Brothers, authors, and podcast prodigies Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, alongside their dad Clint, have dabbled with comics before — the first trade adaptation of their Dungeons and Dragons podcast, The Adventure Zone, itself a spinoff of the wildly popular My Brother, My Brother and Me – was, after all, majorly successful.
That being said, writing for Marvel is something else entirely. Where The Adventure Zone was a playful adaptation of their previous work, Journey Into Mystery — assisted by artist Andre Lima Araujo — is cut from whole new cloth. Not only that, it’s the first series to follow up last week’s explosive event debut where Jason Aaron and others laid the groundwork for a violent, evocative story the likes of which the ten realms haven’t seen in some time. Yes, something else entirely.
What do the McElroy’s do with that kind of responsibility? Exactly what they do best! Completely undermine it to often hilarious, knowing, and aloof effect.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
Earth is at war, besieged by an army of Frost Giants, Trolls and Fire Goblins — and the mighty Thor is nowhere to be found! But could it be that the key to turning the tide is…Thor’s baby sister? Journey into Mystery with Spider-Man (Miles Morales), Hawkeye (Kate Bishop), Wonder Man, and Balder the Brave as they go on an epic quest to save Earth’s only hope! (And, yes, deal with diaper duty.)
The conceit, McElroy to its very core, is that the team Balder (recently returned from Hel as you’ll hear…often) has, arguably unknowably, assembled a team of “the other guys” to rescue Thor’s baby sister. Just look at all those parentheses! Big time heroes don’t often come with parentheses! It’s hilarious in premise alone. The execution is all the better.
Arguments about Wonder Man being a pacifist, quips that “people love brother teams!” (wink wink), and references to the recent Spider-Verse and Spider-Geddon (“You know I’m not made of spiders right? That’s another guy”) all land incredibly well, and the book passes by at a surprisingly breezy and fun clip for a tie-in to an event where the world is ending. Maybe it diffuses some of the tension, but that’s all part of the journey, and there’s still plenty of room to ramp up the stakes over the next four issues anyways. A heck of a cliffhanger implies that just the plan, too.
That being said, some of the character feels a little misguided. For example, Miles makes a passing reference to an Irish actor born in the 1950s that I had to Google. I’d be hard pressed to think that Miles, as much as I love him and think he’s the best of us, knows that guy (whose name I can’t remember even now) any better than I do. Some of feels like a joke for joke’s sake — not tied to character or world, and without rhyme or reason. The script would do well to reel that in a little bit.
Similarly, Araujo’s artistic effort is largely fantastic, but slightly pulled down by a couple of predilections that don’t serve the issue well. When up close and familiar with the characters, everything is copacetic and expressive, light and just evocative enough for the weird highs the issue hits, such as a mystic telling Balder which heroes to seek out next. However, when things get a little bigger in scale, something Araujo does a little too often, the detail is lacking and undeveloped. Key characters’ distinguishing traits go missing and everything kind of blends into a transitory panel without much innovation or…mystery. Largely offset by the fun weirdness of everything else around it including a Mad Max-esque war car chase, but noticeable nonetheless.
Ultimately, Journey Into Mystery‘s first outing is a success because it marries what fans (myself very seriously included) would expect from the McElroys and the Marvel universe in a very realistic and fulfilling way, buoyed by fun and evocative art. There are some minor things, predilections from each creator that hold the effort back from perfection, but that doesn’t mean its not worth investing in, not at all.