Of all of the comics to do a Christmas issue, “Journey into Mystery” wouldn’t have been my first guess. Or even my twentieth. The focus on Loki and the Asgardians immediately makes a holiday-themed issue seem unlikely and, yet, here we are with “Journey into Mystery” #632, a Yule issue. And it works wonderfully. Kieron Gillen continues to write this series so well that any situation or context is appropriate and moves the story forward while showing us new things about each of the characters. Joining him this issue are Mitch Breitweiser and Bettie Breitweiser, who they capture the holiday look of the issue perfectly.
Asgardia begins its Yule celebrations with the most obvious of Asgard-related Christmas ideas: Volstagg playing Santa. The obviousness of the idea, of course, does not detract from the amusement it provides. It’s so obvious an idea that, had Gillen not done it, it would have been disappointing. From there, Loki continues to struggle with the hatred of his fellow Asgardians only to be confronted with the problem of Hel-puppies that are his responsibility. It’s a light story that allows for cute little monster puppies that spew fire -- and for Loki to find homes for them. This Yule, everyone gets a Hel-puppy!
The funniest -- and most heart-warming -- sequence of the issue is a two page montage that shows where six of the seven puppies wind up. Each serves a different purpose, going to the likes of Mephisto, the New Mutants, Tyr, and an internet cam used to obtain ‘donations.’ Gillen’s prose is light and charming; it has a very ‘storybook’ tone to it that’s appropriate. That Loki winds up with the worst of the litter is a nice touch. It’s a sweet moment, especially when he names it “Thori.”
The Breitweisers’ art alludes to the art of classic Christmas storybooks. The coloring is based around pale blues and looks like winter, even without snow. Volstagg as Santa is pale with rosy cheeks, and looks like he belongs on a Christmas card. The line art is a mixture of minimalism and intricate detail depending on the character, and it’s an effective approach. Volstagg is quite detailed, while the puppies are all done in as simple a style as possible, which only highlights their adorableness. Without looking ‘childish,’ the art has a very sweet and cute look to it that matches Gillen’s writing.
Christmas issues in superhero comics don’t often work. They’re too sappy (or cheesy) or seem like a fill-in that doesn’t matter; “Journey into Mystery” #632 avoids those problems. There’s heart to this story, but not so much that you want to throw up, and it genuinely feels like the ‘next issue’ of the series, not one where the holiday theme has been forced upon it, derailing it for a month. If Christmas comics were reread every year like TV specials are rerun, this issue may be a candidate for earning a permanent spot in that rotation.