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Journey Into Mystery

Best Comics of 2012: Journey into Mystery

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Journey_Into_Mystery_Vol_1_645What is there to say about Journey into Mystery that hasn’t already been said?

Although it began in 2011, this year was without a doubt the one when Journey into Mystery became all its opening issue implied it would: ambitious, structured, perpetually riding atop a crossover and clinging for dear life. Throughout it’s two-year lifespan, there were only three issues of this series that didn’t have some kind of promotional banner attached, and it’s perhaps most thought-provoking that those three (comprising the Manchester Gods arc) were some of our favourites.

So there’s something you can say about Journey into Mystery that hasn’t really been said before: as good as it was, just imagine what it could have been with even a little more time.

Comparisons with Sandman have been made many times, but the books are as different as they are similar. Probably the biggest difference is that Sandman got 76 issues to tell its story, and Journey into Mystery got only 31. And had to devote a portion of those to servicing guests characters like Thor and the New Mutants in sales-buoying crossovers. The story of Kid Loki’s journey was probably the best fantasy epic Marvel has ever published – if it had been given double the space, it could have been so much more. The denoument wouldn’t have been so rushed. The mythology would have served more than its barest purpose. The ideas would have been followed up on and expanded. We’d have had something more like Sandman and less like Captain Britain and MI-13.

That’s not to say there was a failure on anyone’s part here. The book’s creative team barely missed a step in two years. Marvel, for their part, kept the book alive as long as it needed to tell the barest form of its story. The fans spread the book’s word, most notably on Tumblr where the Journey into Mystery tags were ablaze with the rarest kind of online chatter: praise, and enthusiasm. But the book wasn’t overtly commercial, nor was it small enough that it could afford not to be. Under those circumstances there’s only so far you can go. If anything about Journey into Mystery was wrong, it was the timing: the current comics market is conservative and unadventurous, unwilling to support smaller books, less tolerant of those that don’t fit in a simple box. A series from a superhero publisher where the lead character didn’t throw a single punch in 30 issues? A hard sell at the best of times, and 2012 was far from those.

But let’s not forget that despite its all-too-premature conclusion, Journey into Mystery was still great. Deep, funny, surprising and sad. It had points to make and ideas to explore. It resolved a story by printing a board game. It did an issue starring (effectively) the devil. It snuck what was essentially a three-issue Phonogram arc into the Marvel Universe. It made friends, then killed them. But most of all, it was a comic you wanted to read, starring characters you wanted to spend time with. Amidst all the praise for the book’s technical quality, remember that telling a story that hangs together is comparatively easy compared to telling a story people enjoy. Journey into Mystery was all that and more, and in the end, what I said at the conclusion of my CBR review of issue #645 still stands today:

It’s tempting to say that we shall not see the likes of it again — but how depressing would it be to actually believe that?

The Annotated Manchester Gods, Part 3

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You’ll have to forgive us for being a little slow to get this final set of notes out. We’ve had a terrible affliction whereby something seems to have got stuck in our eyes all week. Sniff. And our hayfever is just terrible. Yes. That’s definitely it.

Needless to say, you shouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t yet read issue #641 of Journey Into Mystery but might be planning to do so at some point. Even if you have, you probably shouldn’t be reading it – it might reopen all sorts of painful wounds – but what the hell, we’re still publishing it anyway.


Hark to the tale of Loki!
And the girl* he loved so dear
They remained the best of friends**
For years and years and… <sobs>

* handmaiden of a vengeful goddess of death
** although not if anyone’s watching

Part Three (Issue #641)

Page 1, Panel 1
Salisbury Plain, Britain – Wiltshire, to be precise. This is the large plain where Stonehenge is, as you’ll learn on – spoilers! – the following page.

Page 1, Panel 2
“There really is an app for everything.” – Loki seems to be falling victim to a popular misquoting of Apple’s advertising slogan, which is in fact “There’s an app for that”. The poor boy’s excited, we’ll let him off.

(An alternative explanation, of course, is that the Marvel Universe’s popular smartphone brand “Starkphone” does have the advertising slogan “There’s an app for everything”.)

Page 1, Panel 4
“It’s symbolic.” – It sure is, Loki. It sure is.

Okay, so. If you’re reading a comics website and yet somehow inexplicably don’t get this, let’s have a bit of fun explaining it. Loki and Leah are, of course, wearing “V” masks. V is the eponymous hero – well, the eponymous lead character, anyway – of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V For Vendetta, a comic originally published in the UK’s Warrior magazine and later reprinted (and completed) by DC Comics before being collected into a hugely-selling collected edition. It lays a legitimate claim to being one of the best comics of all time – in the opinion of at least one, perhaps both, halves of Alternate Cover it surpasses Moore’s own Watchmen – and tells the story of a morally ambiguous vigilante-cum-terrorist who wages an explosive war on a totalitarian alternate-future regime. Politically, it’s very closely aligned – albeit reaching to a few further extremes – with everything that Loki has chosen to side with in this particular conflict.

