought the magpie opening started the book off with a great feel and was wondering if it was referencing something from the mythology.  I never even thought of that nursery rhyme.  Looking at it, I like how it matches up without hitting us over the head and stating the pieces.  (I did however like the line, "the journey into mystery was about to begin".  Just shows that blatant, on the nose dialogue can be fine as long as it's used sparingly.)  

 I received an added little thrill to realise that the final line of the poem points forward to the resolution of the entire series!

Not having read the entire series yet, I'll have to take your word for it.  It occurs to me that if this was at DC instead of Marvel, the last line would represent the wrong house.

 

Fear Itself kind of brought the summer blockbuster ethos of superhero crossovers to new heights of bombastic grandstanding and empty spectacle, so it makes for a great comparison with Journey Into Mystery

In the trade, we get two different views of the Fear Itself event.  In the first issue, we get a scene from Loki's perspective showing an important event in a way that's obviously a recap but which only gives us the gist of the event that's taking place, (and perfectly fits in with the storytelling style and what we need to know).  In the back of the TPB, we get information from the Thor and Fear Itself spotlights, giving us a general summary of important events.  Having not read (and having no intention of reading) Fear Itself, I felt it gave me all the information I needed to follow what was going on in the trade... something you can't necessarily take as a given with tie-ins.

I’ve mentioned the debt this series owes to Gaiman in previous posts here on the board, but received pretty short shrift.  However, Gillen himself would later declare of his series: “It’s Pop Sandman in the MU.”

So Gillen is placing this series in a tradition of comics that are more literary and ambitious than the usual fare.  Understatement, pop culture and literary references and re-readability are all part of that.  

I'm looking forward to seeing the references brought forward.  The story definitely feels like it's dealing with a rich mythological base, however, not being very well versed in Norse Myths I suspect a lot of the subtleties go right over my head.  I'm curious to see how much of the backstory and situations are springing directly out of the mythology vs. Marvel continuity vs. other sources entirely.  Regardless of the references though, so far this has been a fun, well told story.

I did however like the line, "the journey into mystery was about to begin".  Just shows that blatant, on the nose dialogue can be fine as long as it's used sparingly.

Yes, it's subtly self-referential and a little meta-fictional.  So that the writer is letting us know - 'hey, this is just a story'.  If it's a story then he has to entertain us, because that's what stories are supposed to do.

To compare it again with Fear Itself, which I'm beginning to suspect no-one has read, Fraction insists there that the stakes are that Earth and Asgard may perish, and Thor will die by a prophecy.  Seeing whether that is the outcome seems to be the whole point of reading the series.  Of course we know that Marvel aren't going to bin their new hit movie star, let alone their whole line of comics set on this fictional Earth, so it's a hollow exercise.  The series doesn't deliver too much in the way of entertainment, marvels or incident, because it somewhow lost sight of the fact that that is what stories are supposed to deliver us, whether in the form of Marvel comics or not.

The art in Fear Itself, by Stuart Immonen, looks great at first, but the storytelling seems more 'flat' as you read on.  As if the lack of heart in the script eventually got to Immonen in some way.

Gillen, with his metaficiton and literary games, gets to be more playful, and he is aware that we have to entertained and surprised as we go.  The Journey (into Mystery), matters as much as the destination.

In the back of the TPB, we get information from the Thor and Fear Itself spotlights, giving us a general summary of important events.  Having not read (and having no intention of reading) Fear Itself, I felt it gave me all the information I needed to follow what was going on in the trade... something you can't necessarily take as a given with tie-ins.

They printed this in the first issue #622 of the series too, so they served their readers well.  They only cover it in a line or two of the synopsis, but the reason Odin is here acting like a psychopathic monster is because in Fraction's first Mighty Thor storyline, Thor's virtual first act as King of Asgard is to **** himself when the latest poorly defined Big Bad turns up and Thor then brings Odin back from the dead to deal with the threat.  That really turned me off Fraction's Thor comics.

