Beta Ray Bill is on the cover of "Journey Into Mystery" #652, but his relative absence in the story isn't a huge loss thanks to the stellar work of writer Kathryn Immonen and artist Valerio Schitti. Don't read too much into that though, because while Beta Ray Bill does make an appearance, albeit late in the issue, he definitely makes his presence known once he arrives. This issue sets up Bill's return to Earth and reunion with the Asgardians, but before it gets there, Immonen delivers a challenge that requires Sif to use her noggin instead of her blade.
In place of the recap page, cover artist Jeff Dekal provides a graceful, stunning splash page that could serve as a poster or cover in its own right. Instead, it is delicately sprinkled with text that tells you everything you need to know before turning the page. Of course, Immonen's story provides much more depth and wonderful characterization. Gaea of the All-Mother takes ill and Sif is tasked with making her well once more, or at the very least halting her malady. That leads to Sif realizing she may be out of her depth and presses the warrior woman into humbly seeking aid. Naturally, that aid comes from Earth and leads to a humorous and humanizing conversation between Jane Foster and Sif, including a line regarding one of the patients at the Broxton Medical Walk-In Clinic.
Valerio Schitti beautifully places that clinic, as well as Sif, Gaea, Idunn, Freyja, Beta Ray Bill, Jane Foster and even Scuttlebutt on the pages of this issue. The artist works so seamlessly with colorist Jordie Bellaire and letterer Clayton Cowles that the pages come together as miniature masterpieces. Schitti breaks out an art nouveau style for the full-page splash wherein Gaea literally falls ill and it is a thing of pure beauty. Every single one of the trio of visual masters plays to their strengths on that page and throughout "Journey Into Mystery" #652. In addition to the wonderful focal drawings in this story, the artists add in subtleties, like the desktop on the monitor at the receptionist's desk at the clinic, Captain America on a poster promoting healthy eating and exercise, Stark Resilient laptops and woodland creatures gathered around Gaea's sickbed.
I've never been the biggest fan of Marvel's take on Thor, but when Beta Ray Bill was introduced, I took notice. Walt Simonson birthed the character whole cloth and Marvel has done well in selectively using him since 1983, so naturally I am interested in seeing what happens with him in further issues. Despite my apathy toward most things Thor, "Journey Into Mystery" is consistently one of Marvel NOW!'s best titles and frequently one of the best reads each week it's released. "Journey Into Mystery" #652 is a brilliant example of why: smart, sassy writing, gorgeous art and surprisingly human characters in situations that are fantastic examples of the types of things that should be in comics.