Chapter Two: Journey Into Mystery #623

JiM622

With the denizens of Asgard having left Earth in order to form a new world and home, Loki finds himself cut off from everything he knew – and more importantly, from everyone he could conceivably call an ally. Therefore his only option is to find new allies, which is how the second issue starts to pull together some threads and start weaving together the long-form narrative of the series.

The big set-piece of the issue lies in Loki breaking a Hel-Beast into servitude, first attempting to bribe the creature before ultimately taking a more forceful approach to recruiting the creature to his side. The Hel-Beast complies only when Loki forces a magical bridle on its back and renegotiates from a position of assisted power. To start with, the creature outplays Loki by swearing to obey him upon its soul – the twist being that a creature of Hel has no soul to begin with, so therefore she has no reason to comply with the oath once freed.

Loki is rescued by his ability to think ahead and play several possible futures, which means he brought the bridle with him as a plan B. That puts him in stark contrast to his brother, whose own attempt to break mythical creatures had him first try brute force before resorting to trickery as a last resort. Loki stands apart as the sole character is Asgard who is willing to deal with creatures from Hel on their own terms, and string them along. As stated, this is an espionage series, and Loki has an uncanny ability to bring people along to his line of thinking – to think they aren’t even working on his behalf, but are instead working towards shared goals.

The second issue is interested compounding the various situations Loki finds himself in. For one thing, he now adds a second duplicitous, anthropomothic ally to his cause in the form of the Hel-Beast, following Ikol’s creation in the first issue. He has two animals serving to him where humans and Aesir alike will not, thus cementing the idea that he is working beyond the ken of anyone around him – nobody else in Asgard would attempt the things he is attempting, or see value in recruiting the Hel-Beast to a presumably noble cause. Loki’s promise in the first issue that he will watch over everybody is being borne out in some manner, and the comic is smart to show that his approach is a singular, idiosyncratic, and largely incomprehensible one.

For the second time in two issues, the journey is more important than the mystery. Loki continues to take on trials which bear little relevance to anything but the need to process the story along – there are things he must acquire, and there are trials he must endure in order to acquire these things. Therefore we have him descend into the roots of the world tree in this issue, a journey which breaks his spirit briefly and has him screaming out and crying. Seeing Loki go through all these trials, like the long quest he followed in the first issue just to meet his former self, is a great way of making the character empathetic for the readers.

He endures some horrible, impossible missions – and nobody sees him do them. As described at length in this issue, Thor broke the two Lords of Goats to be his steeds, encouraged by Loki to do so as they would surely be the hardest animals to break and therefore the most impressive should he achieve the task. Thor sets about doing so, and deals with the dwarves to help him create the aforementioned magical bridle which will help him on the quest. Once he completes the task and brings the goats back to Asgard… everyone laughs at him. They see only the end result, and don’t realise the challenge that the goats represented.

Likewise, Loki completes impossible challenges every issue: he heads down into the World Tree, he breaks into Thor’s prison cell, and he breaks a Hel-Beast to be his steed. But in all these cases something is hidden back from the reader. We don’t see what Loki sees whilst in the roots, and we don’t see how he broke into Thor’s cell. Even with the Hel-Beast, we don’t see how he obtained the key which unlocks the creature’s cell. In each case, something is held back, as if the story only wants us to consider the visible aspects of each trial without considering the unseen elements. In a way, it harkens back to a conversation between Loki and Thor in the first issue, where Loki details how he came to get hold of a mobile phone on Asgard.

Whilst we don’t see all of Loki’s challenges – and therefore there is every chance that we’re being withheld some of his more devious operations and questionable choices – we do see the sheer effort that goes into his every move. And we see that he does this without any appreciation or sympathy. Even Thor, his sole champion, is locked away during the issue, and unable to grasp exactly what Loki is attempting. And because we see him straining and stressing and putting himself in absolute danger every step of the way in his journey into mystery, we’re being convinced that Loki’s goals must be noble. After all, villains don’t put effort into their missions – they ask others to do it for them.

Another smart part of Loki’s characterisation is his ability to take a bad situation and seek ways to use it to his benefit. Were he not made to shovel the dung of Thor’s animals and listen to Volstagg’s stories at the same time, he wouldn’t have had the idea to use the bridle – or that he needed to emulate his brother in order to move his plans forward. Many, many comics have noted the distance between Loki and Thor, and portrayed them as polar opposites. But Journey Into Mystery also suggests commonality between the two whilst Thor is locked up in prison. He is officially the jailed outcast now, offering advice from the confines of a cell – typically a role we see Loki fit into.

This again suggests that Kid Loki is someone we should not only enjoy as a character, but also empathise with and cheer on. It’s subtle, but hints are being laid that Loki is genuinely working towards some kind of greater good rather than looking to just benefit himself. Of course, that’s exactly what Loki would want people to think. When Kid Loki listened to his past self monologue about chaos, he either decided to kick back against it or to subtly play into it. It feels like a throughline for the whole of this series is going to be which side he’s on: his own, or… his own.

Published in May 2011
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

Want to read along with Shelfdust? Pick up the first collection of Journey Into Mystery through the Amazon link below – and you’ll be helping the site if you do, too!

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