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Brian Michael Bendis. Man. Comic god. Guy who writes comics about monkey sex.

The man writes about half of Marvel’s books right now, many of which are critically acclaimed, including Powers, which recently moved to Marvel comics under the Icon imprint. He has become something of a go-to man for any superhero book that requires some decent writing, either to launch (the Ultimate line) or to reinvigorate (Avengers).

But Bendis is far from perfect in reference to his writing; while I’ve enjoyed his less mainstream work like Torso and Jinx, books like Elektra have left me somewhat cold and annoyed. Powers remains one of my favorite series to read, but I’m unimpressed with much of Bendis’ Ultimate work. For me, he is very much a hit and miss creator.

And while I’ve always been familiar with his work on Alias, I’ve never actually sat down and read the damn thing. Heard all the praise, listened to all the accolades, and yet I have never delved deeply into the character of Jessica Jones (and for all those that did read Alias, that sentence has a double meaning).

Jessica Jones once fought the good fight in spandex with nothing but some unremarkable super powers and pink hair, but left the life one day in favor of working as a self-employed private investigator. Her life has now reverted to chain-smoking while investigating cheating husbands and missing persons, while acting in a self-destructive manner in her social life. Oh, how the somewhat mighty have fallen.

When Jessica is asked to find a client’s missing sister, she ends up catching on video the changing of one fairly prominent Marvel hero from plainclothes to costume, and now the video tape is hanging over her head like the sword Damocles, or any other impressive hanging thing. She becomes embroiled in a conspiracy to smear the good name of superheroes, and has to survive everything from assassination attempts to police investigation, while trying to maintain the semblance of someone who has their life in some type of order.

Bendis has always had a mean touch with dialogue, not to mention character development, and those elements are strongly featured in the story. Jessica Jones is a dysfunctional woman with a multitude of problems who barely holds together the remnants of a normal life. She hates her superheroic side, but at the same time enjoys the edge it gives her. She’s embarrassed by her past, but finds she needs it at times. We get to see a lot of conflict play out in the character, and Bendis never makes it too blatant. Granted, some of the inner dialogue makes Jessia sound like a sad sack some of the time, but her reactions to most situations are understandable; everything from death threats to unruly clients are all reacted to with appropriate measure.

Even Bendis’ bit characters, like the cop that questions Jessica about her involvement in a homicide, are written well. The cop appears friendly, even stupid at first, while his questions get more an more pointed and sharp as the interrogation goes on. It was a subtle touch. Too often these days, with the nineteen or so different incarnations of Law & Order that appear on television, we rarely get to see from the accused’s side of the one way mirror. It was a nice change of pace.

I do question some of Bendis’ logic for his various plot threads, especially his opening story arc, but to discuss it would give away some mysteries about the graphic novel that I have no right to spoil. Suffice it to say, a very major character in the Marvel universe seems to be acting quite out of character in the story.

The artwork by Michael Gaydos is serviceable, but I’m in no way in love with it. The darkness of the coloring and inking really fits the crime drama aspect of the comic, adding a fair amount of sinister atmosphere, and the coloring is quite impressive thanks to Matt Hollingsworth. Each scene seems to have a specific color scheme going, and I was especially impressed with the lighting done in the coffee shop scene in the end of the graphic. Gaydos’s style though, makes me dislike the work, not because of it’s grittiness but because his lines seem indefinite and sometimes the inking goes a little too dark. It’s like they’re using an impressively large ink pen to do face work, so it appears blocky or misshapen. This may be intentional, highlighting the strange underworld the character inhabits, or it might be bad inking.

Either way, Alias is still a good comic, and one that is worth a read. The first trade collects the first nine issues of the series, along with a cover gallery from cover artist David Mack (Kabuki and a few arcs of Daredevil). The whole series is out in trade, having ended last year in favor of the less, um, intense The Pulse, still featuring Jessica Jones but with 100% fewer backdoor deliveries.

Alias (Alias, Book 1)

Robert Sparling

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