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    Review: Journey Into Mystery #635

    By | March 16th, 2012
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    Written by Kieron Gillen
    Illustrated by Richard Elson

    – Nightmare Has Forged His Ultimate Weapon…With The Help Of A Certain Diminutive Norse God. Oops.
    – Will Daimon Hellstrom Let Loki Get Away With It?
    – Fear Lords? You Want Fear Lords? We’ve Got Seven Of Them. Get Your Fear Lords Here.

    “Journey into Mystery” is a book that really shouldn’t work. A “Thor” spinoff, which doesn’t feature Thor, which focuses on a child-version of a villain is a hard enough sell. Throw in the fact that it is one of the densest books being published, that it is funny, but not in an expected kind of way, and that you’ll find very few true superpowers on display, and it gets harder still to sell to the crowd that ate up Thor in cinemas this past year.

    And yet, “Journey into Mystery” is a critically acclaimed, (relatively) well selling book that hits just about every right note. ‘The Terrorism Myth,’ the current arc, is in its third chapter, and this chapter deals directly with Loki, Leah and Daimon Hellstrom attempting to wake up the unfortunate people having their dreams possessed by Nightmare, the Lord of Dreams. If this sounds a little like “Sandman,” well, yeah, you’re paying attention. This issue also poses some of the biggest questions, in terms of quality and approach, of the entire run.

    Hit the cut for why.

    A few months ago, there was a discussion among the MC writers as to when we grade comics, how do we determine the score. Various people gave their methodology, and in reading how others approached it, I realized something that wasn’t exactly news to me: I care far more about the writing than I do the art. To me, the art is always the icing on the cake; it takes a good story and makes it great. But what matters to me, ultimately, is if I want to keep reading (key word) the story. There are plenty of books I page through for the art, but I need to be sold by the story to be hooked.

    “JiM” takes that idea and takes it to an extreme, and #635 is perhaps the wordiest issue yet. As always, it begins with a page of character-narrated backstory with (usually) only one image on the page, beyond the titles. From there, the narration kicks in, and the narration drives the story as much as any character and, in fact, becomes a character in itself. In this issue, the aforementioned trio of Loki, Leah and Daimon are saving the sleepers from their nightmares, and after the initial dream-rescue, the narration (and a pithy Ikol line) makes up the only words for each sequence.

    This did not bother me at all, but I’m sure for some readers, having 4 pages of dense text is not what they’d expect or want in the middle of their comic. It helps that the art continues to be great – Elson takes the approach of having the dreams appear to look realistic and not fantastical, which I applaud. Too many times, dreams look like dreams in comics – and if the character is supposed to be believing the dream is real, why should the dream not reflect reality? Elson’s dreams all start off banal and grow more haunting with each panel, but never leaping into fantasy.

    Overall, I have been really enjoying Elson’s art – he’s not quite Dougie Braithwaite, but I think he’s been handling himself admirably, and his Loki in particular has impressed me. Braithwaite, at times, make his Loki look a little too feminine and delicate; Elson’s Loki still looks childlike, but has a more masculine look.

    In this issue, Loki continues, through his impish ways, to become a heroic character. The term anti-hero is overused, and isn’t appropriate here; rather, Loki is a hero despite every bit of his destiny. This book’s central villain is who Loki is supposed to be, while the central hero is who Loki is trying to be. He risks danger to help the sleepers, but chooses to save his own skin instead of battle Nightmare. In a way (and hear me out before you coming to Jersey with pitchforks), his arc is similar to that of Lex Luthor’s on Smallville. We all know how Luthor is supposed to be, but we reveal in seeing him not live up to that. Of course, until he did. (Ditto Eric Northman on True Blood this past season, or even Dwight Schrute when he got hit by that car in season two of The Office)

    Continued below

    And that is the struggle with this book – will it truly be the story of Loki’s redemption, or is this all setting up a tragic return to evil? And that is a far more fascinating plot for a book than just about anything else the Big Two are publishing right now.

    It is for that reason that I worry about this book: it is just too smart. The jokes are funny, if you catch them. The art is magnificent, if you don’t want muscled dudes battling it out. The plot is riveting, if you don’t need each issue to have gigantic implications that shake everything to its core. I mentioned before that this issue raises questions of approach (the wordy, smart approach) and quality. The question it raises is this: how long can this quality keep up? After next month’s conclusion to ‘The Terrorism Myth,’ the book begins a month-long, five issue crossover with “New Mutants.” Five issues in a month is a lot of reading, and while I’m not currently reading “New Mutants,” I will give it a try for this story. After that, “Manchester Gods,” as teased in our chat with Gillen from a few weeks ago, begins, and the book continues to expand its cast of characters.

    Call me a cynic, but for a book that already operates on such an intellectual plain, I don’t know how many more ingredients can go into this stew before it simply becomes too much. But Gillen is a writer I trust, and the nice part about working on a book that operates on the fringe of the Marvel Universe is that you can play with lots of characters, get esoteric, and hide lots of little jokes in your work. You can do all of that because you’re not expected to be creating a book for everyone. Just shy of 23,000 people bought #634, and if Marvel is okay with those types of numbers, than Gillen has free reign to stuff his book full of Captain Britain, Mephisto, Thori, and every other character his heart desires. I just hope that our impish, brave, little Loki continues to be the star of this not-quite-a-team book, and that Gillen can continue to make the book he wants, not the book that Marvel thinks the readers need.

    Final Verdict: 9.0 – Buy

    Brian Salvatore

    Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).