In the Marvel Universe, the struggle betwen good and evil takes many forms. Heroes like the Avengers and the X-Men combat villainy out on the streets and in view of the public, while groups like Steve Rogers' "Secret Avengers" wage top covert wars against enemies the public can't know about. And not all of these secret struggles against evil are black and white. Sometimes, to stop evil you need to get your hands dirty; case in point, X-Men members Archangel and Wolverine recently assembled a new branch of the clandestine group "X-Force" to assassinate the villains the felt were too evil to let live.
If the mortals of the Marvel Universe regularly engage in such activities, it's only natural to wonder whether the gods would, as well. This April, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Doug Braithwaite provide an answer to that question when they relaunch the classic Marvel series "Journey Into Mystery" with issue #622, picking up the numbering where the original left off. CBR News spoke with Gillen about the project, which ties into the summer event "Fear Itself" and finds the Asgardian god Loki fielding top-secret teams of mythological operatives to protect his people.
Gillen is no stranger to the world of Loki and the Asgardians. Last year the writer had an acclaimed 11-issue run on "Thor" and penned the one-shot "Siege: Loki," as well as an issue of "New Mutants" that tied into the "Siege" crossover.
"After I was finished I sat down and realized I learned a lot about all the characters, from Thor to Loki, and everyone else along the way. My grasp of the characters was much stronger by the end. I remember our earlier interviews about Loki and I think my understanding of Loki was nowhere near as clear as I have him now. It was a fair reading, but simplistic compared to the model that now squats inside my head. So I thought if I had the chance I'd love to go back and tackle these guys again," Gillen told CBR News. "Then my editor Ralph Macchio said to me, 'We're thinking about doing "Journey Into Mystery" again. Would you be interested in writing it when it comes around?' I said, 'Sure. That sounds really interesting.' I had all this stuff I learned from my run on 'Thor' and I wanted the chance to put all my knowledge and theories into action. So this felt very natural to me. Also I had a real affinity for all of the 'Thor' characters.
"I have had this love-hate relationship with the fantasy genre ever since I was a teenager. When I looked at that year in 'Thor' I was like, 'Actually you are a heroic fantasy writer aren't you?' Not that I'd define myself in solely one way but between 'Phonogram,' 'Thor,' and a few other things I've done it's clear that fantasy is one of my strengths and is pretty damn central to my imagination or even how I process the world," Gillen continued. "So 'Journey Into Mystery' is kind of me embracing that. I'm doing this and I've got a grand plan. I know how it ends. If all goes well it will really be quite something when it all comes together."
In "Thor" the title character is known for action packed adventures that usually involve a very direct approach. Since "Journey Into Mystery" involves Loki and other mythological characters, it's very much part of Thor's universe and the stories will still be action oriented, but there will be more sneakiness and subterfuge involved.
"We've seen quite a lot of black ops books, but the idea of doing a black ops book with a mythological bent struck me as really quite appealing. I'm coming up with stuff in the vein of 'The Fine Print,' my final arc of 'Thor' and the 'Siege: Loki' special. That's where some of the core ideas are. And we're not just looking at the Asgardian part of the Marvel Universe. We've got all these magical beings and pantheons of gods existing in one universe. So what's the political structure surrounding that? How do these different people get along?" Gillen said. "Mostly it's a strained peace, but occasionally it's not. 'I, Claudius' is one of my big influences. Another is 'In the Thick of It,' which was a brilliant British political TV show that set up the movie 'In the Loop'. Obviously we're nowhere near as sweary as that. That gives you and idea, though, and I think that structure and those ideas make these mythological figures more real in that way.
"At the core of the book, though, are the actual operations. Loki sets up these teams and arranges for people to do the work," Gillen said. "Then they go out and do it. Of course it's all secret because no one trusts Loki. So he has to get leverage on people and use it, and he has to do all of this without everything coming crashing down."
