What 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?