Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Jouney Into Journey Into Mystery!

I wanted to spend a few moments diving into Journey Into Mystery, because it deserves it.  It deserves it, and it doesn't get but a sliver of the recognition due.  There are bad books, and meh books, and good books, and great books, and then there are a very select handful of "special" books.  These are books that not only demonstrate quality, but also exude a sense of inspired singularity...a sense while reading it that "this author is doing their best work right here."  Take that scribe off the book and it isn't the same animal.  Take that scribe and put them on another set of characters and it might be good...but not this.  Journey Into Mystery, or "JIM" as Kieron Gillen is fond of calling it, is one of those books. 

Here's how it works.

Take the latest installment, Journey Into Mystery # 635.  In some ways it might seem like a bad place to do a primer on the series being that it's the third chapter of the four part "Terrorism Myth" arc.  It's also got that ugly "Shattered Heroes" banner on it, which lets you know that it's representing itself as post Fear Itself nonsense, and instantly wants to make you sad.

Forget all of that.  You should never be afraid of picking up Journey Into Mystery at any point, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, Gillen will catch you up before you start.  In this case, he has "Cadaver Thor" relate recent events while breaking the fourth wall and also loudly announcing the anachronistic "wink nudge" humor that permeates the rest of the series as well.

This kind of thing isn't unprecedented.  Peter David often throws some extra panache into his intros as well.  The point is that it shows craft and caring.  Before you've hit page one of the narrative you have the basic necessary facts packed into your brain kit, and you've got the irreverent tone of the thing to prime you for what's to follow.  You probably already laughed once, too.  "Cadaver Thor is dead, too, and he's all about positivity."  It's completely absurd, and wonderful. 

This is the product of somebody that gave a shit about what he was doing.  Recap page?  Could be a throw-away pain in the ass.  Gillen uses it as an opportunity to encapsulate the JIM experience into a delicious little fun size morsel. 

The plot does follow in the wake of Fear Itself in meaningful ways, so no cheat there.  In fact, I would say that JIM # 635 does what it does more meaningfully than the main event is allowed to be.  The crux of the action is about Nightmare gestating little lethal fear bubbles in people's brains, looking to harvest them into a crown of power.  It's silly in the ways that superhero comics are almost obliged to be.

But where Fear Itself is all about the NSF check that says "Everything Changes Here - BBBBOOOOOMM!" and then forgets that it happened to itself, JIM takes on the real drama that frankly ought to unfold in the event that preceded it.

I'm talking specifically about the little Victim Vignettes of the fear bubble patients, locked in their own personal comas, all born from happenings in Fear Itself, all overlooked and made trivial by Fear Itself.

Before I go on, let me just say that I'm not specifically taking shots at Matt Fraction with that assessment.  If the event books took the time to actually delve into these things properly, they'd run 1,000 issues and we'd never be done with them.  Truthfully, the event book's purpose isn't to tell stories - it's there to move copies.  Event books are designed to have big splashy pages and characters behaving oddly because the point isn't to make sense, but to create mindless buzz and feign elevated importance.

So you get a scenario where the world is supposedly on the brink of madness, and half of France gets turned into statues, and it simply gets waved away in Fear Itself # 7.4653, and a month later nobody knows, cares, or remembers what happened, because goddamnit, something's coming from space and the Avengers and X-Men definitely need to fight about it in a manner that will be cleared up neatly in Avengers Vs. X-Men: Spider-Man's lament: Healing Heroes # 4.86594. 

Or you could read Journey Into Mystery and get a peek about how that might actually play out in a way that feels satisfying, and at a pace that doesn't make you want to pluck your own eyes out to make it stop.  You could read Journey Into Mystery and get a peek at Leslie, Lucas, Luiz, Deborah, and Molly, and say to yourself "Holy Crap, living in a world where Fear Itself occurred would be quite a trip, and maybe there's more to this universe than just ciphers moving the plot along."  Because in Kieron Gillen's book, there are things like vulnerable human beings that lose, and consequences.  Can you even imagine?

Journey Into Mystery fills those gaping potholes that the thundering moron books leave in their wake.  It does so with humor and grace, and it does it every month.

I'll never get over the anachronistic tightrope that Gillen jumps on every month, either.  "You know, Leah, when you get past the urge to retch, these energy drinks are delightfully addictive."  JIM contains all the stilted and elevated Asgardian trappings as previous Thor books, and then it tosses them into Angry Birds America.  Somehow it works.  Somehow it makes me laugh, every time.

And while the tone is irreverent and playful, it would be inaccurate to call JIM fluff.  One of the great triumphs of the book is that Gillen

  • Loki is a villain, or at best a tragic hero
  • Loki is a liar and a trickster
  • Loki is a genius on the path to global level mastermind

Gillen's Loki is as ethically complicated as James Robinson's Shade, and that's as high praise as I know to give.  Young Loki has magic, and allies, and power, but mostly he uses his tongue and his scheming abilities to leverage his situation.  Without giving the entirety of the plot away, he averts disaster in this issue (at least temporarily) by halting his ineffectual heroic efforts and recalibrating mid-stream to give the tyrant what he wants!  You simply don't see this in Marvel books.  Gillen is off the reservation and doing something different.

Nobody seems to notice or care, mind you.  The latest numbers show Journey Into Mystery coming in at # 91 with a barely sustainable 22,000+ copies sold.  This is the part that always confuses me.  I guess I just don't understand why Secret Six wasn't a top 10 comic, and I don't understand why we can't sell 50-100 copies of this at every retailer.  Do people not like good stories at certain shops?  In the age of Twitterbook, do they not know that JIM is elite?

Apparently, they don't.   So I'm telling you.  Spread the word.  Get on Paul Revere's horse and bark to the masses that there is a tiny mystical dog named Thori in this book that grumbles death threats to any poor bastard that stops to converse with it.  Tell them that it's still possible to read a Marvel book that understands scope and stakes without sacrificing all manner of reason and sanity.  Tell them that Journey Into Mystery is the best comic they're not reading, because it's true.

- Ryan

1 comment:

David Ferguson said...

Well I thank the Chronic Crew for turning me on to this book a few months back. One of my favourites now. I mean this as a compliment: It's a bit more intelligent than it needs to be. As in, Gillen could probably get away with writing the usual superhero drivel but he doesn't do that.

Also, I STILL miss Secret Six.