"Journey Into Mystery" #645 closes the book on the current chapter of Kid Loki's life, uniting writer Kieron Gillen with the series' most prolific cover artist, Stephanie Hans (on interiors), for a story that serves as both the epilogue to "Everything Burns" and the knot that ties off Gillen's run.
It's a heavy issue that's dense in literary, dramatic and emotional terms as Gillen (and Kid Loki) makes one final victory lap of the "Journey Into Mystery" universe before saying goodbye forever. Fates are sealed, spells are broken and Kid Loki gets to have the final confrontation with Old Loki that we've all been waiting for. Only one of them walks away. And if Loki's ending seems unexpected, wait until you see what Gillen has in store for Leah.
That Stephanie Hans (who has created some of the most definitive images of the title characters on the series' covers) provides the art says all you need to know about how delicate and dramatic every page -- every panel -- needed to be to pull this ending off. Such is the depth and breadth of Hans' storytelling that were you to remove the dialogue and narration, you can imagine the book working almost as well. That's an indicator of good art for any comic, but doubly so in a series that always has so much to say in the text.
Considered as a stand-alone piece, it's fair to say that the casual reader won't get quite as much out of it as someone who's read the entire series. In a way, there's a solid argument made here for the return of editorial footnotes -- so many specific events are referenced that footnotes might mean anyone dipping would be intrigued enough to go back and find the old issues. But then, perhaps that's a counter-intuitive way to think, because "Journey Into Mystery" isn't designed to work best as individual issues, but as a complete, single-volume work. When the final issue casually references the opening narration of a book released 18 months ago, that much is obvious.
Perhaps the best thing you can say about "Journey Into Mystery" #645 is that the revelations within it make the earlier issues worth revisiting. Gillen's work has always been big on theme and interconnectedness, and this is no exception. The finale encapsulates the run as a whole -- ambitious, ambiguous, clever and uncompromising, as challenging as it is entertaining. Sometimes those qualities hurt it, and although sales were never especially healthy it's to Marvel's credit that they helped keep it afloat long enough for a proper ending when the alternative would have surely been easier.
So in the end, not unlike its title character, "Journey Into Mystery" was the little book that could, and did, and suffered for it. Effectively, it was a Vertigo book in the Marvel Universe twenty years too late. It's tempting to say that we shall not see the likes of it again -- but how depressing would it be to actually believe that?