The mask, incidentally, is a play on the popular image of Guy Fawkes, a British historical figure from the late sixteenth century who was either – depending on whom you believe – the figurehead of a Catholic plot to destroy the Palace of Westminster (aka the Houses of Parliament) and assassinate the Protestant King James; or a patsy in an elaborate government-led conspiracy designed to whip up anti-Catholic sentiment (and legislation). Either way, the so-called “Gunpowder Plot” failed, and – for reasons nobody’s really sure about – Fawkes became a near-mythological figure as part of the annual November 5th (aka Bonfire Night, aka Guy Fawkes Night) celebrations, in which the narrow escape of the government/monarchy is (supposedly) celebrated. Moore’s choice of the mask – which subsequently became used on effigies during Guy Fawkes Night celebrations – for V was therefore entirely apt, particularly given that at the beginning of the book V actually succeeds in destroying Westminster.

However, its appearance here arguably draws on a secondary source. Following the movie adaptation of V for Vendetta (the relative merits of which will be debated some other time), the Guy Fawkes mask was appropriated by the anarchists/hacktivist collective “Anonymous” as a means of hiding their identity during protests. This was in part inspired by the arresting image (albeit one that pretty much entirely missed the main point of Moore’s work) of the film’s climactic scene, in which the assembled masses of London wear the masks in tribute to V and defiance of their rulers. It’s also turned up for similar reasons being worn by members of the Occupy movement. Both of these groups are anti-establishment, broadly anti-wealth, and largely interested in redistributing power from the rich rulers to the poor ruled. Again, the theme of class is represented.

And in one final, beautiful piece of irony, because DC and Warner Bros own V For Vendetta, and produce the replica masks, they make a substantial amount of money from all this anarchy-inspired protesting.

Page 2
“Symbolism is important.” – Kieron Gillen, there.

Stonehenge – Discussed last issue, and the issue before that. Before Stonehenge, incidentally, there was Woodhenge and Strawhenge, but a big bad wolf came and blew them down.

Page 3
The Long Man of Wilmington – A giant (two hundred-plus feet tall) chalk figure on Windover Hill in East Sussex. Supposed by most to date from around the sixteenth or seventeenth century, although others believe it dates to pre-historic times and is the work of Celtic Druids. As if there hadn’t been enough Sandman links in JiM already, the Long Man made an appearance in the famous “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” issue – where, as opposed to the scythe and rake (or pair of staffs) that the man is generally accepted to be holding, the figure was the keeper of a doorway between Faerie and the “real” world.

“I have become death! The destroyer of Otherworld! I am the lightbringer!” – The first two parts of Loki’s exclamation are a paraphrasing of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s reputed words upon the testing of the first atomic bomb (although this is generally considered to be apocryphal – in fact, Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan project, only said in later interviews that the words had come to mind during the test). This itself was a misquoted line from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita.

“Light-bringer”, although more commonly “light-bearer”, is one translation of the Latin name “Lucifer”. You know, him with the tail and pitchfork. If Loki weren’t so against “old people’s media”, we’re pretty sure he’d dig John Milton.

Glastonbury Tor – A hill in Somerset which, despite the name, has no connection to the Glastonbury Festival Of Contemporary Performing Arts, Posh Hippies And John Peel Worship. In fact, the Tor has all manner of indelible links to legends of England past – including, most notably, the belief of some that it is the location of the mythical Avalon of Arthurian Legend.

Page 4, Panel 2
“Ahem” – Yeah, we all remember Agent Coulson, you bastard.

Page 5, Panel 1
“Camelot” is, as we all know, the company who administer’s Britain’s national lottery (aka “the Lotto”). We trust that clears up any confusion.

Page 6, Panels 1-4
The first three buildings are locations from or related to Arthurian Legend – Merlin’s (or, in Marvel’s continuity, Merlyn’s) tower, the castle owned by the sorceress (and sometime Avengers villain) Morgana Le Fay, and the home of the Green Knight. The last, the Starlight Citadel, is where Otherworld’s protectors (most frequently Merlyn and Roma) have operated ever since its first appearance in Daredevils #1 (1983).

Page 7, Panel 1
“Iron tracks burst from the ground […] they swept in on their engines.” – It’s hard to tell whether Herne is remembering the battle he’s just fought, or if he’s just watched the Olympic opening ceremony and is describing that. Either way, it’s apparently an idea whose time had come.

Page 9, Panel 3
Kingston Upon Hull, popularly referred to as “Hull”, is a port city in Yorkshire (as Wilson suggests, in the North) and as such, played a major part of the industrial revolution. It has since lost much of its prestige, and famously placed first (by vote) in the book “Crap Towns: the 50 worst places to live in the UK” published in 2003. Its juxtaposition against “hell” here would be considered apt by many Brits.

