All of you know around here that I’ve really enjoyed Kieron Gillen’s take on the adventures of Kid Loki in “Journey Into Mystery,” but have found Matt Fraction’s take on the adventures of his big brother in “The Mighty Thor” to be fairly underwhelming. So when this crossover was announced, I was fully expecting to enjoy it only on the basis that the quality of Gillen’s half would more than compensate for Fraction’s. That didn’t happen. No, the former didn’t outshine the latter, but the overall story feels like a real collaboration between the two as they both knew the story they wanted to tell and were perfectly in sync during the telling. Even though I haven’t read a volume of “The Mighty Thor” since the first one, everything you need to know to enjoy the story is right here on the page. However, if you haven’t been reading “Journey Into Mystery,” then that might be an issue.
That’s because a lot of the story derives from what Gillen has been setting up in his title. While we’re told of the Surtur-sponsored conflict between the Aesir and Vanir in ages past that flares up again here, “Everything Burns” represents nothing so much as the culmination of all of Kid Loki’s antics over the past several volumes. The business with rewriting the Serpent’s history during the “Fear Itself” crossover, Mephisto and the empty throne of Hell, the terror lords perpetual chase after their crown of nightmares, and -- most prominently -- the Manchester Gods and their engines of destruction are all referenced and paid off here. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive for a crossover to hinge so heavily on the lower-selling of the titles involved, but as someone who has been following it since its beginning I’m not going to complain.
The end result is a very satisfying, if familiar, wrap up to that tale. Things kick off with Surtur making his move by offering the means for the Vanir to avenge the age-old wrongs done to them by Odin and the Aesir. The means being an army of the Manchester Gods’ machines fueled by his fire that will burn through all of the Nine Realms. Thor and the rest of the Aesir witness this firsthand when the World Tree starts burning and their own efforts to stop the army’s advance are stymied at every turn. During all this, Loki’s role in releasing Surtur and dealing with the Manchester Gods comes out and puts all of Asgard at his throat once again. It’s now up to him to find a successful resolution to this conflict, but is all of this not of his own design anyway?
Of course it is. He’s still Loki after all. Yet Gillen turns the character’s trademark cunning and deviousness on its head over the course of the story. Though the story is yet another riff on Surtur trying to bring about the end of all things (of which Walt Simonson did the definitive version of back in the 80’s), the plotting is tight enough and the twists so well planned that this issue is forgivable. Fraction and Gillen also work together so well in delivering the narrative that if you had told me that one of them had written the entire thing, I might’ve believed you. They play fast and free with characters from each other’s titles to the point where even though this represents the end of both of their runs, it feels completely logical and natural. Their own styles also prove to be fairly compatible as well when it comes to the dialogue, with the welcome floridness in the captions in Gillen’s issues being the only really noticeable stylistic quirk. Overall, “Everything Burns” represents a truly seamless inter-title crossover and a real example of how these things should be done.
However, the crossover isn’t everything here. “Everything Burns” also collects the final issues of both titles, and also dovetails directly into the one for “Journey Into Mystery” to underscore its significance to the event. Fraction’s wrap-up to “The Mighty Thor” is a fairly dull riff on the fact that Thor is still needed around Asgard and does nothing to convince me that I was wrong in not following this title. As for Gillen’s wrap up, it’s probably the single most bitter thing I’ve read from him at Marvel.
In that issue, “Journey Into Mystery” is referred to as “A Comedy in Thirty Parts (Or a Tragedy in Thirty-One),” and that underscores things perfectly here. Not only does this final issue pick up on certain threads from earlier in Gillen’s run, but it also harkens way back to the very first issue with the flight of the magpies and Kid Loki’s communion with his previous self. There, we find out what has REALLY been going on and Kid Loki winds up with three conversations to account for it all. Taken at face value, it would seem that everything the character has lost everything and accomplished nothing in this title beyond taking the long way around to preserve the status quo.
Let me let you in on a little secret, though. Whenever a writer working on characters owned by Marvel or DC starts having them go on about how they’re doomed to stay the same and not change, they’re really talking about the nature of these comics. Sure, it may be Doc Ock in Spider-Man’s head now and Cyclops may be running his own outlaw group of mutants but this won’t be the case forever. Peter Parker will eventually find his way back in and Cyclops will eventually come back to being the stern authoritarian voice of reason to Wolverine’s tough-as-nails wildman. It’s been said before, but superhero comics are about the illusion of change with everything reverting back to the status quo at some point. Kid Loki’s final conversation with his progenitor? That’s Gillen flipping the bird (so to speak) at the system and having the character he created escape the system and bring the story to an end while keeping Kid Loki in circulation. I have to admit that it’s a really clever trick and it makes look forward to reading about the character’s return under the writer in “Young Avengers” that much more. That said, if you don’t believe me about the commentary bit, then just think think about who Kid Loki is looking at when he says, “Damn you all,” at the very end. Comics readers like you and me are enablers for this kind of system, after all.
After all this, talking about the art feels like an afterthought, but Alan Davis and Carmine Di Giandomenico deserve a lot of credit for making this a good-looking crossover. Davis is in fine form as usual, with his big, bold style being perfectly suited for the adventures of the mythic characters and the epic action in these pages. Di Giandomenico doesn’t go in that direction as his intricately detailed work feels smaller, and more intimate. It’s not at all stylistically consistent with Davis’ work, but you can really appreciate the detail he brings to places like Hel and Surtur’s realm as well as the many conversations between the characters too. Stephanie Hans and Barry Kitson illustrate the final issues for “Journey” and “Thor,” with the former’s fully-painted work underlining the overall quality of the work and the latter doing some very solid superhero-oriented art that is distinguished by the diverse array of monsters and costumes he has to draw.
It may not be a very warm and fuzzy wrap up to the series, but “Everything Burns” provides one that feels right in the context of “Journey Into Mystery.” Gillen’s run is another rare example of a writer setting up a series and getting to end it on its own terms. Granted, it never really sold all that well and I’m sure that only the sheer amount of critical acclaim it received kept it going for as long as it did. Yet, if it had been wildly successful we likely would’ve wound up with a much, much different story than what we got here. A better one? Who can say, except that the one we got is very much worth your time.
(With that, those of you who listened to the last podcast should now know what I’ll be talking about come Wednesday…)