Friday, April 26, 2013

Pull List Review: Journey Into Mystery #651

I haven't had this much pure, childlike fun reading a comicbook in ages. Even if you have no interest in following this series, I highly recommend picking up this issue, because Kathryn Immomen uses it to tell, rather than the beginnings of a new Sif story, a self-contained Asgardia story. It pays off handsomely. A relatively low-stakes but nevertheless significant threat turns up in the form of a released Fenris Wolf, and the noble warriors and gods of Asgardia must rein him in while still wearing their pajamas. A lot of excellent characterization and artwork make the humor of this issue incredibly effective, and there's plenty of it, too. Seriously one of the most enjoyable comics I've come across in some time.
     I suspect "Deal with thine pants!" is going to be the most adored and talked-about line, and deservedly so. It got a raucous laugh from me. I also loved Volstagg's snoring noises, and most of all his relationship with daughter Hilde. Essentially, she ignores everything he says while he hears her every word, which is a perfect father-daughter dynamic. It's also the foundation for one of the funniest, simplest throughlines of the issue: Volstagg tells Hilde to go back to bed, but she doesn't. This happens like four or five times, but always with the right amount of brevity and humanity to keep it from growing old. That's not easy to do with a repetitious gag like this, but Immomen has no trouble.
     I also appreciated that Sif, ostensibly still the current star of this title, got to stand out in the ensemble of this issue. She shoots down brusquely the notion that she and Thor are together, stands up to the Fenris Wolf more boldly than anyone, and just generally seems to be the most level-headed member of the group. While the men are eager for the fight, Sif says they shouldn't wreak havoc within Asgardia, and is smart enough to ask where Fenris' magical leash is now. So she owns all of her moments, even if the issue overall is shared.
     The best part about Sif, though, is that she spends the entire time in a nightie (since everyone has their PJ's on) yet artist Pepe Larraz never makes her into a sex object. The outfit covers her completely, and she wears it into battle as comfortably and confidently as if it were armor. Even the panel where part of it is torn is used more for the effect of battle damage than as an excuse to show some skin. That's a rarity in mainstream superhero books, and I was glad to see Larraz take this approach. Sif has never been one much for cleavage or exposed midriffs, and seeing that carried over to her sleepwear is refreshing.
     Larraz does really great work with everyone. A few enormous panels allow Fenris' size to be fully captured. Hati is an adorable and very lifelike young dog, even with the fire breath. And the general tone is one of lightness and constant motion. The story never really takes a breath, and so the art rolls along with it, everyone always moving, even during scenes of conversation. Hilde telling Volstagg about what's going down could easily have been a series of talking heads, but instead it is a highly animated scene of sandwich-making, collar-grabbing, and similar exaggerated action. This perpetual mobility in the images helps maintain the bouncy pace of the narrative, and amplifies the humor as well.
     An unexpected break from the darker and more violent issues that came before, Journey Into Mystery #651 is a deeply impressive and entertaining read. While Immomen has always had a lot of fun on this title, this was the first time she really cut loose and delivered a script that reads like an episode of an Asgardian sitcom. Based on this, I'd watch that show repeatedly, and though I know this isn't going to be the norm for this book moving forward, I hope it takes the time to do this again, even occasionally, in the future. But whether or not that happens, I'll always have this wonderful, highly re-readable issue.

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