by Kieron Gillen (writer), Doug Braithwaite (pencils), Ulises Arreola (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: “Have fun!  Don’t get killed!  I’ll be back soon!”

The Review: It’s one thing for a series to be capable of putting out awesome issues, but it’s another thing entirely for it to be consistent, and now, in it’s third issue, that’s exactly what Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery is proving itself to be.  Nothing that made the first issue so fresh and generally fantastic has been lost and, in fact, most of what I praised the last two issues for can be applied just as aptly to this month’s work.

Once again, the heart and soul of this series is kid Loki, upon whom Gillen anchors the issue with a near unwavering focus.  That’s a good idea given that kid Loki remains an absolutely charming character who also proves to be one of a kind.  Loki’s voice is incredibly unique; writers often are guilty of writing kids unrealistically, making them too smart-mouthed, witty, or otherwise super-capable.  With Kid Loki, Gillen gets the rare opportunity to get away with this and, in fact, profit from it.  Kid Loki has the innocence and excitement of any child protagonist of a fantasy yarn, but he also has the roguish intelligence and humor of the god of mischief.  Indeed, there’s a constant sense that Loki’s gears are constantly turning and that intellectually, everyone else is two steps behind him.  He’s a bloody smart kid and it’s impossible not to love him for it.  He’s also still capable of creating laughs, particular with the chemistry he shares with his grumpy and generally evil Hel-Wolf companion.

Gillen also gets the chance to write Mephisto again, which he did so wonderfully in his run on Thor.  The big red dude is perfectly slimy and devious and seeing he and Loki chat is a real treat, one that I could’ve read for pages upon pages.  It’s fantastic stuff.  Better still is how kid Loki manages to play Mephisto and Hela off one another, using these two mega-powers as, essentially, pawns.  It’s great fun to read.

Volstagg is a pleasant surprise under Gillen’s hand as well.  He’s far from the one-note running joke that he’s often reduced to.  Rather, Gillen is slowly making a truly great, three-dimensional character out of him.  Yes, he’s still funny, but he’s also a well-meaning paternal, or “uncle-like”, figure to Loki.   While he’s two steps behind Loki, like everyone else, he’s a loving guy with a good heart and he’s nowhere near as dumb as he may look, showing a self-awareness of how others perceive him that is really quite nice.  When Loki lies to him, it’s easy to see why Loki would feel guilty; this Volstagg is, above all else, a nice guy who cares more than he’ll admit.

The art remains stellar as always, giving an epic, mythological feel to the precedings.  It’s perfect to the tone of the book, while also giving a dreamy feel that lends itself well to the storybook fantasy style Gillen is striving for.  Everything looks great, it’s a book that visually stands out from the crowd, and I’ve nothing bad to say.

Really, the only negative about this issue overall is that it does benefit from a passing familiarity with Fear Itself and Gillen’s last arc on Thor.  With the storytelling at such a high level, that seems a bit of a shame.

Conclusion: All told, Journey into Mystery is a fantastic book that you really should be reading, particularly if you’re at all partial to fantasy, Thor, or, well, good storytelling in general.  It’s laughs, adventure, and above all else, very strong character-work with stunning artwork to back it all up.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans