Review: Journey into Mystery Featuring Sif Vol. 1: Stronger Than Monsters trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Journey Into Mystery Featuring Sif Vol. 1: Stronger than Monsters[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at Hell Yeah '80s Marvel!]

The tale of Kid Loki, the first star of the modern Journey Into Mystery, came to an end with the “Everything Burns” crossover with The Mighty Thor. While Kieron Gillen continues to work with that character in Young Avengers, there was some concern as to what would happen to Journey Into Mystery. The choice of Sif as the new main character was a smart response to the book’s demographics. Kid Loki has a very strong female fanbase, so giving the book not only a female lead but also a female writer kept the readership levels steady. Journey Into Mystery Featuring Sif Vol. 1: Stronger Than Monsters collects the first five issues of Kathryn Immonen’s run on the Marvel NOW! title, which I hope will last as least as long as Gillen’s Kid Loki epic.

As I said in my review of Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight, Sif is one of Marvel’s answers to Wonder Woman. Physically, she’s the closer match due to her black hair, battle skills, and mythological background. But while Captain Marvel embodies Diana’s friendlier personality and leadership skills, Sif has Diana’s warrior spirit. Immonen’s Sif reminds me quite a bit of Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman, especially when we meet three exiled Berserkers from the early days of Asgard. They’re Journey Into Mystery’s version of Diana’s ape friends, funny (but violent) outsiders who follow Sif around despite her wishes.

Unlike Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, though, Sif is pointedly not a superhero, a distinction which drives the events of Stronger Than Monsters. While she saves a life within the first few pages of issue #646, it’s that of an Asgardian child, and Sif is dedicated to protecting her home over protecting humans. She pointedly doesn’t understand her neighbors in Broxton, OK, as illustrated in a conversation with a man who criticizes overseas troops but can’t give a good answer as to why he won’t fight alongside them. This would normally come across as heavy-handed, but out of the mouth of a warrior-maiden, it seems perfectly in-character.

There’s a strong theme of being an outsider running through Journey Into Mystery. Sif won’t settle for just being the future wife of Thor as the myths proclaim she will become, and an encounter with a mysterious witch gives her new berserker strength and an angrier disposition. The ensuing rampage injures one of Volstagg’s daughters, forcing Sif’s brother, Heimdall, to send Sif to another dimension for her own sake. Newer readers more familiar with Idris Elba’s turn as Heimdall in Thor: The Mighty Avenger might be surprised to know that Sif is Heimdall’s much younger sister. It’s a holdover from a time when Journey Into Mystery was less devoted to mythological accuracy.

Speaking of the origins of Journey Into Mystery, Kathryn Immonen pays homage to the title’s early days with the reintroduction of a number of old monsters. Like many early Marvel titles, Journey was an anthology book featuring giant monsters and space invaders. After Thor’s introduction in issue #83, it was eventually retitled to The Mighty Thor, and the numbering from there gets sort of complicated. (The math for how J. Michael Straczynski’s The Mighty Thor got renumbered to #600 a few years back is fuzzy at best.) The monsters from the early days of Journey Into Mystery were banished into obscurity, both in the real world and, as it turns out, in the Marvel Universe: they inhabit the dimension Sif is sent to. Immonen brings in Hellcat and Monica Rambeau, characters from previous comics she wrote, to take on some of these invaders in some fun cameos.

Artist Valerio Schiti is a newcomer to Marvel, having worked at IDW for some time, and his artwork is easily some of the best I’ve come across. The treatment of women in comics has become a hot topic recently, with extra scrutiny attached to the provocative designs heroines are given and the poses they are put in. Schiti, thankfully, is not a cheesecake artist, and while Sif is gorgeous, she’s also wearing a mostly practical outfit. Her thighs are exposed, but they’ve been that way on-and-off since her introduction. Schiti also has a gift for facial expressions, avoiding the bland “porn faces” of some artists. Colorist Jordie Bellaire (who also does Captain Marvel) helps with a subdued color palette that knows when to go bold just at the right moments. Cover artist Jeff Dekal also provides dynamic painted covers; I’ll leave my complaints about how he renders Beta Ray Bill for the next volume.

At points, Journey Into Mystery Featuring Sif: Stronger Than Monsters feels like it needs to justify its existence now that Loki is no longer the lead. By demonstrating that Journey Into Mystery has always been a book with a variety of characters, it shuts down complaints from zealous Loki fans who would otherwise dismiss it. Immonen keeps the book fun while illustrating the complexities of Sif’s life. Immonen is aided by one of the best art teams at Marvel right now; I sincerely hope that Schiti gets to draw a big crossover in the near future. Continuing from the Loki run, Journey Into Mystery continues to demonstrate that Thor has the strongest supporting cast of any Marvel hero.
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