In the final issue of last year's event series "Siege," Loki was slain trying to protect Asgard from the villainous and all-powerful superbeing known as the Void. In "The World Eaters," the current arc of writer Matt Fraction's "Thor" series, the title character was able to resurrect Loki, but when Thor brought his brother back it was as a small boy not his previous adult self.
"What Matt was doing and what I picked up on was, if you look at his mythological roots Loki isn't just the god of destruction and evil and all the things we've really seen in his many comic appearances. There were many times, especially when he was younger, when he was basically Loki the Trickster. That's the Loki we're playing with here. That's where we start. Issue #1 is kind of all about why did Loki die in 'Siege?' That's kind of the fundamental part. The young Loki discovers what the old one did," Gillen explained "The title of this series is just apt, because 'Journey Into Mystery' is a lot of what's really happening here. When we see something we're meant to go, 'Hmm, I wonder what that means?' Of course, building up mystery is one thing - unveiling the truth is the other, and making the leap of faith that the resolution will be worthwhile is a big one. So in the first issue, I want to show the sort of resolution which we'll be building towards with our mysteries. We take what I think is one of the bigger mysteries in the Marvel Universe of the last five years. Then I want to show how we resolve then and how that affects what happens now. In short: young Loki discovers what old Loki was actually up to."
Thor may not be the main protagonist of "Journey Into Mystery", but Loki's relationship with his brother will be an important part of the series. "Thor is enormously important to Loki for the sole reason that if Thor was not there Loki would not be alive. Thor brought him back and everyone else in Asgard hates him. Even the Warriors Three are conflicted over him. If Thor hadn't declared, 'If you touch Loki you answer to me,' Loki would be strung up by now," Gillen said. "In the first issue, Asgard is still in ruins so he's living at the top of a tower, which is almost impossible for someone who's not as small as he is to get to the top of. He's deliberately hiding from everyone in Asgard. He has to be very careful about where he is. There's a scene in the first issue where it looks like some Asgardians are bullying him severely until Thor shows up.
"So Loki really believes in his brother. On the other hand, he's not an idiot. He's aware of what he's done in his previous life and that people's hate is for a good reason. He's aware that he caused all sorts of trouble and he's aware that if he does go that way it'll mean something terrible," Gillen continued. "And Thor of course worries about Loki. He brought him back. He once meant the world to Thor and Thor doesn't want him to go the way he did before. So Thor loves Loki, but he's also keeping an eye on him."
Gillen feels that the distrust surrounding Loki makes him a hero in the same vein as Spider-Man or the X-Men. "He's a trickster figure but he's your traditional Marvel hero with a public relations problem because fundamentally everybody hates him, but he's still got to do what he has to do anyway," the writer said. "So that underdog set up is really compelling because you know Loki isn't the Loki he was in personality or power. The old Loki was a reality manipulating powerful magician and this Loki isn't. And of course that's one of the things we very much deal with in the first issue as well."
The first issue of "Journey Into Mystery" will also involve Loki uncovering some revelations about the happenings in Marvel's summer event series "Fear Itself." "I believe 'Journey Into Mystery' comes out the week after 'Fear Itself' and it ends at sort of the same point the first issue of that ends. So what happens in that establishes the mission of 'Journey Into Mystery' as such. Whenever one of my books ties into another I try to make them both feed the larger whole, but work as a singular statement," Gillen said. " For instance if you read my 'New Mutants' issue it works on its own as a story about Dani Moonstar's relationship to the dead of Asgard. If you read that and my 'Siege' tie-in issues of 'Thor' you learned more about the tragic arc of the Asgardian War God Tyr. Also if you read 'Siege: Loki' you know the origins of the things Dani was protecting the dead Asgardians from. All these stories are complimentary but not necessary. That's kind of how I write crossovers and that's what I'm trying to do here as well. So we've got this darker menace and this important mission against the backdrop of 'Fear Itself.'"
