By Steve Morris
Journey Into Mystery #634 sits in two halves, opening with a buddy comedy sequence where Loki, Leah and Daimon Hellstrom run about in the ruins of Dark Asgard, snipe at one another, work out some physical comedy bits straight out of Tom & Jerry, and then ultimately decide to work together. It’s a typical bit of business for Marvel comics, and has to be gotten out the way so we can then look at the second half of the issue, which is a more serious look inside the head of Loki.
The series is a mix of comedy and tragedy, with the line attempting to blur between the two wherever possible, so it makes sense to have a blunt comedy sequence followed by a darker sequence at this point in the series. They balance into one another so that when Loki later on heads into his own head and witnesses some of his nightmares, he does so with the safety net established earlier in the form of Hellstrom and, more prominently, Leah.
At this point the relationship between Loki and Leah seems to have settled into a double-act routine for their own individual amusement. Leah is mean to Loki, Loki acts wounded, they both have a great time. Loki is routinely bullied and humbled by various characters throughout this run, but Leah is one of the only characters who teases him – which is a different and more affectionate form than, say, punching. It acts as a version of a comfort blanket for him, almost. When he’s about to fall asleep, the last thing he hears is Leah mocking him, which he responds to with a sleepy “you… meanie”, reinforcing their relationship. The dynamic is an actual reverse of what’s really happening here, where Leah is to some extent a slave of Loki’s who has no choice but to work to his will, as ordered by her boss Leah. By allowing Leah to taunt him (and physically protect him, as she does for a second issue in a row here), Loki gives over the sense of his power even whilst holding onto his actual power.
There’s a lot Loki gets from their relationship. You can also tie their unfriendly friendship to the loss of his brother, who was one of the only other people in his life who fundamentally was on his side, even though they had an antagonistic relationship. Leah slots into that absence in Loki’s life, teasing and taunting him with an honesty which only Thor previously had. When Loki heads off into his own subconscious, it’s telling that Thor is the first nightmare he sees. That sense of guilt literally weighs inside his head still, to the point where the narrative captions actively tell us that Loki has any retribution coming: that he deserves any kind of punishment he gets because “Loki is a villain.”
Loki’s response to those captions is to reach up and grab them – regaining control of his own narrative – and rip it up. We’ve seen Loki reject the idea that he’s a villain before, but that was always in front of other people, where you can argue there’s an aspect of performance in his rejection. Here, he’s entirely in his own head, and so his choice of death over turning back into the villain is notable. For those who have already read this storyline, you’ll also see it as tragic foreshadowing. When Loki surrenders to death the nightmare shifts, because when you die in a dream you wake up. The point here is to keep Loki asleep – so Thor then turns into a parade of the other people Loki arguably betrayed. And that leads us straight back to Leah, who seems to rescue Loki from his worst thoughts.
That’s not the real Leah – it’s Nightmare, trying to lure Loki towards his darkest fear so he can use it as a source of power – but it’s tremendously important to see that Leah is the best foil for Nightmare to assume at this point. She has quickly grown to mean a lot to Loki and has now become someone she can really rely on. He also has a working understanding of what kind of person she is, where he quickly establishes the con and reverses it in order to find out what Nightmare is up to. Once he has everything he needs, Leah (the real Leah) stabs him in the heart with adrenaline, waking him up and paying homage to Pulp Fiction in the process.
Loki’s plan was to lure out his enemy to see what he wanted, almost the mirror of what accidentally happens at the start of the issue with Hellstrom. What’s really interesting about that is how Hellstrom, the big, puffed-up exorcist who seems so dominating at the start of the issue, is really quite irrelevant to what’s going on. He was meant to be guiding Loki through his subconscious, but was stolen away right at the start and trapped in a boring, recurring nightmare separate to Loki’s dreams. For the big build-up he got last issue, and the vamping he does at the start of this issue, he’s ultimately again nowhere near the power that Loki is. Just as with the antagonistic relationship between Leah and Loki which pretends Leah is the dominant one, Loki again makes himself look weaker than he is in order to lure Hellstrom along with him.
Having ripped up the narrative which was being leveraged against him, he’s now wrapped up both Leah and Hellstrom along into his new narrative – one where he’s a hero in severe peril, who wants to save the day regardless of his own life. The difference here is that this new narrative might actually be the truth.
Journey Into Mystery #634
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.