From 2011 to 2015, readers across Marvel were granted something that only comes around on the rarest of occasions: a complete and emotional character arc, with a beginning, middle, and end. From Journey into Mystery through Young Avengers until the final issue of Loki: Agent of Asgard, Thor’s reborn brother sought to make something different of himself, and succeeded. And yes, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get to see a continuation of this story after the line-wide relaunch after Secret Wars, but over just a handful of years, Loki became Marvel’s most engaging and well-written character. And it all started with the contents of this collection.
Right off the bat, Journey Into Mystery feels unlike what you’d expect from a Marvel comic in 2011. The first few pages are dedicated to a myth-like opening, telling of magpies and a fatal journey through all the realms. And right away, Gillen makes it clear that we’re not just getting some old Thor-style mythological story. Because Loki is not where he’s supposed to be — he’s off arguing with people on the internet who are calling him a troll.
Kieron Gillen, writer of works like The Wicked + The Divine, Phonogram, and Young Avengers, is notably well-versed in the modern internet-infused culture. He’s not the youngest person in the world, and can’t lend a real authenticity to the voice of a teenage Zoomer, but he’s able to capture the voices of these ancient beings who are still children incredibly well. Loki and Leah are a delightful pair, whose banter both with each other and with the adults around them would be able to carry the book even outside of its strong plotting.
But of course, it doesn’t have to — the plot makes sure that you need to read the next issue, which is an especially strong feat when the entire front half of the collection is event tie-ins. It’s really strange, honestly — the first eight issues are all Fear Itself tie-ins, but we never actually read the main story of Fear Itself. So a lot of the actions the characters take and a lot of the events they react to are implied, which I’m sure would lead to a little bit of a disorienting experience to someone not expecting it. I can’t really speak to that experience, though, because I knew how it’d be going in. It helps that there’s a little recap page to start the collection that explains the inciting events of Fear Itself, but there are still events like Thor’s death that are not depicted and instead just mentioned in passing. It’s in no way a fault of Gillen’s writing itself, but it’s one of the very few negatives of this collection.
The only other partially negative facet of this book is the art team and stylistic shift. We start off with Doug Braithwaite’s beautiful artwork that makes everything seem larger than life and mythological, but before the first arc ends we’re treated with a replacement in Whilce Portacio — who’s not a bad artist on his own, but stylistically clashes with Braithwaite. There’s also an issue drawn by Mitch Breitweiser, which is… uncomfortable in 2021, as his very blatant Comicsgate leanings are hard to ignore. But again, that’s not a fault of this book at the time it was created, and understanding that Breitweiser hadn’t gone full mask-off when he drew for Journey Into Mystery lets me personally appreciate his artwork in this specific book.
At the end of all of this, though, the book still holds up, which isn’t a huge surprise — Gillen’s only become a bigger deal in the decade since this run started. This run isn’t some underrated hidden gem or anything — it’s one of Marvel’s surprise hits that had a legitimate and noticeable effect on the comics they produced for years after it finished, and this Complete Collection is the most convenient way to read it (or it will be when the second volume comes out).
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