Most of what you read in the synopsis covered Straczincksi's early issues and then Gillen's own supposedly fill-in issues of

that series, which led up to Fraction's relaunch of The Mighty Thor.  Gillen's tenure became longer than he expected and was probably much better than most people expected, and he lay down some great foundations that pay off well in Journey into Mystery.  I was very impressed with his Thor run, and I was a tough audience as I hadn't liked the circumstances of how JMS had left as writer of the rebooted series, and I was just reading it begrudgingly at first, to fill a gap in my Dark Reign reading.

Actually, Gillens' work on Thor is quite masterful.  His Siege:Loki tie-in puzzled me somewhat as a part of that crossover.  Here is what I wrote of it on my Siege thread:

As a Siege tie-in, this one-shot falls down, but I can see how it is one element of a longer well-told tale by Gillen. I just have to quibble with the ethics of marketing this to Siege completists, while at the same time making it look like it is outside the run of Thor comics that part of the readership are already committed to buying. It is obviously required reading for those reading Gillen's Thor, with bargains struck here between Mephisto, Hela and Loki that will loom large for a long time to come.

So GIllen has been setting these things up carefully for a little while.  The DIsir, Hela and Mephisto all come into play in the first TPB under discussion here.  It helps to give some kind of grounding to events, instead of a never-before-seen Big Bad turning up on page 1 and Thor totally losing the run of himself an issue later over him...

Richard Willis said:

Not a comment on the material (which sounds great), but a continued numbering of Journey into Mystery should have begun with #126, since JiM was officially renamed Thor with #126. For some reason they apparently treated all or most of the Thor comics after that as if they were JiM to come up with the 622 number.

Well, to be fair to them, they did start Thor off by continuing the numbering of JiM up to that point. Thor #1 probably didn't appear until the 90s?

So they have a certain method to their madness.

The trouble begins when they want to bring the old numbering back to celebrate some 'landmark number like '800' or whatever. This muddies the water.

Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) said:

You're actually making a Marvel book sound interesting to me: no mean feat! I actually had considered reading along on this one, but there were no library copies readily available. I can fix that problem eventually, through interlibrary loan if necessary.

You'd really like it, Mark, I think.

It's clear that Gillen's Journey Into Mystery is partially a dialogue with the great DC/Vertigo comics by British writers that preceded him. He's very much in that tradition. (I think he's a Scot, himself!) Indeed, Vertigo hardly produces stories in the Sandman mold anymore, so here is the only place to get that style of story.

Gillen updates Gaiman's work, and questions it and refits it into the Marvel milieu, but it's certainly in that vein.

To an extent, there's a method.  Sometimes, they have to fudge things a bit to make it fit.  A few years back, we had Thor #600, but it certainly wasn't the 600th comic where Thor was the headliner.  As we know, Thor first appeared in JIM 83, and JIM was renamed Thor with #126 and, as Travis said, was cancelled in 1996 with #502.  JIM was brought back as a title 2 months later and continued the numbering at #503 until it was cancelled with #521.  One month later, July 1998, Thor #1 debuted and this volume ran 85 issues; with issue #36 it began showing dual numbering as #36/#538.  The dual numbering continued until the series was cancelled in 2004.  I looked at the covers over on the GCD and the lower issue number was always more prominent.

A new Thor series started in 2007, and ran for 12 issues without dual numbering, and then what would have been the Thor #13 was Thor #600.  To get that they took Thor #502 and counted Thor Vol 2 #1-85 and Thor Vol 3 #1-12 as Thor #503-599.  That ignores the fact that Thor didn't appear in the first 82 issues of JIM, and that JIM filled the gap between Thor #502 and Thor Vol 2 #1.

JIM could have started at #126 or even #522 in 2011, but I can see why they picked #622.  Much easier for readers to understand JIM was just taking over Thor Vol 3's numbering.  In the same month JIM #622 came out, so did Mighty Thor #1, the Matt Fraction series that ran 22 issues.  It was replaced by Thor, God of Thunder, which is now up to 19 issues.  We could see a Thor #700 in a few years, or sooner if they count the JIM issues from the last few years.

Figs, I wonder if you are aware that:

- Kieron Gillen wrote Thor 604-614?  It's collected all in one oversized hardcover, and also three trades.

- Lady Sif became the headliner of JIM with #646, until the book was cancelled with #655?  It was written by Kathryn Immonen with art by Valerio Schiti and all 10 issues collected in two trades.

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