By Steve Morris

Nobody in issue #639 of Journey Into Mystery takes anything particularly seriously until its already too late. The new storyline – penultimate for the run overall – sees Loki and Leah head overseas to England, where an industrial revolution is taking place, and treat most of their first day in Blighty acting like bally well tourists. It’s an opportunity for the creative team to thoroughly undermine the footing of their readers, and both Kieron Gillen and Rich Elson take great glee in seizing it.

The core concept of the story is that industrialisation is a robotic kaiju, storming onto the green and pleasant lands of England and terraforming it into something new and untraditional. At the start of the issue a metal God called “Manchester” suddenly appears from nowhere and crashes into the North of England, a collection of pistons and pumps and steampunk accessories which look distinctly out-of-place in the otherworldly countryside. The keepers of England’s magic don’t think it’s particularly a threat, however – especially as it seems to have captured one of their old enemies and trapped him in the engine-room which powers Manchester. If anything, this new metal God could be the enemy of their enemy.

They should know better. England, it has to be said, should know a colonisation when it sees one.

Manchester sprouts legs and eventually gives birth to further cities – Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, which in turn presumably start giving birth to Southport, Crewe, and Wakefield. It’s at this point that the various faerie people of England’s magical realm start to realise what’s happening, and – unprepared and unready to wage a war on their own soil – seek out help from the Asgardians. That’s where Loki comes in: in his new role as unofficial agent for the All-Mother, he is sent to try and restore some kind of peace to Otherworld, before the events in England start to travel overseas and cause similar problems for the similarly-themed Gods of Asgard.

Loki treats it as a holiday, and the issue has a grand old time pretending this is Agent Cody Banks: Destination London. Both Gillen and Elson take turns throwing in as many silly jokes, puns, and sight gags as possible, destabilising any notion that this ‘foreign’ war is anything we should actually care about or take seriously. Loki buys a “I ❤ London” t-shirt which he wears for most of the issue, asking everybody he meets if they’ve ever seen the Queen – a common question asked by Americans tourists to English people. All it needs is someone to play London Calling and you’re got your Yankee-in-Blighty starter pack all wrapped up.

You can never completely determine who decided to create some of the sight gags in the issue – although it looks like it was Elson who elected to put in a startling number of references to Birmingham City Football Club – but they’re effective in turning a war story into a pantomime. The scene where Loki is picked up at the airport by a giant Celtic warrior holding a handwritten “Loki” sign is brilliantly funny, as are the fish-out-of-water gags which follow, including a taxi-driver getting conned into driving all the way to Stonehenge without asking any questions about the request. It feels quite clear: this is all a spot of fun, and this whole battle between the countryside and the industrial world is some J.R.R. Tolkien nonsense intended to act as the basis for a series of jokes making fun of both the tourists and the English.

As Loki gets closer to home base for Otherworld, we’re shown a few background images which suggest we should be taking this a little bit more seriously. The countryside is largely empty, as most of the people have been lured to live in the Big Cities: even the remaining children play with toy cities as if they were action figures, showing how completely the temptation of industry has taken over the next generation. Ignoring the briefing, Loki instead tries to persuade the Lady of the Lake to let him have a look at The Holy Grail – a massive source of power, and one which Hela has personally asked Loki to get hold of for her. At no point does he look at the obvious toll of war and think anything other than “but what’s important for ME right now?”

It should also be noted, that Holy Grail – massive source of magical power for England, Albion, Otherworld, whatever you want to call it. Not exactly a home-grown source of power though, is it? Little hints of England’s colonial past find their way into the issue as it continues onwards, making this a fascinating case of snake-eats-tail. We’re meant to care that Otherworld is losing ground to a revolution, and Loki is our protagonist sent out to go help restore power… but you can’t help feel that in this allegory Loki seems to closely resemble the CIA more than anything else, destabilising foreign countries on behalf of the American Government. I think that’s something we need to keep in our heads as this storyline continues on.

At the end of the issue, we get the moment it’s all been building towards. Loki excitedly heads off to watch his first ever war in person, and comes back reeling from the horror of it all. He quietly takes off the tourist shirt, and persona in the process, and starts to realise the reality of everything that’s actually happening here. This isn’t a fun excursion to see how those silly foreign people are living: it’s a war with real consequences, and lives on the line.

I’d argue that the issue doesn’t really do a strong enough job in actually delivering that horror of war for readers, though. Elson gets two pages, and they mostly resemble bloodless superhero fights rather than a scary depiction of what war looks like: chalk that to the Marvel editorial line, perhaps. It’s a shame, because although as readers we can make the jump from comedy to tragedy alongside Loki, the issue fumbles that crucial moment where we’re meant to suddenly dramatically switch tones.

Overlook that, though, and suddenly we’re on to something a bit more complicated. The war for Otherworld and battle of the fantastical against the industrial is one which seems like it could have real legs to it – big, metal, spindly legs, like that giant spider at the end of Wild Wild West – and Journey Into Mystery seems well-placed to really interrogate, uh… those legs.


Journey Into Mystery #639 “Manchester Gods, Part One”
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Rich Elson
Colourist: Ifansyah Noor
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.


This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!