Page 10, Panel 1
Cheap non-franchised fried chicken outlets are a staple of modern British high-street life. We don’t think there’s one called “Choice Chicken” in Camden, but maybe there is in the Marvel universe. As pretty much the worst type of fast food imaginable, it’s an apt choice for a Prince of Hell to be seen eating.

Maybe he had the Junior Spesh. We hope so, anyway.

Page 10, Panel 2
“A guy who’s usurped a few thrones in his time” – The definition of “hell” in the Marvel universe is almost as confusing as the one in the DC universe, but we think Daimon has ousted the leaders of, and temporarily ruled, at least two of them.

Page 11, Panel 2
The Lady of the Lake – Mentioned last issue. There are actually lots of different Ladies in Arthurian legend, but the one in the Marvel universe is named Niamh Chinn Oir, and takes inspiration from the classical Nimue. In addition to being the keeper of Excalibur, it appears here that she guards the Holy Grail.

Pages 12-14


Page 15
Ikol explains on the next page how the timelines don’t necessarily match up (as they so rarely do with myths) – but it is indeed said in the thirteenth-century Icelandic work Prose Edda that Loki is the father of Hel (who is, of course, the antecedent of Marvel’s Hela).

Page 21
Muspelheim – One of the Nine Worlds of Asgardian cosmology (both classical and Marvel). Inhabited by the sons of Muspell, who are ruled by Surtur – and yes, he’s the big red fire demon taking up the entirety of this page. In Norse mythology, the Ragnarok prophecies state that the destruction of the Bifrost bridge by the sons of Muspell is the signifier of the end of times. The Marvel version is even more specific: in Thor #128, way back in 1966, Odin states that the freeing of Surtur by Loki will be the cause of Ragnarok.


Um. Yeah.


Alternate Cover Team | 31st July, 2012

The Annotated Manchester Gods, Part 2


So, it seems our notes on issue #639 of Journey Into Mystery went down quite well (thank you, Tumblr). Which is nice, because we only really did them to give us the excuse to go on and do issue #640. Which naturally, of course, will mean that these ones will turn out to be shit and no-one will like them, but hey ho.


Loki (teenage reincarnated spirit of dead Asgardian god of mischief now trying to be a bit nicer and stuff) and Leah (teenage handmaiden of Asgardian goddess of death never trying to be nice to anyone, ever) are secretly helping out their British chums in Otherworld, who have been besieged by new-fangled working-class spirits of urbanity. Weary of sitting back and watching people hit other people with heavy things, Loki now contemplates whether there’s a subtler way to win the war…

Part Two (Issue #640)

Page 1, Panel 1:
Camden, London – Located at the bottom end of what’s generally considered North London, Camden Town is an area within the London Borough of Camden. For some people, it’s the centre of the universe. For others, it’s a slightly scummy high street topped off with a noisy traffic junction, an overcrowded tube station and an array of street and covered markets designed to do nothing other than part tourists and silly teenagers with obscene amounts of cash in exchange for horribly-designed slogan t-shirts, “goth” wear and marijuana-based paraphernalia. Both points of view are right and wrong at the same time.

Its use as a location in this story is far from accidental. As an important area in the development of London’s railways (it’s just up the road from King’s Cross) and canal network, as well as being the spawning-ground of a notable cultural scene (in this case, Britpop), the comparisons with Manchester are manifold.

The World’s End is an enormous pub on the main corner junction referred to above (the panel here is drawn from a perspective looking directly out from one of the exits of Camden Town tube station). It’s a very convenient place to meet up with people – because it’s huge and everyone knows where it is – but not necessarily somewhere you’d want to spend any great length of time. Already immortalised in comics in Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s earlier series Phonogram: Rue Britannia, it’s also giving its name to the upcoming third film in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s “Three Flavours Cornetto” film trilogy.

Page 1, Panel 2:
We were going to do a “hilarious” joke about how we didn’t recognise who two of the people sitting around a table on the left-hand side of the panel are – until we realised that actually, lots of readers genuinely won’t recognise them. So, the girl with dark hair and the shaven-headed bespectacled gentlemen are Emily Aster and David Kohl respectively – major characters in Phonogram. We’ve, er, mentioned Phonogram a few times on this site already. We don’t really need to talk about it very much more for the moment.

The guy sitting in between Aster and Kohl is (we think) John Constantine. This would make sense, because Hellblazer was an obvious point of reference not just for that first Phonogram series, but also for Gillen’s take on Daimon Hellstrom, who makes his second Journey into Mystery appearance in this very panel. Given that Manchester Gods is essentially a Phonogram story being told in the Marvel universe, this would appear to be Gillen acknowledging his influences.

Daimon Hellstrom, incidentally, is the Son of Satan. In the Marvel Universe, that’s not quite as simple a title as it sounds. As JiM previously established, there’s one throne in hell that’s reserved for Satan, and the Satan-wannabes who rule the divided Hell (of which Hellstrom is but one) are generally too scared to sit on it because it would invite the others to test their claim. Hellstrom is one of the more morally ambiguous lords of Hell, in that he’s been known to do some good on occasion.

