REVIEW: Journey into Mystery #631

Journey into Mystery is Marvel’s best comic.  I thought that would be as good a place as any to start with this review.  At one point I was buying a pretty healthy slate of Marvel titles, but over the past year or so I found myself steadily dropping them until all that remained were Journey into Mystery and Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon’s PunisherMAX, and with the latter book not being canon, that makes Kieron Gillen’s Thor spin-off the only comic set within the Marvel Universe proper that I’m currently buying.  But as long as this title remains alive, hope is not lost for the House of Ideas, as while I’ve not yet got round to reviewing it, month in and month out (and recently, more than once a month) Gillen provides us with one of the most consistently entertaining comics on the shelves.

Of course, I could be a little biased in my praise, considering that Loki is my favorite Marvel character, and Journey into Mystery casts him in the leading role.  In his brief but stellar run on Thor back in 2010, Gillen showed a real knack for writing Asgard’s god of mischief, particularly in the oneshot Siege: Loki, which managed to not only serve as a satisfying Loki character study while simultaneously enrichening the main Siege narrative, but also engaged in some pre-emptive damage control by suggesting that Bendis’ deballing of the character with a rushed, undignified death at the hands of Sentry-Sue in the climax of Siege was in fact part of Loki’s elaborate master plan.  So, of course, Gillen was a natural choice to pen Journey into Mystery, a sister title to The Mighty Thor that focused on the renewed misadventures of a reincarnated Loki.  The twist is that Loki has been brought back as a child, and like the young Loki of ages past, he is still mischevous and scheming, but has not yet lost his innocence.  And so we get to see a Loki fighting against turning into the villain he is destined to grow into, even when all in Asgard hate him and believe him to be this villain already, and we see him using his tools of trickery and deceit for good rather than evil.

Since its launch, Journey into Mystery has carried the Fear Itself banner, but despite carrying that weight around its neck, the title has managed to thrive on its own merits: as someone who hasn’t been reading Fear Itself, that I felt like I was getting a full, rewarding story from this title alone, and I was being told all I needed to know about the crossover event I was missing.  Now, with #631, Journey into Mystery at last has its own cover dress and logo, and we can get a sense of how the book will move forward now that Gillen is in no way beholden to Fear Itself.  As it turns out, it’s largely more of the same, which is a good thing.

I love the presentation of this series, with its narrative captions presented in a faux-mythical style, as if we were reading legends from ancient scrolls, only to be slyly deflated by the odd witty aside.  It just makes this comic feel like no other comic I’m reading, giving it a distinct flavor.  The continuation of that makes this transition to post-event mode pretty much seamless.  We get a taste of Asgard’s new status quo, and this largely reads like an epilogue to what’s come before and a prologue for what’s to come.  But even with little plot progression, Gillen succeeds in keeping us immersed in his vision of Asgard and the surrounding mythological realms.

The big selling point of this book, and the element for which it has received deserved praise, is the characterisation of Loki.  He’s totally Loki, but he’s different too.  He’s a child.  And more than that, he’s a child who’s spent time on Earth, meaning that in this issue he can confuse his fellow Asgardians with talk of internet memes and BFFs.  He’s very much the star of the show, and surely one of the most compelling leads to be found in any comic out right now.  But this issue really hammered home (no pun intended) to me how much Journey into Mystery has always been an ensemble piece.  The Disir, Hela, Tyr, Leah, Surtur, and of course, perennial scene-stealer Mephisto all get a sequence or two to touch on their current status quo, with a suggestion that their roles in the series will progress beyond Loki’s initial interactions with them as part of his battle against the Serpent’s forces.  It would seem that Loki’s plates have kept on spinning away even though he thinks he’s done with them… and that may come back to haunt him.

If there’s any small downside with Journey into Mystery right now, it’s the art.  Doug Braithwaite was the ideal artist for the series, doing what was quite possibly career-best work and giving the title a slick, dramatic feel.  Since his departure we’ve had something of a revolving door approach to the visuals, with the most constant artist lately being Whilce Portacio, whose work I’m not the biggest fan of.  Some pages – such as Surtur’s ominous return to Muspelheim – look great, but other times the work feels too messy and scratchy for my tastes.

But while Journey into Mystery still needs to find stable footing on the art front, the writing is as consistent as ever.  Kieron Gillen has emerged as one of Marvel’s most dependable writers, and Journey into Mystery continues to be the best showcase for his immense talent.  As long as I can keep reading about what Loki’s up to, I’ll still have a Marvel comic on my pull list.

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