As the recap page for issue #631 of Journey Into Mystery jokingly reminds us at all times, this is a very serious story we’re dealing with here. The series has just come off the end of a prolonged tie-in to Fear Itself which threatened to derail each story thread in favour of some crossover diversions, but instead managed to wrangle the event into something which convoluted all the ongoing characters in really pleasing ways. The crossover event storyline actually helped build into Loki, because he’s a character who benefits from being difficult and rewritten and convoluted at all times – the more that’s going on with him, the more he fits the role of a trickster. The recap, however, works immediately to try and make the reader forget all that, with a repeated joke hammering us over the head that this is “serious” business here.
Of course, by repeatedly telling us that something is serious, our reaction is to write it off and dismiss it – which is what the team want. Journey Into Mystery constantly pretends to be a comedy as a means of hiding the fact that it is definitively intended to be a tragedy, and it helps that goal if the reader is dismissive of not just Loki – but the unseen narrator of the series, as well as the series itself. That’s emphasised throughout this issue, which acts to set up the new status quo in Asgard following the conclusion of the separate event storyline. Odin and his evil brother have sealed themselves away from the rest of the world, leaving Asgard to be ruled by an “All-Mother”. Thor is dead. Most notably, though, a new character has shown up who has somehow made everybody forget about Thor entirely, and now everybody believes that “Tanarus” is and always has been the God of Thunder.
There’s no real reason to bring that storyline up in this series, because Tanarus is a character developed and explored further in the central Thor comic book of the time. It serves the narrative to do so, however, because it establishes that greater mysteries are happening elsewhere, and readers should be distracted off by them. “Elsewhere, if you choose, you will hear tales of heroes false”, the narrator tells us, simultaneously diluting the reader’s attention with this strange new characters – and distinguishing this series as something very different from the main Thor storyline and the goings-on there.
The Disir take up a central part of the story here, as Loki stays true to his word, which also happens to be essentially an act of betrayal. By giving up his claim over them as slaves, he frees them from him – but not from Mephisto, who also has claim over them. They go from 50/50 ownership to solely being owned by Mephisto, who immediately drags them to his realm so he can gleefully, cruelly torture them. Some of them try to flee, some of them accept their fate: the only thing shared between them all is that they’ve been tricked by Loki. For a comic which tried to make fun of how “serious” the story would be, playing with our expectations from the start… this is an exceptionally dark direction to go in. That this is the first act of Loki following the crossover – where he was essentially a hero and helped save the day – goes some way in showing that things are just as complicated and convoluted as ever.
The other outcome of the issue is that Hela regains her land, after Loki appeals to the All-Mother and tells them that the Disir and Mephisto are now back together. This makes it unsafe for anyone but Hela to have Hel, so the All-Mother make the decision to let her return home. Hela becomes a new ally for Loki in the process – and tells him that Leah will be staying behind to assist him further. Leah isn’t too pleased, so Loki decides to drop his act for a moment and tell her that his grand plan from the last few issues was flawed. If Thor’s goats hadn’t independently decided to escape at a crucial moment, his plan wouldn’t have been able to succeed. It shows that Loki isn’t the all-knowing character we might think he is, and that his plotting remains prone to error – again, it adds this extra element to the character. It’s not just that he’s walking this line between friend, ally and foe; or that he’s trying to be friendly to hide the consequences of his choices… which he’s making to try and be friendly. It’s that he’s also flawed as a plotter. There’s a reason why he never won Asgard as a villain, after all, and why he always got defeated. It’s a great way of keeping readers on-edge.
The arrival of the All-Mother to power in Asgard is matched by the return of Surtur to his realm. As one force of lawful heroism establishes itself, so Surtur closes out the issue by beginning work on bringing doom to them all. The use of these two opposing forces, each aware of the other (the All-Mother make a point of challenging Loki on Surtur’s escape, knowing he was involved) brings Loki’s role into further relief. He has used Surtur to help Asgard, just as he’s now going to try and use the All-Mother to his advantage. As a result, he sits between both forces, but with that lean towards the All-Mother. He does, at least, attempt to talk with them, after all, even if he refuses to answer all the questions of their interrogation. He uses his position as a crutch, just as he did prior with Surtur: although the people he deals with know what kind of person he was, they don’t know what kind of person he is, and so he uses that past recognition to cloud their judgement of him and get what he wants from them.
As the recap page says, this is serious business, and Loki’s response to serious threats is to make a joke, distract the attention, and perform a sleight of hand. Everybody is currently pleased with Loki to some extent – from Mephisto to Hela and Surtur, and even pockets of Asgard – which gives him greater access than he’s ever had before. For all he’s been dismissed in the eyes of the people around him, who are all distracted by their shiny rewards, Loki’s managed to climb his way into more power than anybody has yet realised.
Journey Into Mystery #631
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Whilce Portacio
Inkers: Allen Martinez & Jeff Huet
Colourists: Arif Prianto & John Rauch
Letterer: Clayton Cowles