Page 2, Panel 3:
“toe-rag” – A mild British insult. A toe-rag was originally a cloth that tramps wore around their feet instead of socks. It then became synonymous with tramp, and thus used as an insult. Notably for this arc, it’s based, as many British insults are, on denigrating the recipient’s class and wealth.
“tosser” – A bit more pejorative, this is a primarily British insult meaning “a male who masturbates”. Or, to put it more concisely, a male. Synonymous with “wanker” but slightly less rude-sounding.

Page 3, Panel 3:
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, Hogwarts is the school from Harry Potter, the structure of which heavily based on pre-war British Public Schools attended only by the wealthiest tier of British society. Hence, “posh mages”. As some of the oldest establishments in the country, they’re famed for producing vastly more than their fair share of politicians and businessmen (yes, men). Even though they’re what most countries would call “private” school, they’re called “public” in the UK because they were among the first to admit any student, rather than those aligned with a specific church or trade guild – assuming their family could pay the fees, of course. From his disrespectful tone here, we can see that Hellstrom isn’t exactly a fan of the upper classes.

Page 4, Panel 1:
It’s perhaps worth noting that all of the “classic” British touchstones mentioned here relate to authority in some way: monuments to higher powers, fortifications to keep the unwanted in or out, and the home of royalty. This is in stark contrast to places of power that relate to “the other side”, as we’ll come to see.

Stonehenge –

Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell!
Where the banshees live and they do live well!
Stonehenge! Where a man’s a man!
And the children dance to the Pipes of Pan!

Discussed last issue, obviously.

The Tower of London – We’d expect our American readers might know more about this place than our British readers. Anyway, it’s a castle in Tower Hamlets (East-Central London), founded in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest. It’s where they keep the Crown Jewels, and it’s where they used to imprison (and, occasionally execute) the treasonous.

Avebury – Great big prehistoric stone circle in Wiltshire. Hugely significant historically, but not as iconic as its neighbour Stone’enge.

Buck Palace – Daimon is trying to be  cool, here, so he’s left off the “ingham” of “Buckingham Palace”. This is where the Queen lives. You’ve probably seen it.

Hadrian’s Wall – A wall built under the supervision of the Roman Emporer Hadrian to protect the northern border of the Roman Empire in Britain. Contrary to popular belief, it’s entirely within England, and nowhere near the modern Scottish border for most of its length. Even at its closest point, the border is still almost a kilometre away. Used to be a great big bloody thing (it remains the most heavily-fortified border in Britain’s history) but it’s now somewhat smaller…

Page 5
… er, except for in Otherworld, apparently, where  Hadrian’s Wall still stands high and mighty and serves as a fortfication for “the Highlands”.

Is Gillen here making a comment on how the march of industrialised progress has spread throughout England, but has yet to reach our cousins in the North? As the country is most notably responsible for the invention of the television, golf and the deep-fried Mars bar… we’re betting yes.

Page 7
Cragside – remember last week when we said Gillen likes to spoil the fun by doing his own annotations? Well, this page basically tells you everything you could ever want to know about this really quite astonishing country house in Northumberland. Er, except for where it is. It’s in Northumberland.

Page 8, Panel 2
“The other side’s places of power” – Yeah, so this panel is basically the reason we thought to do these annotations in the  first place:

The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol – Magnificent feat of engineering, designed by the incomparable Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Opened in 1864, placing it right at the centre of the thematic history of this particular story.

Some guy with an awesome beard’s grave in Highgate – We’re sure lots of men with awesome beards are buried in North London’s notable Highgate Cemetery, but we’re equally sure that in this case Loki is referring to either famous communist philosopher, Karl Marx or infamous TV funnyman, Jeremy Beadle. Who can say for sure?

The Cavern Club in Liverpool – Not actually the venue the Beatles first played at, but easily the most significant of their early haunts. Found on Mathew Street in Liverpool’s city centre, the club still exists, but is actually now based across the street from the original location (which was demolished/filled in for an underground railway extension). Although it does still host live music gigs, it’s perhaps more notable as a place for tourists to come and have their picture taken with a statue of John Lennon.

Oddly, some greenhouse in Northampton – We’re not sure what’s more staggering, here: that Gillen has snuck a direct reference to Alan Moore into a Marvel comic, or that he’s snuck in a reference to Moore’s taste for, ahem, herbology. What would Stan Lee say?

Page 8, Panel 3
“bally” – We explained the meaning of this one in the last instalment, but because we’ve now established that this is a story that uses class as a significant theme, we should point out that “bally” is the sort of word only used by the upper classes. The fact that Captain Britain is using it draws a clear line of distinction between him and – for example – the kind of person who might call you a tosser.

Page 9, Panel 3
Starkphone – Loki’s favourite toy. To be fair, if we had a smartphone invented by Tony Stark, it would almost certainly be our favourite toy, too.

Page 10
The Haçienda – The narration here explains that the Haç is important, without really going into detail as to why. It was a nightclub, founded and funded by the Factory Records label, and particularly their figureheads Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson. For much of the 1980s, it was notable as a hugely influential live music venue – acts ranging from The Smiths to Madonna played there – but it became “the cathedral of a cultural revolution” when it was almost entirely responsible for the “Madchester” scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s. The fact that it’s now so revered as a cultural touchstone hence makes it entirely appropriate that, having never actually made a penny for its founders, it closed down in 1997 and is now a block of flats.

Page 11, Panels 2-3
“My British guidebook the merchant ensured me is both comprehensive and inexpensive” – We’ve got no idea. Our immediate thought was a Rough Guide, however…

“A Rough Guide” – A line of popular travel guides originally aimed at low-budget backpackers, but now aimed at a more general audience. Although Leah’s clearly not a fan.

Page 12
Stephenson – George, English civil engineer of the 1800s. Didn’t exactly invent steam trains, but for the manner in which he was instrumental in their impact on the world, may as well have done. But you knew that.

Page 13
“I’m Master Wilson” – Right, then. Here’s where things get a little bit odd.

Because you can, if you want to, take “Master Wilson” entirely at face value. It probably helps if you understand the elements of Marxist philosophy that go into him, but aside from that, there’s no harm to the story if you understand him as an entirely new creation, a “contemporary druid” who represents the spirit of the Industrial Revolution and progressive, urban modernity.

But there also just happens to be the fact that he looks like, sounds like, and shares a name with, Anthony H. “Tony” Wilson.

Impresario, TV presenter, journalist, record label boss, club night promoter, band manager… Wilson did all of this, and more. He fell into music by presenting Granada’s showcase series “So It Goes” (yes, it’s a Vonnegut reference), gave the Sex Pistols their first TV appearance, and was hugely responsible for thrusting Joy Division (and, consequently, New Order) into the world. Inconsistency was his very essence: from a working-class background, he took a Cambridge education back to Manchester and stayed there while the rest of the media was looking squarely at London. He was egotistical and self-deprecating in equal measure. At the same time as running the Haçienda by night, he was presenting local news in the North West by day. And his personality and demeanour were far-removed from just about everybody else around him in the music industry – which is why most of them thought of him as, in his own words, “a prat”.

Yet his fervent love for his home town of Manchester was unparalleled (he was nicknamed “Mr Manchester by some, and the flag on Manchester Town Hall was lowered to half mast on the day of his death), and as the two major political beliefs he held were regionalism and socialism, this makes him the perfect figure on which to base a so-called “High Priest of Manchester” and druid of Marxism.

He was played by Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom and Frank Cottrell Boyce’s magnificent film 24 Hour Party People. If you want to know more about him, see it. Even if you don’t, see it anyway.

So, yes. The major figure of a story in a mainstream Marvel superhero comic is a fusion of Tony Wilson and Karl Marx. You couldn’t make it up. Except Kieron Gillen has done. Blimey.

Page 14, Panel 3
“Ah, ‘Pretentious’. A lovely word. A verbal tick of the dull and slovenly, a whip to last those who have ideas above their station. I don’t have much time for people being stuck at their stations.” – Yeah, see, this sounds exactly like the sort of thing Tony Wilson would have said. ‘Pretentious’ is also a label frequently applied to the author, which explains his familiarity with its linguistic function.

Page 16, Panel 2
“They say Britain is fundamentally rural…” And here we find one of the story’s major themes spelled out for us. Rural Vs. Urban. Cities Vs. The Country. The impoverished workers Vs. the wealthy land-owners. Rich Vs. Poor. What is Britain, and who does it belong to? We suspect every character in this storyline has their own interpretation, but Loki’s, in particular, will shift noticeably before the issue’s out…

Page 16, Panel 4
“Manchester was the first city of the future, anywhere.” – You could argue until the cows come home whether Wilson is in any way correct with this statement, but the fact that it’s so contentious is entirely in keeping with his character. After all, there’s a moment in 24 Hour Party People where Coogan-as-Wilson interrupts the narrative – having just told a not-actually-true story of catching his wife in a nightclub toilet with Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks – to (mis)quote John Ford and say “If it’s a choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend.”

(credit to Abigail Brady for that one)

Page 16, Panel 5
“There’s no future in England’s dreaming.” – A line from the Sex Pistols’ 1977 hit “God Save The Queen”, a record released to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebrations (and the subject of a great many conspiracy theories surrounding its placing at #2, rather than #1, in the singles chart of that week). It’s a damning indictment of the United Kingdom’s insistence on clinging on to the Royalist system of hereditary privilege. Hmm.

