Review: JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #646

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #646
Written by Kathryn Immonen
Art by Valerio Schiti
Release Date: November 21, 2012

Marvel’s soon-to-be highest numbered book (as the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man #700 is the last of that series) gets a brand new protagonist as the Lady Sif takes over from the Kid Loki. Asgard is in flames and only Sif appears to be able to hold the line, and just barely. If she’s to do better, Sif will need to discover more power, more strength than she has had to date.

I debated reviewing this title for a number of reasons. While marketed as a great jumping-on point with a new female character in the lead, that promotion couldn’t be further from the truth. I read this issue three times over the course of two days and still can’t tell you exactly what it all meant. The most I got out of it is the contents of the preceding paragraph — not very spoilery at all. To be fair, I am not well-versed in Asgardian lore, whether in comic book form or in traditional mythology — the extent of my knowledge comes from Thor’s appearances in the Avengers comic book and the events of his own film. And this issue did nothing to change that scenario, with characters appearing, including Sif herself, with little introduction or background, and no leading explanation as to how Asgard reached its current state. I found myself asking if Asgard was still located on Earth, as it was in the Siege event, and came up empty. My presumption is that everything would be clear to a longtime reader of Journey Into Mystery, but as the point of Marvel NOW is to capture new readers, I have to feel this book has failed in that attempt.

Immonen infuses some bright spots of character interaction early on in the story, contrasting Sif’s attitude about being a warrior with that of the little sister to the boy she saved from the library fire. I immediately got the vibe from Immonen’s handling of Sif’s dialogue and slight emotional distance that this woman is to be Marvel’s answer to Wonder Woman, in the very best ways possible. Sif is kind but firm, a warrior who still knows love and honor. Unfortunately, once Sif ventures out from the early scenes at the hearth and into the dead lands, I lose that feeling completely. I can’t tell if her initial foe, the Devourer of the Fallen, is meant to be a serious threat, a joke, or something else entirely. And the appearance of the Teacher comes with so little explanation that I left the issue completely confused and not knowing whether it was worth coming back to find out more. I personally have trouble with the particular stylistic dialogue that always seems to accompany Thor appearances, so I cannot lay that at the writer’s feet. That said, I don’t have a lot of faith that, even surpassing that hurdle, I would have understood what was going on.

The bright spot of the issue, however, is Valerio Schiti’s art — clean, beautiful line and layout that spotlights Sif’s strength and beauty without any hesitation or exploitation. Sif is neither brutish nor lithe under Schiti’s hand, and the monsters she encounters are both fantastic and somewhat endearing. His handling of facial expressions are top notch, making this book a beautiful visual journey, even if I can’t quite tell where it’s going.

Early on, I was critical of Marvel NOW not renumbering some of its female-centered title launches to benefit from the massive sales opportunity the program could provide. Now, I’m fairly certain that was a wise choice. This is definitely not a jumping-on point for the uninitiated. A new #1 would have been much more misleading than the marketing already was for this title.

Verdict: 5.0/10

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