This is just a coda to Tom’s brilliant (but spoiler-y! Very spoiler-y!) piece on Journey into Mystery. This is less spoiler-y and much more ramble-y and nothing like as in-depth but Tom asked me to write it, so you have him to blame.
I am not a Western comics reader. I have read some and indeed, enjoyed them a lot but in a hobbyist way that didn’t make me feel like a fan, per se. Even for someone much enthused by enormous run of things, the unassailably enormous back history of Marvel or DC characters always felt like too much work in comparison to the apparent safety of manga, where I had done the groundwork to know where my incestuous reincarnated celestial beings were at. Or more accurately to the present day, CSI, in front of which I had found my adult self lounging and wondering if anything in the geek culture that raised me would ever interest me again.
‘So far so nylons and lipsticks,’ you might think; however, this doesn’t explain why I ended up in the pub last Friday, cursing at the Marvel app for its dysfunctional purchase downloading and burbling ‘Kid Loki is THE BEST why did no one TELL me that comics were GREAT?’ Tom enthused about how heartening it was that young people were reading Marvel again- ‘I’m twenty five!’ I protested, ‘that’s REALLY OLD’ and then proceeded to have some kind of showdown altercation with a table. Or maybe a door. Or a fellow patron. A grown up showdown, no doubt.
I was and still am absolutely livid that no one told me how great Journey into Mystery is before- my emotional core has been utterly destroyed by it but I want to curl around it and clutch it to myself as though it were my child. Finally, I totally get why people care so much about Marvel and superheroes- I’m reading the whole of Thor, as though this can somehow provide attrition for my years of ignorance but honestly, it’s the gateway drug that’s the masterwork.
But why Journey into Mystery? And why now? My partner, my best friends and most other people I know have all been enthusiastic comics fans for as long as I’ve known them, I’ve teetered on the edge of comics enthusiasm for many years, reading the odd series (Witchblade, goth staples like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Jonah Hex) but never committing to more than a dalliance and certainly never engaging in the type of determined pursuit one used to have to to get hold of the scanlated, unexpurgated manga about screwed up godlings that I loved so much. The wonderful Martin Skidmore spent a great deal of time trying to explain the appeal of superheroes to me and I’m ashamed to say I still didn’t quite get it, as much as I appreciated and enjoyed his enthusiasm. I’ve had informed, intelligent people talking to me about comics for years, so why now?
Tom identified the Marvel movies as one of the reasons for Journey into Mystery’s popularity with a younger, Tumblr-y-er fanbase than its constituent parts and I’m sure a lot of people think they’re the main cause. I am perfectly happy to cop to the fact Chris Hemsworth’s hair has played a key part in me considering being interested in this arena and I don’t think I’m alone but that’s not exactly it. The Loki tag on Tumblr is made up of roughly 50% pictures of Tom Hiddleston portraying the God of Mischief, 30% unrelated pictures of Tom Hiddleston, 10% fanfiction, 2% Cosplay, 5% spam tagging, 1% roleplay and about 2% comics. There’s a further subcategory of Lokean pagans sadly bemoaning nothing being sacred anymore, to whom I offer my sympathy but who I suspect know themselves the pointlessness of attempting to stem the tide.
To get to Journey into Mystery, you need to search Kid Loki. Which is where, confusingly, the older young people are at. The Loki tag tends to talk about school as in school, whereas Kid Loki’s doing its PhD or commuting- that’s a wild generalisation, obviously, since many people are in both tags but Journey into Mystery’s fans are not teenagers themselves, exactly. They’re people my age or thereabouts, who are post-teenage but not quite at the pop cultural legacy stage from which lofty heights older Marvel readers might look at it. Not to say that older Marvel fans don’t like the series, obviously but nu-breed fanfiction and Tumblr fans are less likely to have sealed first editions than mugs with horns on.
People who like Journey into Mystery reblogs also, say, reblog photos of shoes. And cats. And Chris Hemsworth. And Battlestar Galactica. And some social justice stuff. The series was suggested to me by Andrew F after I wrote a long and rambling essay on my thoughts about what they’d have to do to make a palatable Sigyn character for the movies; people who like JiM like the Norse myths, the old comics lore, the alchemy between the two. Fandom is, in essence, a great series of mischiefs upon others’ work, meant affectionately and only occasionally snowballing out into something horrendous but generally seeking well-written, intelligent and thoughtful escapism, even and especially where the thing being escaped from is the original canon.
This isn’t an anthropological study of who fans are, though- for all you can tell from a Tumblr username, Barack Obama may be mad into Daimon Haelstrom. Potentially speaking out of turn, I can guess at reasons why this has acquired a fanbase that most comics do not have, though.
Journey into Mystery is a side-episode, a crossover of its own parts, that happens within the timeline of one of the oldest, weightiest Marvel multiverses. It should be totally inpenetrable, exactly the sort of thing that puts me and other hesitant readers right off but instead it’s acting as a doorway for a particular type of fan- gentle and with feelings and violent with CAPSLOCK and perhaps feeling a little old and out of sorts themselves.
Re-reading everything in the run again (and filling in some holes I hadn’t realised were there) in the wake of issue 645 has rendered me a gibbering wreck; this comic, you see, understands feels. Feels are what makes the Tumblr magic happen- they’re why I always preferred manga, which has entire genre definitions that might as well be explained with a picture of someone attempting to simultaneously stomp on this hateful book that is causing them unutterable pain and to clutch the book to their chest, nuzzling it gently and promising to protect it. It’s an impossible physical maneuver- I have tried, I assure you, while vowing simultaneously to kill and deify Kaori Yuki.
