By Steve Morris
Journey Into Mystery tells the reader several stories; in keeping with that tradition I’m going to read whatever I want into the story. There’s no one way to understand a tale, after all, and with the comic beginning by killing off the author, it seems only right for me to interpret the narrative in whichever way I see fit.
Following the conclusion of Marvel’s Siege event by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel, the ongoing Thor series came to an end. The writer who revived Thor, J. Michael Straczynski, had left the book ahead of the event, unhappy at being part of a shared universe, and so the downfall of Asgard was put into Kieron Gillen’s hands. With his run on the book gaining critical acclaim, it made sense for Marvel to let him follow the series on and get to tell his own story: and that’s where Journey Into Mystery came to life.
With Loki being killed off at the end of Siege and then reborn, Journey Into Mystery follows a young, teenage Loki as he lives in an Asgard filled with people who do not trust him – and worse, view him as a traitor. With only Thor protecting and standing up for this reborn, theoretically innocent Loki, the series follows the character as he attempts to make a new name for himself: as he tries to reclaim his own name and legacy, and create a future in which he can be seen as an ally to Asgard and a person worthy of trust.
The series starts with issue #622, which alludes to the events of Siege and is additionally interspersed with scenes which take place across the course of the Fear Itself storyline – namely that Odin takes the Gods of Asgard retreats with them away from Earth, seeking to escape an Ancient secret. But whilst the bookends are based around other stories which we do not have explained to us, the central aspect of the issue surrounds a story which Loki has explained to him… by the least trustworthy source imaginable. Himself.
Loki’s first words in the story are “why do people always assume I’m lying?”. After following a labyrinthine trail of breadcrumbs he finds himself literally falling into the text of his own story, in reference to his prior death at the end of the Siege story: “Why did Loki do it?” No-one knows”. Upon seeing the question mark in that closing section, Loki seems to fall through the punctuation mark and finds his old helm stood by itself, a magpie watching. An apparition of his former self arises, and says “I am Loki, who you must not trust”.
By throwing Loki literally into the written words on the chronicle of his life, the book is challenging the reader, forcing them to think about every line they read, and how it can be interpreted. At several points through the rest of the issue, the comic offers dialogue and description which can be read in any number of different ways – and that reflects the words spoken by Loki’s past apparition. Chaos is his goal, and that chaos doesn’t come through following the standard path, offering clear-cut lines. Instead, it comes from disinformation, smokescreen, and shortcuts. Loki frequently undermines himself through his dialogue, and it’s left unclear whether he is aware of this or not – the fact that he can’t work out his former self is a sign that there is something being left off the table here, that there are important details being kept from the reader. All we have is wordplay, and our own interpretation of what each sentence might mean.
The book starts with a prologue of sorts, which follows a group of birds as they leave the fallen Asgard and travel across (and through) worlds. Interestingly enough, the birds are magpies rather than ravens, which are the birds more often associated with Norse mythology. The choice of magpies is very deliberate, though. In Britain at least, there’s a rhyme which says:
One for Sorrow
Two for Joy
Three for a Girl
Four for a Boy
Five for Silver
Six for Gold
Seven is a Story, Never to be Told
Which would somewhat fit the fates of the birds as we see them. Magpies are often seen as portents, but the common agreement seems to be that a single magpie by itself is always bad fortune. Loki’s decision to turn his past self into a lone magpie would not seem to be a particularly wise one, and the choice of “Ikol” as a name isn’t particularly subtle either.
Wordplay is absolutely essential to this issue. From the now-mandatory pun from Kieron Gillen through to the line “change is good” uttered apparently innocently by Kid Loki to his brother, there are several points where the reader is asked to challenge what they think is truly intended. The final line of the issue, as well, sees Loki implying that he is going to look after his fellow Asgardians from threats nobody has yet predicted. Yet he looks almost at the reader as he says it, for our benefit rather than for anyone else – and that once again invites the reader to completely distrust his intentions.
Whilst every other Asgardian stands completely clearly in their intentions – Odin is almost comically blunt in the issue, as are the Warriors Three – it is clear that Loki is the only person here who can react in a subversive way to threats; he is an agent of espionage capable of operating beyond the ken of his fellows. That, ultimately is the hook of an issue which does not establish a clear antagonist for Loki to deal with. In an issue which bookends itself by looking at simple good vs evil event storylines, that we end the story without a clear idea of what is to come serves once more to keep the reader in suspense. The mystery has not been resolved. We’ll have to come back.
Published in April 2011 by Marvel Comics
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.