It was an apocryphal tale, one that Tom DeFalco has denied. But at the time it was rather popular. That the editor-in-chief of Marvel had declared that the schlocky pseudo-horror superhero series Sleepwalker was "Sandman done right". Basically a story about an invader of dreams as an action adventure comic rather than the introspective exposition of mythology, reality and fiction of DC Comics and Neil Gaiman's Sandman that created a comic book legend. Because, as we all know, Sandman is Sandman done right. But can there be any other challengers?
It seems inherent at Marvel, creating crass, brassy, bold superhero action while DC were able to create more literary affairs that found a new audience, new appeal and new credibility for both the company and for the medium.
But that was then.
Marvel have already acclaimed Daredevil as their best new series of 2011, but as much as I enjoy Daredevil (and last week's snow-driven issue with a costumed Daredevil only in his own mind, inspiring a group of children much lacking in that, was a real belter), Journey Into Mystery is better.
Cards on the table, I know Kieron Gillen, spent many a night with drinks in hand talking music, games, comics, politics and whatnot. Indeed, as you read this, I may be in the pub with him, and a few other comic luminaries. So I may be biased. But you know, I didn't particularly like his S.W.O.R.D. series, and am much less than enamoured by his Uncanny X-Men than, say, Wolverine And The X-Men.
But Journey Into Mystery (or "Jim" and he insists on calling it) is something else. It's the best Marvel comic I've read since Unstable Molecules nine years ago.
JIM is the tale of a rejuvenated Loki, a boy god of mischief, making his way in the world, and in Valhalla. It does so with a jarring mix of fantasy through poetic prose and the complexities of modern living. To some degree it's the bit of the Thor movie that should have been much bigber, that clash between the mortal and the immortal, but it has a protagonist who is far smarter in many ways, full of hubris and high self opinion, and hampered both by the authority of his supernatural forebars, the inhibiting mortal world and his own juvenile form.
And, just like Sandman, it can twist and turn to tell very different tales. Indeed, it is all about the story, and why tales matter. The last issue saw Loki on a quest to find homes for seven hell dogs, and did so across both the Marvel Universe and aspects of our own world that we find very familiar, if given a new twist by the use of language. For this is a quest after all. Its jokes are more obvious though with purple prose that is both touching yet repeatedly refuses to take itself seriously.
It was possibly my favourite comic read over the Christmas period, and it even had that slightly scratchy artwork that gathers pools of black familiar to Sandman readers. Oh, and a speaking raven of course.
When the Sandman entered the mortal world, he would also find himself coming up against details of reality that were unfamiliar to him. While the rest of the Endless bounced off reality, he would seem to sit there, sullen, not allowing himself to be changed by it, seemingly above it all. Not in Loki's case. A god he may be, but he is also a boy, and suddenly the respect he once knew is denied him. So he tries to debate, trick, manipulate reality. Just, sometimes, reality refuses to budge.
But naturally, it's not just about Loki. There are other players here who take the limelight through the book. And while Kieron may be doing a little channelling of Neil Gaiman via Charlie Brooker, he came to mainstream comics through Warren Ellis, which means we its only natural that Kieron writes in the character that introduced Warren to Marvel Comics as well, Damian Hellstrom. And the humour takes a back seat as the horror steps in.
Which is a bit what like Sandman would do all the time as well. Whether it's shaggy dog stories, tales told in bars, and myths from the ends of time, Journey Into Mystery, the best comic Marvel is currently publishing. And it's about a boy and his dog.
It only started in June, the back issues are readily available at cover price or less, and there will be a collection along any day now. Do yourself a favour and jump in. There's a new issue out today and its the start of a new arc. The one from a couple of weeks ago stands on its on.
Sorry, what are you waiting for?
Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics of London – whose tenth anniversary new website will be going live any day now.