By Steve Morris
The negotiations begin in the third issue of Journey Into Mystery, which places together several sequences of characters discussing their plans and developing strategy, deciding allies. I describe the issue like that – placing sequences together – because the comic is more and more frequently choosing to leave the reader out of the picture, without concluding each scene at the point it might be expected to continue on to.
In the prior issues, the script has jumped somewhat abruptly (but, importantly, never too abruptly) between scenes, making it faintly clear to the sharp-eyed reader that some things are being left unsaid here. With this latest issue, almost every negotiation sequence ends without a decision being made – and with the important, juicy details being withheld from the readers, if not the characters. Loki is quickly starting to learn more and more which is not shared with readers on-panel, be it from Tyr or Mephisto.
At this point in the story, Loki is not on an apparent journey into mystery in the sense that he is seeking to solve a grand secret. Rather, he is on a journey to sow mystery, and unite his common enemies through their shared need to find out exactly what’s going on. At this point we have far more questions than answers – and the explanations and secrets which are shared, furthermore, only seem to be a distraction from other mysteries and secrets. Loki’s quest to recruit the Hel-Wolf last issue turns out to be because he needs someone to distract the wolf that guards Hel’s door. Only, that wolf explains that this whole exercise was an unnecessary one – the wolf guards against only those who are already dead.
Loki could therefore have travelled to Hel at any point he chose. So although we ostensibly are offered an answer as to why Loki freed the Hel-Wolf last issue, there’s still a sense that his actual purpose hasn’t been revealed yet. We have an answer, but it’s our decision to choose it or look for something else. In that, we join both Hela and Mephisto, both of whom are approached by Loki over the course of the issue and offered stories to believe. In both cases, Loki is telling the truth as we’ve been presented it, and in both cases the villains choose to believe Loki.
Because another common thread in this issue lies in assumption. Although reborn in the body of a young boy – which helps him make a connection with Volstagg, who protects him at the start of the issue from Odin’s wrath – many characters find this makes him even less trustworthy than before. Tyr in particular believes nothing that Loki says, until Loki plays into a scenario that Tyr already wants to come to fruition. Once that common thread is established, it no longer matters that Tyr doesn’t believe Loki can be trusted. He’s an ally, and therefore he’s useful.
Similarly, Mephisto’s appearance in the issue doesn’t disappoint, as we see the character coolly assess Loki before opting ultimately to follow along with what the kid tells him. Again, it might seem rational for Mephisto to see Loki’s young form as a rebirth, and a change from who he was before… but Mephisto instead is of the assumption that Loki cannot ever change. And ironically, this is what catches Mephisto out. He is looking for the mischief in Loki, but instead he’s being triple-crossed: Loki is tricking Mephisto, but not for the reasons Mephisto might be expecting.
There’s a lot of exposition in this issue, as Loki pulls away from the ‘Fear Itself’ storyline and uses its inevitable conclusion as an opportunity to create his own story. We see an emissary of the Serpent show up to threaten Hela, which looks like it’ll be the force that brings together all the various power-players of the Norse underworld for Loki to then dance around. However, the story doesn’t really matter so much as the way it’s being told: it’s telling that Loki appears to be framing the crisis as an opportunity for redemption rather than a looming apocalypse.
In fact, on the basis of this issue, it looks like the main thing Loki wants is control of the Disir. They’re mentioned in a scene of exposition as Loki first heads into Hel, but then make a glowering appearance all through the scene where he meets with Mephisto. As soon as both Loki and Ikol makes reference to them, it’s apparent that they’re an important part of Loki’s plan – which, it has to be remembered, has not been stated on panel. He may have repeatedly inferred that he wishes to save Asgard, but he’s never said that it’s from the Serpent, or that his plans are specifically designed to combat the threat of ‘Fear Itself’.
With the Disir being mentioned early on as part of the bargain which allowed Loki to be ‘reborn’ at the end of Siege (in a sequence I have to admit I needed to re-read a few times to understand, as it feels like the intent of the page is to distract the reader from understanding the bargain struck by Loki), Loki again plays into the assumptions of Mephisto by playing a petty hand. Mephisto thinks Loki is mentioning the Disir because he’s unhappy he lost them, but that he’s also trying to distract Mephisto from his true goals. However, Loki isn’t distracting him in any way – again, this is my assumption, but Loki’s #1 goal does seem to actually be that he wants them back under his control, for whatever reason.
With Loki talking to Mephisto, Hela, the wolf who guards the gate of Hel, and several dead people over the course of the issue, the reader might be forgiven for missing one of the most important scenes right at the start. After getting chewed out by Odin (even though he immediately confesses to being guilty of exactly what Odin’s accusing him of), Loki is backed up by Volstagg, who then takes the kid back to the stables for another round of dung-cleaning. When Volstagg takes his leave and says “stay here. Get cleaning. And cause no ill”, Loki responds by saying “rest assured, I have no further plans or schemes”.
That’s arguably the first time we’ve seen Loki outright lie to someone on panel. And it’s not to a villain, or someone attacking him – it’s one of the only two people who have so far backed him up when other people went on the attack. What exactly is Loki trying to negotiate?
Published in June 2011
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.