The “real” Tony Wilson could probably just about claim the Pistols as “friends” – he was one of the few people to claim to have been at their infamous gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976 who actually was there, and as a result (as mentioned above) he booked them for their first ever TV performance.

Oh, and given that the phrase has cropped up, we should mention that Gillen cites John Savage’s history of punk, England’s Dreaming, as a major influence on him and his work. Given that punk was (you guessed it!) as much a class movement as a musical one, it’s probably worth having a look at in the context of this story.

Page 18, Panel 2
“Change is good. I’d thought that some gods would understand.” – Readers will no doubt be aware that the reason Journey into Mystery exists at all is because a god realised that he must change or die, and made his choice.

Page 18, Panel 5 (+ others)
Aristocrats have portraits and fine art on their walls. Wilson has blueprints and engineering diagrams. Makes sense, if only because you could convincingly argue that engineering is as much an art as a science.

Page 20, Panel 5
“We’re on the wrong side.”  – Is Loki (a) genuinely sympathetic to the cause, as someone whose life has been dominated by an authoritarian monarch who gets to do that “because that’s how it works”; (b) successfully swayed by the power of a charismatic orator; (c) being his inherent unfathomable trickster self; or (d) all of the above?

We’ll find out in the concluding chapter, but our money’s on (d)…

Alternate Cover Team | 2nd July, 2012

The Annotated Manchester Gods, Part 1


So there’s this comic called Journey Into Mystery. Written by Kieron Gillen, and illustrated by a rotating roster of artists (but most notably Doug Braithwaite and Rich Elson), it’s actually been going since the 1960s (hence why its issue numbering is in the 600s), but back in 1966 it was renamed The Mighty Thor. Relaunched in 2011 under its original name and numbering, the series now focuses on Thor’s reincarnated brother Loki.

Gillen’s run has been a consistently clever, witty and entertaining series since the word go – but with the beginning of the latest arc, “The Manchester Gods”, it’s started to feel that bit more special. It’s started to feel like there’s a hell of a lot more going on beneath the surface (and, indeed, on the surface) than in the majority of Marvel and DC superhero comics around at the moment – in fact, if anything, it feels like a Vertigo comic would if they were published by Marvel rather than DC. Following some casual discussion of a number of the deliberately-planted references in the latest issue, #640, James and I (Seb) came to the conclusion that here was a comic that could stand to be annotated – for the enlightenment of readers who haven’t quite caught everything, and the general entertainment of those who have. Gillen has, of course, written a comic that stands up to detailed annotation and analysis before – but with Phonogram, he rather spoils the fun by doing it himself in the backmatter before anyone else can get the chance.

Journey Into Mystery, however, doesn’t yet seem to have had that sort of attention. And in the absence of Jess Nevins – who presumably is quite busy with something else at the moment – we thought we’d give it a crack. So this week we’re rolling back to last month’s issue #639, the first chapter of “The Manchester Gods”, because there’s really quite a lot to talk about in that one as well. We’ll then catch up with #640 next week, so that we’ll be nice and well-prepared for part three when that comes out. So, without further babbling nonsense, let’s get mythical (mythical)…

General Notes



The Asgardian God of lies and mischief, reborn as a young boy. Freed from the crimes of his previous incarnation, Loki seeks to follow a new path in life. His reputation, however, frequently precedes him.


Hela’s Handmaiden and Loki’s BFF, although just to be clear, she doesn’t like him all that much and anyone who says otherwise is lying. The coolest person in Asgard.

Loki and Leah, working (secretly) under the orders of the ruling All-Mothers of Asgardia, have done much good in the world. They helped foil the Serpent. Defeated Nightmare (sort of). Freed the Disir from their curse. And re-homed a whole bunch of puppies! Unfortunately, along the way they managed to release Surtur, piss off Mephisto, and get on Daimon Hellstrom’s bad side (if, indeed, the son of Satan can have a side which is any badder than the other). So it’s not all good.

Part One (Issue #639)

Page 1, Panel 1:
“It rose in the North. A God called Manchester.” – If you somehow didn’t know, Manchester is a city in the North West of England. As its history and significance are going to prove quite important to this story, the Liverpool-born half of Alternate Cover will refrain from passing comment on it at this point.

Page 1, Panel 2:
“No-one knew whence it came.” – “Whence” is a somewhat archaic word, meaning “from where”. We mention it here, because it’s quite frequently misused as part of the phrase “from whence” (which therefore translates as “from from where”). We like that Gillen got it right, here. This makes us imagine that he’s not the sort of man to say “PIN number”, either.

The Red Lord, aka Bodb Derg (yeah, we know) is a mythical creature – a demon dedicated to chaos and destruction. He (it?) was introduced in Marvel’s Knights of Pendragon #17 (1991), by Dan Abnett, John Tomlinson and Gary Erskine, and is the opposite number of the Green Knight (himself a reference, we presume, to Sir Gawain and the).