Feels are what I’d always presumed Western comics are somewhat lacking in. I’ve actually read quite a lot of Captain America, which I tend to forget. I used to live near the Book and Comic exchange and it came up a lot in their £1 chance bags. Steve Rogers is, aside from being the most pathos-laden character ever written (I mean that in a good way) and definitely the person it is most distressing to imagine listening to Taylor Swift and having a quiet cry, not someone I especially engage with. Actually no, that’s wrong- the story is engaging but the visual appeal is important in comics and Steve is a great big manly superhero man, whom I have neither hope nor intention of cosplaying- I don’t experience feels.
Kid Loki, though, is impish- not that I have any intention to cosplay him, either but I see the appeal. He looks, to my manga-informed eyes, not unlike Syaoran in Tsubasa; a heroic scruffbag prince. I like him, I want to mother him- when he gets into scrapes, I worry about him because he is little and despite his devious mind, he doesn’t look as though he’s got everything under control. Indeed, he usually doesn’t.
One of the things that’s so appealing about Gillen’s Kid Loki, of course, is that he’s obviously going to break your heart. All the characters apart from Thor are bracing themselves emotionally from him, something more than a fear of his adult self (even if it is only a fear of killing a child) and Thor’s absorption of Loki-induced pain is too long-enduring to stand as a counter-argument. JiM’s Thor is wonderful too, of course- not stupid or reckless anything like as much as he is accepting, self-knowledge acting not as a shield from the things he does that will ultimately cause him grief but as a weird comfort that they were the only things he could do; big, electric hero that he is.
Tumblr has a phrase for when it can’t do thinking anymore- so done with this. After #645, an enormous number of people announced themselves 5000% done with everything to do with this. Done, forever. It means the opposite, obviously- the internet meme equivalent of Leah’s “hate forever” in the comic itself and expressing the same strength of emotion.
Because what it means is that they are so not done with it, that, like Thor, whatever this thing they don’t wholly understand but love and accept is, they’re stuck with it forever. And that’s the ‘feels’ moment.
Not to say that Journey into Mystery is the only comic to ever do feels- the vast majority of them do, JiM just seems to have hit an astoundingly rich and specific seam and ploughed it until it hit the bedrock. Then shattered that, for good measure.
It doesn’t need saying that JiM is well written. It is, though- from the wonderfully dry touches in the dialogue (everybody in Asgardia has turned into a snarky bastard in the absence of the Lord of Mischief, it seems) to the All-Mother chiding Loki for using gendered perjoratives to Loki’s own, repeated pleas for a half-naked demon to consider a shirt, there is much to be turned into mental memes and much to smile fondly at, in between bouts of heartbroken sobbing and fist-stuffed-into-mouth anxiety.
The art, too, is beautiful and incredibly lush, all rich shades and big, dreamy brushstroke landscapes so that when Loki calls Leah his BFF, you never forget that they are in Asgard. Even for the comic-phobic, the environment is perfect for harbouring feels.
The real triumph of JiM, though, for all its rampaging city-gods and satanic power politics and magic is that downpowered, physically frail child Loki has to use skills familiar to us mere mortals. Lying and trickery isn’t for everyone but I’m willing to stake money on me not being the only reader to occasionally murmur ‘We’ve all been there, kid.’
Now, I have never gone on a homicidal rampage, started a war or seriously attempted to murder my brother, who is not a thunder god. I’m pretty sure I’ve never, even in my drunkest moments, attempted to kickstart Ragnarok. But regrets, I have a few; the state that Kid Loki finds himself in for much of Journey into Mystery is of knowing that there are terrible misdeeds in his past but being unable to recall them, like the world’s longest, most miserable hangover, running into hundreds of aggrieved one night stands without even the slightest memory of pleasures he’s not entirely sure of the nature of yet.
Most people get to adulthood a little ashamed of things they’ve done; some of us more than others and there’s a well-documented segment of life where people wonder about whether what’s gone before determines the rest. Loki’s got all of that and a teenage crush on a keeper of the dead- he’s too young for this nonsense, gods damn it. So maybe there’s hope?
Then there’s the Jenga-wobbling plans that Tom mentions; all this grown up responsibility- it’s too ‘DO YOU SEE’ to suggest that Loki’s endless juggling of devil’s contracts is only relatable in the way that I need to file my timesheet and pay my credit card bill but there is something to the old mind in a young body, the sense of being hopelessly out of one’s depth in one’s own history, that most certainly is. Things have a tendency to get out of hand, solutions are messy and JiM understands that- every deus ex machina comes at a horrible price, requiring another. When Supernatural was good, the same mechanic was what made it work- there’s always a more terrible deal to be made, if you’re willing.
And those shitty deals are what makes Kid Loki heroic- if I could juggle checks and balances like that, my life could have been far more interesting. Of course, I’ve never had to defeat the world serpent, which is just as well as there’s no way I’d be up to the task. I’m not likely to need superhuman strength for anything particularly important any time soon but I do have to weigh up a lot of what Tumblr refers to as ‘amazing/bad life choices’ and Kid Loki’s ability to ride his own is why he’s an idol.