"The humans of the Internet are uncouth. When I said I was an Asgardian god, they called me a troll!" - Young Loki, 2011
If you guys saw last summer's Thor movie (that's most/all of you, right?), or you're just a big old nerd for Norse mythology, you'll know who Loki is—Thor's brother, a god of tricks and mischief, someone who never ever tells the truth, etcetera etcetera. In that movie, the role's played by Tom Hiddleston, a 30-year old creepy-looking English guy who's coming back as the main villain for this year's Avengers. When you pick up Journey into Mystery: Fear Itself you'll have to drop that picture of the character right away. Here, Loki's a young, scrawny kid, maybe not even a teenager. He's also not a bad guy… necessarily. It turns out that after the not-gonna-recap-them-here events of Siege, Loki's essence was transferred into what writer Kieron Gillen calls a "street rat" of unreadable intent. So, Loki + Aladdin = Journey into Mystery. Got it?
If you happened to miss Siege, the opening page of this book explains what you need to know about Loki's current state. And once you get over the monumental weirdness of that shift, the idea of a god of mischief in a child's body becomes really appealing. That's good, because despite Journey into Mystery classically being a title that belongs to Thor himself, this book's all about his bro. For people who follow Marvel Comics closely, the Fear Itself part of the title tells you a good deal about what you can expect here. The five issues collected in this graphic novel take place during last summer's giant crossover series, in which an ancient evil called the Serpent comes back to take over Asgard and Earth, because that's what cool snakes do. Journey into Mystery focuses on Loki's response to the Serpent's pending invasion, which basically means him running around cutting deals with people in order to assemble the best team and weapons he can. Of course, this whole time we're never totally sure what side Loki's on— that is, besides his own. Like his past self, Li'l Loki lies, cheats and steals to get what he wants, even if what he wants seemingly has good intentions. It's a lot of fun to follow a character like this, because you can never totally be sure why he acts a certain way or what his ultimate goals are. It keeps you guessing and interested.
Loki's used-car-salesman shtick also makes for a nice contrast with the way the rest of this book's written. Playing up the mythological background of these characters, Kieron Gillen crafts the captions and most of the dialog to read like they came out of The Odyssey or something (yes we know that's Greek). Even the lettering has a very classical feel to it. That ends up producing some great comedy, since Loki himself is very much a modern child. In his introduction, we see him playing with an iPhone, which Thor chides him for having, but what does Thor know? Even the structure of this story is very classical and "quest-based"; each chapter gives Loki some new ally to gain or deal to broker. Moreso than Aladdin, young Loki's like Harry Potter with a smart mouth.
In keeping with the classical feel of the story, artist Doug Braithwaite crafts pages that look more like paintings than comic panels. Here's a guy who comes from the Alex Ross school of art for sure; his characters and backgrounds look as realistic as can be expected for stuff that doesn't, well, actually exist (or maybe…). He's helped a lot by subtle, soft colors from Ulises Arreola, who also happens to posses the COOLEST NAME EVER. Even if you're not so much a fan of the readin', you can have a lot of fun with this book just by looking at the pictures.
There are a few drawbacks to this hardcover, unfortunately, and most of them come from its being a part of the larger Fear Itself story. Events that seem key to this story get totally omitted; you've got to buy another collection to find out, for instance, why Thor gets imprisoned in between chapters one and two of this book. Sometimes that's part of the fun of reading comic epics like this—seeing the ways lots of different stories relate can be very satisfying. When you only care enough to pick up one volume, though, "frustrating" seems more like the operative word, especially when you get to the last page of this hardcover and it says "To Be Continued." Yikes. Presumably, the events of that chapter feed back into the main Fear Itself collection, which lots of Marvel's readers would be familiar with, but lots doesn't equal all, and some people will feel left cold by this book's last page.
Despite the few hiccups in this book's plotting, Journey into Mystery: Fear Itself is a really fun read which mostly works on the basis of its awesome main character. Kid Loki is a source of endless entertainment and fascination, and, let's be honest, more than a few of us can probably look up to the scamp. Of course, by the time Avengers gets released in May he'll probably be an adult in the comics again so as to not confuse new readers. Man, they grow up so fast. B-