“WHO REALLY READS MUCH ANYMORE, ANYWAY?” – HISTORY, FICTION & MYTH IN ‘JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY’

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In this, the first entry of a three-part series devoted to the Marvel comic series JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, I’m going to talk about the titles exploration of a character and nation’s history, of the strength of storytelling in our daily lives and the never-ending endurance and power of myth. These may sound like ideas regularly explored in superhero comic books, but appropriately enough, JOURNEY applies a fresh coat of paint to these classic concepts in an incredibly unique and innovative little comic, set firmly in it’s own little corner of the Marvel Universe.

Immonen gets straight down to business in the very opening of the first issue of her opening arc – Sif is rescuing children from the library of Asgardia, currently burning to the ground in a blaze. Many of the children remain unphased, much to the lady warrior’s chagrin – “That’s old stuff. My parents know those stories.” Sif wants to remind the children of Asgard’s great history, how learning about it can help them stive towards a brighter future and build their own present, but the kids, tainted by western pop culture now that Asgard resides on Earth outside of Broxton, Oklahoma, have no interest in the lessons the likes of Odin learned. That was ages ago, and things are different now.

Is that true? Is there nothing to gain from age-old stories that we’ve all heard repeated dozens of times? Or is Sif correct, and is our history the exact thing that makes us strong? For comics fans, it’s an interesting question, because it’s one of the central problems of superhero stories today. Many older fans feel that the constant rebooting, renumbering and retconning hurts the long and often complicated history of Marvel’s many characters, and will passionately argue that new fans should expect themselves to dig through back issues and Wikipedia articles if they want to get the whole story. However, the renumbering is very inclusive and inviting to new readers, who often feel intimidated by the idea that they have to read 600+ issues of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to get the whole picture, and even if that’s not quite true, the feeling of being there ‘from the beginning’ is an exciting one.

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Of course, it’s a question that doesn’t just pertain to superhero comic books, and the aspect of American contamination is one of the most interesting aspects in the story. A lot of first world countries hold the concept of independence as one of their most proud virtues, but there’s a lot of negatives associated with it as well, arguably the first being how quickly we forget those that brought us into this world. If we’re constantly on a mission to define ourselves and make something of ourselves, it makes it easy to forgive ourselves for not calling our parents in the last three weeks. By embracing history as Sif wishes, we learn t hat we’d be nothing without it, and the thought of ignoring it and those apart of it give it that much more gravity.

Sif decides the children lack a respect for Asgard’s history since they spend most of their days rebuilding it. Due to constant supervillain, cosmic or evil God threats, Asgard tends to be a pretty big target in the Marvel Universe, and it often finds itself little more than a pile of rubble in the aftermaths of, say, a SIEGE or two. To ensure Asgard and it’s history can remain intact, Sif begins a mission of brutal offense, fusing herself with the berserker incantation to gain the strength needed to protect the land she loves so much. Her new found anger becomes so problematic that she is cast to an unknown realm, and here’s where things get fascinating.

Early in the first issue, we see Sif bemoan a young Asgardian for reading old Kirby monster comics, donated by the Red Cross for the struggling American citizens/deities. Ironically enough, she soon finds herself surrounded by them. As it turns out, this ‘unknown dimension’ is a bizarre retirement home of sorts for mythical creatures. 100 Asgardian warriors were chosen by Odin to endlessly battle these creatures in an infinite story, “so that they would not INFECT the tales of Asgard.” The only way you can destroy a story is to stop telling it, but that doesn’t mean the characters therein stop existing. I think that’s an amazing idea, and it’s a central one to the ongoing narrative of superhero comics. Not only are the warriors trapped in a never ending battle between good and evil, they’re fighting, more or less, without purpose. Superheroes can’t win, because then the story is over, but they can die, because any hero worth his name can defeat death. These forgotten concepts, however, are doomed to do nothing but die – their story didn’t add anything to a wider tapestry, they didn’t teach us anything or make us feel human, and it’s up to these Asgardian warriors to keep it that way.

Of course, soon these creatures find their way back into the world of Midgard, and Immonen concludes the lives of these onomatopoeia christened creatures in a beautiful and hilarious sequence; each one comes face to face with different heroes of the Marvel universe, heroes who, though not as forgotten and outdated, may find themselves on similar footing as these old myths. Monica Rambeau, Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat, Namor the Submariner – hardly a crop of A-list marquee headliners, but all wonderful characters in their own right. Immonen seems to be saying; these characters will be remembered. These characters aren’t doomed to be forgotten like the monsters gracing the covers of dozens of mid-century comic books, these heroes are just waiting for the right person to tell their story and catapult them into the status of myth.

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Finally, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY continues the tradition set in place by previous writer Kieron Gillen, and finds itself dealing with ideas of meta-fiction, of stories being a part of all our lives and our lives all being stories. There are countless examples, from a 1960’s THOR animated series playing on the screen of a local bar, to Spider-man’s interaction with Spider Gods to the central idea of Sif creating history while trying to get others to remember it. The aspect I’m most intrigued by is that of a raven and a wolf from Asgardian legend and the narrators of our story.

Sif wants the young members of Asgardia to study their history and stories, and she ain’t just whistlin’ dixie. Stories mean something to Sif, and we see this as she studies ancient text partway through her journey to gain knowledge and find clues for her quest. As she reads about Thought and Memory, Odin’s two black ravens, and a thoughtful wolf guide, it isn’t long before they become a part of the story we’re reading. They seem to represent part of what Sif needs to learn in the story – she’s right in thinking that her fellow Asgardians should study history and find hope in stories, but she’s wrong to ignore her own fragile emotions. “Humans seem to learn early to SEEK conflict where there IS none. They are too easily and too MUCH offended. It is a difficult thing to overcome.” the wise wolf notes. Sif would find herself more succesful if she focused not on her anger of Asgard’s failings, but rather how it’s citizens could learn to overcome them.

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JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY is a fascinating and dense read. Like a story about Gods should be, it’s about myths, but also about being human. At the same time, it isn’t like something you’ve read before – brilliant and unique ideas like a graveyard of forgotten legends, characters from a story telling us a story about accepting our human failings and building up from that. JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #646-650 are available now, and volume one of the trade paperback, STRONGER THAN MONSTERS, arrives in stores May 22nd. Look for the second entry in this series, focusing on the uniqueness of Sif’s struggle with anger and femininity in superhero comics, stay tuned to The Pure Mood.

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