Comparisons between "Journey into Mystery" and "Sandman" have been drawn since the title's earliest days, the product of a setup combining a rich fantasy landscape, a protagonist struggling with his identity and more guns on mantelpieces than anywhere outside a Chekov convention. In "Journey into Mystery" #635, we see writer Kieron Gillen and artist Richard Elson offer a nod to these comparisons, as Loki clashes with Nightmare, Marvel's very own dream-lord.
However, "Journey into Mystery" is a title that thrives on something "Sandman" rarely bothered with: a sense of humor. It is, after all, a book about the god of mischief. In between Whedonesque teenspeak neologisms and often-hilarious fish-out-of-water references to modern culture, this is a title that could probably survive on the strength of its dialogue alone.
Despite that, it doesn't try to and the plotting is as intricate and well considered as the characters which populate it. When "Journey into Mystery" ends on a cliffhanger, you're left wondering what happens next, rather than spending weeks waiting on the inevitable. Perhaps that's a function of the cast who, in the grand scheme, aren't important enough to be guaranteed a long and licensable life, but just as likely it's the result of Gillen's ability to find the right stakes and invest us in them. This issue follows that same trend: perhaps Loki knows what he's doing, perhaps he's just gambling, but the fact that we don't know any more than his supporting cast makes our concerns genuine.
In comparison to some of the series' previous artists, Elson's work on this issue is good on fundamentals over flair with clear storytelling abilities retaining a sense of reality even in the book's more fantastical moments. Elson's visuals are considered and deliberate and in a book this dense with information, that's precisely what is required.
The only flaw in this issue is the excess of words. Even though the captions add to the overall tone of the book as a document of legend and myth, they do lean towards being excessive. It helps that Gillen's prose is extravagant but not purple -- at least, not unintentionally -- so the captions rarely become skippable in the way vast swathes of text often do in comics, but it's easy to see how readers would bail out of them several pages in.
Still, the story holds up and it's not as if readers haven't been prepared for this approach. "Journey into Mystery" is intellectual without being stilted, and not afraid to be funny where it could be melodramatic. A consistent monthly read and as ever, one worth investigating.