My Misspent Youth — Journey Into Mystery by Kieron Gillen and Richard Elson

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

Loki, the trickster god, was certainly in plenty of comics that passed through my collection. I was lucky enough to have Walt Simonson’s seminal run on Thor coincided with the peak of my four-color fandom, and Loki was as much prime supporting player as arch-nemesis. He popped up elsewhere every once in a while, the same way the biggest bads of Marvel roamed freely across the sprawling narrative of the interconnected titles because they provided a quick, easy way to up the stakes from the splash page on. The villain with the elaborately horned helmet was kind of a bore, though. He was thuddingly evil, malice as the only real character trait. He didn’t become interesting to me until many years later, when he had a very different stature.

Writer Kieron Gillen took on a modern version of the title Journey Into Mystery, where Thor, as created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, made his debut in the nineteen-sixties. Launched in the twenty-tens, the new Journey Into Mystery put the spotlight on Loki, in part to capitalize on the popularity of Tom Hiddleston’s performance in the role in the otherwise underwhelming Thor films. (An improvement in the franchise was on the way.) In the comic-book continuity of that moment, the character was in a youthful iteration, referred to, at least by the fans, as Kid Loki. That sprightly de-aging of the character was merely a sidebar. Gillen enlivened the character because he heightened Loki’s mischievous nature.

Gillen’s storytelling emphasized Loki’s ability to play every angle of a situation, always ready to switch his allegiances to suit the opportunity. It’s like a chess match where Loki has gamed out every possibility, and planned a countermeasure, before the pieces are even on the board. The comics are as densely plotted as anything that’s emerged from the House of Ideas since the heyday of the sixties and nineteen-seventies.

Gillen worked with a few different artists on this run — including Richard Elson, who handled art duties on the storyline titled “The Terrorism Myth” — and he wisely leaned into his collaborator’s strengths. The whole of Marvel’s more mystic mythos was Gillen’s play set, and he laid out opportunities to memorably warp reality. The page layouts were often thrilling in their dynamism and scope, especially when Gillen was taking clear delight in just how many grand ghoulies he could draw into his saga.

With Journey Into Mystery, Gillen reveled in the availability of a great big universe at disposal. He also took evident pleasure in tinkering with the very idea of godhood, an instinct that would blossom into yet more breathtaking fields of glory in a series to come. He and his cohorts do what the best comics creators do: They takes the grand inventions at their disposal and let their imaginations run wild, discovering new, logically expanded versions of the characters and worlds they are blessed to caretake, for at least a few issues.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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