By Steve Morris
With the end of the official parts of its Fear Itself crossover issues, Journey Into Mystery looks not to rearrange the pieces – but to carefully study where each one fell and what position they now lie in. One of the biggest pieces is Volstagg, who has been one of Loki’s more tentative, if trustworthy allies through the series to date. We find out that Volstagg was part of Loki’s team in Hel, and his part in the plan is wrapped up as the issue begins.
Volstagg’s inclusion in the team offers at least one honest and ‘good’ character for readers, a familiar and trustworthy regular part of Asgard. The issue, however, ultimately shows the ways even he lies in his stories, but in a different way to Loki and perhaps for different reasons as well. Here, he offers a little balance, and shows that Loki’s plan isn’t as morally dubious as it may have appeared. Given Loki was teaming with dead people, hell creatures, zombie women and a sorceress (amongst others), it’s nice to see that he does have something to offer to the heroes of Asgard, and that at least one of them also sees the value in what he does.
In the aftermath of the event, Loki is still working even as the rest of Asgard sleeps it off. He pulls Volstagg out of his hiding place, tries to tame Thor’s goats, and returns the Destroyer to Asgard. He’s working so hard that people are starting to notice, and that’s ironically what seems to be catching their attention this time round. By doing the right thing from the sidelines, he’s attracting more interest and suspicion than when he was a pantomime villain standing right in front of them.
Volstagg spends most of the issue telling the story of Fear Itself to his family, rewriting it (as Loki rewrote the Serpent’s biography) to round off the edges and offer his children more comfort and a simpler story of good conquering evil. It helps that his story does also explain roughly what was going on in Fear Itself, even if he is changing most of the details. It can be expected that many of the readers of JiM would also read the event series released concurrently, but not all of them would be. It’s important, then, to actually give them some kind of potted history of the saga, because it’s hard to understand how Loki is writing in the margins if you don’t know what the book is about.
This is probably the first time several readers have actually been able to see what’s been going on in the Marvel Universe while Loki’s been pottering around with Surtur and Mephisto, and the issue sets out by rooting the story in family experience. We also view Volstagg as being one of the Warriors Three, and so it’s easy to forget he’s also a husband and father of a brood of children, all of whom are devoted to their father’s stories and grand violent events. By giving us this grounding we can see how stories are passed around and developed by the Asgardians – forget television, the kids here are rapt with attention for Volstagg’s storytelling, and spend hours afterwards re-enacting his myth, and probably also repurposing it in their own ways. And so does a lie become a story and become a legend.
It’s also an exercise in restoration for Volstagg, who has just participated in acts he sees as decidedly amoral and perhaps dishonourable. Fandral and Hogun have never stuck me as having much in the way of personality, so it falls to Volstagg to be the innocent culprit of Loki’s scheme, controlling the Destroyer and helping Loki to write the book which kills Thor. It’s an act that he accepts is necessary, but not one he wants to remember having participated in – so as soon as he can, he staggers away from Loki and reworks his participation in the event to make himself more like the hero he wants his family to see him as. Again, we see how stories lose their truthfulness for any different reasons.
At the end of his story, we see the point of the whole exercise is twofold: Volstagg definitely tells the story so he can get out ahead of the truth and spread his version first. But he tells it not as a way to puff up his own pride, but as a way of protecting his family and strengthening them. Thor is dead – “my favourite”, as one of the youngest children calls him – and they were almost all killed along with him. Volstagg is trying to give his family a sense of security, looking his eldest daughter in the eyes to establish for her “yes. you’re safe”.
Any dad should want to do the same for their kids, but it’s clear Volstagg is projecting to his extended family as well. At the end of the issue he sadly reflects in a more honest manner with his wife, wishing that all children could remain innocent and safe forever. He’s referring to Loki and Thor, one of whom is dead and the other he cannot trust and worries about constantly. He tells stories to make children happy, and make himself feel happier about the world they’re growing up in. That doesn’t just go for his own family – it’s how he feels about everyone. That’s why Volstagg is so voluminous: he’s all heart.
Journey Into Mystery #630
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Richard Elson
Colourist: Jessica Kholinne
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.