Page 2, Panel 1:
“The Otherworld was the subconscious of the British Isles, the home of all magic.”
Well, that sums it up, really. In Marvel’s long established “mystical British stuff”, the Otherworld (aka Avalon) is basically the parallel Britain where all the magic happens. It’s where Arthur, Merlin and everyone (and, by association, the source of Captain Britain’s powers) come from.

This is, incidentally, why the “Manchester” you see here is a “God”, rather than a grim and extremely rainy conurbation full of people with an inflated sense of self-importance. It’s parallel, innit.

Page 2, Panel 3:
The Trolls – Real ones, not people being rude about celebrities on Twitter.

Page 2, Panel 4:
Engels – This one’s a new one on us – and it seems on everyone, as they appear to be a new creation of Gillen’s. Winged creatures that spawn from Manchester, it seems. Maybe called “Engels” ‘cos they’re like Angels, but from England? Your guess is as good as ours. We don’t think it’s because they’re responsible for a swathe of early 1990s US teen sitcoms, anyway.

EDIT: Or, you know, this guy. Whatever. Technically, making the link with Engels-the-person should only really become obvious upon having read part two, though, which technically we shouldn’t pay attention to just yet.

Page 3, Panel 1:
“It is a God called Birmingham, the first child of Manchester.” – A child that’s outgrown its parent, you might say. Birmingham, the second-most populous British city after London, is located approximately in the middle of England. It’s the sort of place that everybody should get the chance to pass through without stopping on their way to somewhere else.

Page 3, Panel 2:
“Manchester sired a spawn that headed west. Another marched to the northeast…” – Liverpool and Newcastle respectively. Really, if you’re a non-Brit reader struggling with the geography of all this, you’ll want to get yourself on Google Maps.

Page 3, Panel 3:
“The Speaker for the Silent Ones” is new. But we’ll learn plenty more about him next issue, so let’s leave him with his air of mystery for now.

Page 3, Panel 4:
“Gods should rule us no more. We rule our gods. We live in them. Your time of power is over.” – And we’ve got a theme. It might be around this point that, having read the quite superb gently-Sandman-nudging previous arc “The Terrorism Myth”, you might be wondering whether Gillen is also familiar with American Gods.

Page 4, Panel 2:
Caber (as in “tossing the“?) is essentially the Marvel Universe’s personification of Celticness. First appeared in Thor #398, by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz.

Page 9, Panel 1:
The caption “Heathrow, London” is a slight misnomer, as there isn’t actually a place called Heathrow any more. The hamlet was demolished in 1944 to make way for the building of London Heathrow Airport – the airport Loki and Leah are arriving at, if you hadn’t figured it out – but the airport itself is technically considered to be in the area now known as Hillingdon.

God, we’re pedantic.

Page 9, Panel 2:
The names being held by various greeters at Heathrow – er, not counting Loki’s, obviously – might seem random, but upon closer inspection they appear to be in-jokes planted by Birmingham-born artist Rich Elson. Because they’re all the names of former Birmingham City footballers from the 1970s: Bob Hatton, Bob Latchford, Paul Cooper, Trevor Francis and Roger Hynd.

Page 9, Panel 3:
Herne the Hunter is a character of English mythology who is closely associated with Windsor Forest. The first reference to Herne was committed to paper by William Shakespeare (in The Merry Wives of Windsor) although that hardly makes him unique. There’s a fairly good chance he existed prior to that, since Shakespeare frequently appropriated existing stories to use in his work. The Marvel version of the character hasn’t appeared before, although the Pendragon spirit which possessed Peter Hunter (aka Albion) in Knights of Pendragon #8 was said to have previously belonged to both Herne the Hunter and Merlin, so he has been kicking around for some time.

It’s also worth noting that “The Great War” (as Herne describes events in Otherworld) was what people called World War I when they hadn’t considered that there might be a second of similar scale just around the corner, the crazy optimists. And that’s “great” meaning “large” or “immense” (it’s used here in the perjorative sense).

Page 9, Panel 4:
“I must be properly prepared” – Kieron Gillen has a growing army of young women the world over who show their dedication to his cause by dressing up as Teen Loki. He is giving them tasks to fulfil by issuing hidden instructions in the pages of Journey Into Mystery. We’re on to you, Gillen.

Page 10, Panel 1:
“Do you know the Queen?” – At some point between now and 1066, every country outside the Commonwealth got together and agreed to make sure that all English tourists were asked this question at least once per visit. The answer is usually no.

Page 10, Panel 2:
“He is a genius of little brain.” – Leah references A.A. Milne’s popular ursoid pictograph, Winnie-the-Pooh, famously “a bear of very little brain”. Pooh Bear was said to reside in Hundred Acre Wood, a fictional location based on Ashdown Forest in the southern English county of East Sussex. This continues the theme of forest folklore established for this arc. Also, he’s currently licensed to Disney, who own Marvel. Coincidence? Or the first signs of Disney’s creeping editorial intervention? You be the judge.

