Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jessica Jones Before Netflix

Jessica Jones: Alias, Vol. 1 Jessica Jones: Alias, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A hard drinking private eye whose cases become explorations of the dark side of human nature is a character concept that has become a cliché of crime fiction. Ah, but what if the detective is a woman who used to be a superhero? Now you’ve really got my attention.

Jessica Jones used to go by the name of Jewel when she hung around with people like the Avengers, but despite super strength and the ability to fly (Sort of.) she never really felt like one of them and eventually hung up her spandex. But a gal’s gotta eat and booze cost money so she tries to earn a living by getting the dirt on cheating spouses or locating people who don’t want to be found. Despite her best efforts to leave her old life behind she gets a couple of cases that force her to deal with superheroes again when she accidently ends up with evidence of a famous costumed crime fighter's secret identity and looks for a missing Rick Jones who is an old buddy of the Hulk’s.

One of the more interesting aspects of a long running fictional setting like the Marvel universe is that it offers opportunities to explore different parts and ideas of it. We’ve seen superheroes by the dozen in this world, but with Jessica we get answers to interesting questions we haven’t thought to ask. What if everyone with powers isn’t cut out for wearing tights and punching bad guys? How do they deal with that realization? What do they do with their lives after that? How do you turn your back on abilities most people would love to have?

Long time comic readers or people who have watched the Netflix TV series know that there are some dark reasons behind Jessica’s choices, but we aren’t there yet in this volume. Fans of the show might be shocked that there’s no Killgrave here yet since he was the focus of most of the first season, but what we do get is this damaged woman navigating a world that feels completely beyond her while trying to do the right thing as best she can. That makes for a damn fine comic book.

My one complaint is that I’m not sure about the art. It seems muddy and all the people, including Jessica, come across as kind of ugly and distorted. That’s probably a deliberate choice to separate this from the more traditional look where everyone is gorgeous, and I’ve liked this style in other things I’ve read, especially Sean Phillips’ work in books like Criminal. However, there’s something about it that doesn’t set quite right with me. At least not yet.

Fair warning that even though Jessica is a Marvel character this is one of those comics that is not for kids or the easily offended. There's plenty of profanity, sex, and violence. You know, all the things that make life worth living!

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