Somehow, in the 15 years I’ve been steadily consuming comics, I haven’t ever read one of Marvel’s stalwart titles, Journey into Mystery. What can I say, Thor just isn’t my thing. When the opportunity to review JiM, featuring Lady Sif, came around, my ears perked up. Kelly Sue Deconnick and Kathryn Immonen, two of the top female creators in the biz? A character I know nearly nothing about? A run that was well-regarded? A complete collection? With a lot going for it, I figured what the hell, I’ll give it a spin.
I’m glad I did. This collection of JiM is really well put together, more so than some of the other Marvel collections I’ve read. The 11 issues inside consist of two full story arcs with standalone intro and intermission issues. And while the two standalone issues might initially come off as filler, they actually hint at themes and characters that show up in the major arcs. It’s a surprise that makes the whole package a real nice read.
The first issue, Sif #1 by Deconnick and artist Ryan Stegman, introduces Sif and her fragile headspace after recent Loki-related events, as well as her apparently former love interest Beta Ray Bill. Can’t say I understand her choice in men, but it’s a solid one-in-done space-centric adventure that gets Sif kicking ass.
This segues into the first, and strongest, JiM arc with Immonen at the helm. The setting is totally different, with Sif amongst her fellow Asgardians in Oklahoma, but she is still rattled from Loki’s manipulations, as seen in the intro. In an effort to take control of her life and better protect Asgardia, she pursues some ancient magic to become more powerful. Things spiral out of control as she becomes a berserker, is exiled, and fights magical monsters that invade Earth.
The intermission is the lightest of the stories, where Sif, Thor, and the Warriors Three take on the Fenris Wolf in Gaea’s mystical garden. It’s probably the issue most steeped in Thor’s canon, which makes it a little harder to get into than the others, but it’s impossible not to love the interplay between all the heroes.The collection wraps up with another Sif-in-space story, where she is tasked with protecting Gaea, who is sick and is quarantined at an old Avenger’s space station. Beta Ray Bill shows up, and the two fight an alien ship that mutates Gaea and tries to crash the station into Earth. This is definitely the weakest of the four stories, but it ties in elements from both standalone issues, making them feel even more relevant in the collection.
Overall the writing was really solid. Sif is a strong, complicated lead who doubts herself but perseveres. It’s an interesting internal struggle that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent during her stints as one of Thor’s supporting characters. Of course there’s plenty of bold, charming, Asgardian dialogue, with “old” English and the typical script-ish-looking lettering. I think her relationships add a lot of depth to the character as well, especially with Heimdall, who is apparently her brother. I liked the berserker story the most, because it brought in a lot of what I think of as “classic” Thor elements: magic, Asgard and Asgardians, and interactions with Earthlings. It also expanded the mythos a little more which was cool, with the concept that berserkers were sent to endlessly fight monsters to protect Asgard and Midgard. Plus that story really played up the idea of inner strength and identity, which I think worked really well for the character.
While Immonen wrote most of the collection — Deconnick only wrote Sif #1 — three artists illustrated the various stories: Ryan Stegman, Valerio Schiti, and Pepe Larraz. Schiti illustrated the two main arcs, but I prefered his work during the berserker story. He uses a thick-line, flat-color style that’s distinctive and bold. It captures the characters’ expressions in detail and conveys a sense of energy to the fight scenes. The cameos by other Earth heroes, like Superior Spider-Man and Spectrum, were a fun visual contrast to the Asgardians. Perhaps the space station setting isn’t quite Schiti’s forte, but I felt a little confused blocking-wise during the Gaea-in-space arc, and it lacked the sense of scale of the earlier arc. As for the other artists, Larraz’s art for the intermission issue was suitably light-hearted for a story featuring dwarfs, Volstagg’s daughter, and Heimdall’s hellhound, with Stegman’s being perhaps the most run-of-the-mill.
I’m pretty happy with my introductory Journey into Mystery. Sure, the Space Sif moments weren’t my favorite, and I did need to Google a few things here and there to flesh out my Asgardian knowledge, but this collection was still a fun read. With the high price of comics these days, and filler issues showing up in Marvel trades to pad them out, getting 11 issues of mostly-great content from some excellent creators is a win in my book.