Loki's discoveries about "Fear Itself" are what motivates him to assemble his first secret team. "This initial arc is about what Loki needs to do for anyone else to have a chance of pulling anything off. This is secret, dark stuff, and when I say dark stuff I mean 'in the shadows,' not necessarily evil. So it will be interesting to see the team he starts putting together in issue #2. Because it's like who the hell is going to trust Loki? So Loki's got to find odd people - or at least, leverage on the more upright characters," Gillen explained. "With the exception of Loki the book will have an open cast. Anyone from the mythological or abstracts corner of the Marvel U, especially if they're Asgardian, could be in the book."
Gillen plans to recruit Tyr and many of the other Asgardians he worked with during his "Thor" run for Loki's secret teams. He would also love to bring in many of the characters from "Incredible Hercules" and the current "Chaos War" miniseries. "In the long term, I want to look at the entire mystical, magical, and cosmic canvas at Marvel. That's what generates the missions. All these ideas rub against each other," Gillen revealed. "At the same time though, what we're mainly interested in is how all these different mythologies rub up against the Norse mythology, which is what makes it a Thor book by definition. The show 'The West Wing' was primarily about America, but there was all this stuff about America's foreign policy and how it rubs against the other stuff. That's sort of how 'Journey Into Mystery' works."
The types of missions Loki sends his team on and the degree of moral clarity involved in those missions will vary from story to story. "It's worth noting that Loki is the main character, but this title is sort of like 'Sandman.' In 'Sandman' the title character impacted all the stories, but he wasn't in all the stories. It's also similar in terms of the size and scope I'm writing about. This is about a lot of mythology. Like I said, anybody could turn up," Gillen remarked. "So that means the actual tone can depend on who the story is focused upon. So obviously if Mephisto is involved in a mission of his own bouncing off something Loki did awhile back that's actually going to be as dark as anything I can imagine. Generally speaking, a mission's actual level of darkness will be a mystery. It can look darker or better than it actually is. Especially if you've got some of the darker characters. That creates a level of friction. And those characters might do something that Tyr or Thor would never do.
"'It's called 'Journey Into Mystery'. So for some of the stories I want people to ask questions like, 'What are these guys actually doing?' I want this to be a book people can really talk about and pick over; where they can go, 'What was that about then?'" Gillen continued. "Loki has to put together these people for these missions, but then what's his relationship with them afterwards? That then influences future missions. And if you've been on this team with Loki, it's not something you talk about, either. So I can almost see in three years' time everyone in Asgard having been on Loki's team. Everybody knows Loki is up to stuff, but no one can talk about it. There's all sorts of reasons why they can't come clean. And that's kind of like a huge mystery. In this title they're both investigating mysteries and creating them. So it's a lot of fun."
Gillen was at a comic convention in Leeds, England, when his former "Thor" collaborator, artist Doug Braithwaite, informed him that they would be working together on "Journey Into Mystery." The writer was very excited by the news.
"I love Doug's work. He has this incredible classical style. It's almost European, in that I imagine 'Journey Into Mystery' is a book that would work well in the oversized French hardback format. There's a real illustrated feel to his work. He doesn't draw cartoon characters. These are people and proper things that existed. It has incredible credibility," Gillen said. "We open on a scene with magpies and he draws the hell out of the magpies and the juxtaposition between this fantastical dialogue and these grounded real things gives the art a sense of authenticity, which I love. Plus he's an incredible draftsman. He rises to the challenge of anything I've written. I write panels and I can't wait to see what Doug does with them."
"Journey Into Mystery" # 622 hits stores in April and Gillen can't wait for readers to see the book. He feels it's a unique series that will delight his long time fans and possibly win him some new ones. "It's quite different from every other Marvel book I'm doing, 'Uncanny' is the big blockbuster, big stage book, and this is both weird and compelling. 'Journey into Mystery' will be a book quite unlike anything anyone else is putting out. So I've got high hopes for it."