Page 11, Panel 3:
The “beef-eating men” Loki refers to are Beefeaters, or to use their full title, The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary. No-one knows quite where the name “Beefeaters” originated, but you’ve got to admit it’s much easier to remember than the alternative.

Page 11, Panel 5:
This panel appears to depict the M25 motorway, which is consistent with the route from Heathrow Airport to Stonehenge (M4 West, M25 South, M3 West, A303 West). It’s around 90 miles, or 140 kilometres. Getting a cab to take you that far out outside the M25 would require the full negotiating skills of an Asgardian trickster god. Listening to Heart FM for that long, however, would require stamina beyond any mortal or immortal endurance.

The M25 was famously immortalised in Chris Rea’s popular soft-rock MOR ballad, “Road to Hell“. Apt, no?

Page 12, Panel 1:
For reference, the fare for this journey, according to, would be £222. And that probably assumes he can find someone to pay for the return journey.

Page 12, Panel 2:
“This place” is Stonehenge, a famous British monument permanently erected in Wiltshire in 1984 as a tribute to the mockumentary masterpiece This is Spinal Tap. You can’t actually get this close to the stones without special dispensation because there’s a bloody great rope-fence forming a 30-yard perimeter around the monument. To be fair, you could simply step over it, but luckily it’s located in Britain where everyone’s too polite to actually do that.

Page 13, Panel 4:
Captain Britain, an aristocrat named Brian Braddock given powers by Merlyn, exists variously in Marvel’s superhero and magical worlds depending on who’s writing the story at any given moment and what their agenda is. More recently seen in Paul Cornell’s excellent Captain Britain and MI13 and making appearances in Secret Avengers, Cap was created by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe and was rare in that his first appearances were (appropriately-enough) in UK-only comics – back in the glorious days when Marvel considered that such a thing was a worthwhile venture. He eventually appeared in US comics by virtue of a team-up appearance with Spider-Man, but saw his best use in Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ stories of the early 1980s. In his appearance here he’s reverted to the costume seen there, despite having been given a natty redesign in MI13. The fact that he’s from an aristocratic background is, as we’ll come to see, somewhat relevant to this particular story.

“Bally” is an exclamation, a softer synonym for “bloody” (itself a softer synonym for “fucking”). Like the other two words, it is an expletive attributive, meaning that it can either be used as an intensifier (“bally good show, old boy”) or to express (a usually negative) strength of feeling about someone or something (as here, as Cap declares “Bally Loki”).

Page 14, Panel 3:
“Yes. Several.” – Well, his wife, for one thing. In the absence of the (temporarily) deceased King Arthur, Brian served as ruler of Otherworld for a while.

Page 14, Panel 5:
We refuse to believe that the inclusion of the words “common people” in a comic written by Kieron Gillen is in any way accidental.

Page 15:
“Behold, Camelot! None of the obvious jokes, please.” – If you need Monty Python and the Holy Grail explaining, then you don’t deserve to have it explained to you, as Loki discovers. Kids today, eh?

Page 17, Panel 4:
The Holy Grail, according to Arthurian (and later, popular) legend, is a vessel used by Jesus at the Last Supper (either to drink from or pour from, depending on your particular flavour of myth.) Sent to Britain for safe-keeping by Joseph of Arimathea, it is said to have healing properties. But then again, so is homeopathic medicine. The Marvel version (or something believed to be it) was previously kept in London’s Museum of National History until it was taken to Glastonbury by the vampire Baroness Blood, used to give her immunity to vampiric weaknesses, then crushed. (in Union Jack Vol. 1 #3) Presumably, someone was able to recover the remains and take them to Otherworld so that it could be protected by something less easily negotiated than a velvet rope.

Page 18, Panel 1:
This assemblage contains various characters from Arthurian/celtic legend, many whom were first introduced into the fledgling Marvel Universe in The Black Knight #1, an Atlas comic from 1955. We can speculate, but you can definitely see Merlin (long beard, purple robes), King Arthur (er, in the crown), a (the?) Green Knight (first appearance: Knights of Pendragon #6) and The Lady of the Lake (first appearance: Hulk Comic [UK] Vol.1 #18)

Page 19, Panel 3:
At the bottom of the panel you can see a rout of Green Knights, presumably somehow associated with the original. We’ve got no larger point to make, but the chance to use the collective noun for Knights is a rare one that demands to be taken.

Page 21, Panel 4:
“I suspect there’s a smarter way to win this war than just having everyone take turns hitting each other in the face with hammers.” – Yeah, Loki doesn’t really like hammers.

Page 21, Panel 5:
“Evil me” – Oh, yeah. Ikol (flip the name), the magpie, is what remains of the spirit of the deceased, significantly more malevolent incarnation of Loki. Just go with it.

Next Time!

Camden! Trains! Devious plotting! And, er… Tony Wilson?

Alternate Cover Team | 25th June, 2012