By Steve Morris
And so the Disir can finally tell their own story. As we’ve seen throughout Journey Into Mystery as a series, the most important story is usually the one which isn’t being told, and one of the most prominent absences within the overall series has been a perspective from the Disir themselves. In issue #638 we finally get to find out their actual story, and not just the story which has been told on their behalf, and unsurprisingly we’ve been lied to this entire time.
The choice to have men tell their story – Mephisto, Sigurd, but crucially Loki – rather than let them speak for themselves is a pretty clear one. There are so many women who have had their story taken away from them and turned into something entirely else: victims of assault who were spun out to have “deserved it” or something equally ridiculous; the co-worker who was “difficult” and got fired because she refused to make her male co-workers feel great all the time. Trans women just… in general, the need for terfs to take away their personal narrative and thrust it into the bigoted perspective instead.
What’s most important in this particular case is how Loki was a complicit part of this narrative overwriting of what actually happened to the Disir. Loki, our heroic villain, who we’ve grown to trust despite literal decades of continuity throwing a bucket of cold water in our faces like “uh duh, he’s a liar, people”. He sells out the Disir just like the aggressively evil Mephisto, or the continually misogynistic Sigurd. Everyone has conspired together to make sure that these women continue to suffer the worst punishment imaginable for committing no crime at all.
As we see in the issue, they were claimed to have an insatiable hunger which consumed them and led them into being cannibals – however, that insatiable hunger turned out to be mere lust. As shield maidens for Bor (Thor’s grandpa) they swore an oath to be “unflowered” eternally, which seems to suggest Bor has a thoroughly single-minded concept of what women should be, which Odin picked up no small part of himself. When the mortal Disir decide to spend one night with a group of men – and Brun, their leader, spends her night with Sigurd himself – they’re caught by Bor, who turns them into monsters.
The only way to escape his curse is to either kill or marry Sigurd… who promptly runs off and hides. So, the Disir are cursed, and when Bor dies they’re passed around from “master to master”, potentially with all that might suggest included as part of it. It’s all so incredibly arbitrary, which I get the impression is a feeling which a lot of women will be very familiar with. Someone else felt entitled to their life, so they simply took it from them, and then changed the narrative behind them so the woman was the guilty party the whole time.
The comic tries to keep this relatively light, given that this is Marvel after all – your view on how successfully the writers manage that is completely your own. For his part, this is where I think Carmine di Giandomenico really solidifies why he was chosen for this storyline. His tendency is to box the sequence of each page into thin horizontal or vertical strips, rather than the wider, zoned-our square panels you’d see from most of the other artists who have been in the series so far. The effect is striking generally (and sometimes hard to understand) but works best within the flashback sequences.
Here, the style of thin horizontal panels which barely fit the characters and speech bubbles inside them (Clayton Cowles once again manages to pull off the seemingly impossible here) serves to confine the characters as they try to find a way to escape their own situation and be their own people. Whilst they try to push forward, spend a night with Sigurd and his men, the panels are horizontal. It symbolises their inability to escape the inevitable: that each panel conforms to the one which follows it. True enough, Bor smashes his way into the horizontal panels and not only shows the Disir that they are powerless: he actively breaks their existence by pushing his form out of the panels and into the gutters. They can be contained: he cannot.
As he goes on a rampage, di Giandomenico switches into vertical panels, highlighting Bor’s ability to switch up the story and define how people are perceived. He is depicted in heroic fashion as the comic simultaneously makes it completely clear that he is being cruel, unfair, arbitrary and misogynistic. Sigurd isn’t punished, but the Disir’s punishment is shown in striking, page long strikes whilst Bor is all-powerful and impressive.
When the issue ends, we see Dani Moonstar visit Bor in Hel, and she tells him that Sigurd is going to be married to the Disir. He smiles: this is what he wanted all along. The Disir once again have to play the submissive role for him to tower over. The rules never change and power is never given up: the rules put in place by men like Bor won’t allow marginalisation to ever be overcome.
Journey Into Mystery #638
Writers: Kieron Gillen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Artist: Carmine di Giandomenico
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.
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