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[Retrospective] Alias #1

Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
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Okay, unpopular opinion time: I don't actually like Alias, and I've never found Jessica Jones to be a particularly compelling character or his adventures particularly interesting. The recent popularity of the Jessica Jones show, based on Brian Michael Bendis' comic, does not change this.

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At the same time, I recognize that Alias is a good series. I can understand why people like it, I just don't share the opinion. The problem is...well, the Jessica Jones backstory. And character arc.

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I'll be straight up, the Purple Man is basically Mr. Date Rape of the Marvel Universe. Well, one of them; the Mandrille does that pheromone thing too. The point is, having the Purple Man take a superheroine that nobody knows or cares about and basically straight rape and humiliate them is pure masturbation fodder for an unhealthy segment of the fanbase. I can totally appreciate that Bendis wasn't trying to be exploitative of the character, and wanted to go into the dark territory that Marvel MAX allowed. I can see the appeal, in going really dark with Jessica Jones background, so that people could see her grow and change and deal with the shit that has happened to her. It's not so much as Jessica Jones being a role model for rape victims, or saying that superheroes can be raped too...

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Is it wrong I didn't use the Invincible image?

...I guess I just never really attached to the character well enough to be invested in it, and I never saw the payoff. Now, I will say, that this doesn't mean Bendis is a bad writer or anything like that - I wrote an essay a while ago examining Alan Moore's use of rape in comics. The thing is, I've never seen Moore use rape without showcasing both the trauma of it, and without a greater story purpose (except for one time when Hyde sodomized the Invisible Man, but I digress). I give Bendis crops for not dismissing the sexual abuse that Jessica Jones suffered...but as for the greater story purpose? it feels almost dark-for-the-sake-of-being-dark. It feels convenient. It doesn't serve a greater story purpose, at least to my mind: there are other ways Jessica Jones could have been victimized, other reasons a minor superhero might hang up their cape. In a way, I think I dislike Jessica Jones for the same reason I like Empowered: ultimately, Jessica Jones in Alias feels like a quitter, or maybe an addict. Someone whose life got smashed, and instead of picking up the pieces they crawl over broken glass for another bottle, chasing one bad decision after another.

And believe it or not, that's a good thing. I might not like that approach, but the noir feel of somebody broken crawling through the grimy underbelly of Marvel's superhero universe was, at the time, rather daring and interesting. I didn't like the character and I didn't particularly like a lot of Bendis writing, but I'll give him props for both a solid concept and execution. I would go so far to say that Bendis did better with Jessica Jones than Garth Ennis did with any of his characters on The Boys, while roughly covering a chunk of the same creative ground.

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Also, I was never fond of the art of Alias. Covers are great, interiors, meh.

Okay, long rant over. So! The first "arc" of the Alias comic, issues 1 through 9, are entitled "Alias." We're introduced to a superpowered, foulmouthed alcoholic private detective on a missing person's case, which turns out to involve the President of the United States and Captain America. Seriously, that makes me shake my head just writing it. It's really silly. I mean, Warren Ellis could make something out of that, Steve Niles could make something out of it, but Bendis...the thing is, he likes noir. You can tell. He wants to write more crime stories like A.K.A. Goldfish, but superheroes are where the money is.

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I also have no idea why this wasn't Jessica Drew, the original Spider-Woman. I know Bendis had originally planned to use her and maybe Marvel editorial vetoed it or something, but it's kind of weird. Because the whole thing where a female superhero loses her powers and becomes a PI is Jessica Drew's thing. I know she shows up in a later Alias arc, it's just really bizarre to me. I'll give Bendis credit, if Jessica Jones did start out as a Jessica Drew expy, like the Charlton characters that became the Watchmen, she sort of became her own character. Sortof. I'm still struggling with a superhero-turned-PI that gets involved with a missing person's case tied to the POTUS. It just sounds like a bad 90s action movie, y'know? Like, if Jessica Jones was a dude, they'd cast Bruce Willis and get Shane Black to do the script. It's ridiculously silly.

That being said, I think issue #1 might be up there with the best thing Bendis has ever written. It gets the character and concept across in a nutshell, which is really what you have to do in the first issue to any series. You have to hook the reader right away, establish the tone, and Bendis does that right off the back with Fuck printed in a Marvel comic book. Page one word one.

Now, it would have been nice if Jessica Jones was established before this. There's a bit of cramming her into continuity by explaining to the NYPD that she hung out with the Avengers, and you can see why Bendis did that: he's trying to establish the character with as few words as possible. Again, it's a backstory that would have worked better for Jessica Drew, but leave that out. At least it doesn't make Jessica Jones into a completely annoying Mary Sue like the Sentry.

The detective bits, I thought, could be a bit more developed. It's a little too pat, a little too Transmetropolitan-esque, even. Run an internet search, do a stakeout. The Punisher would have done a bit more thorough work on the whole thing, cased the joint out three ways from Sunday before hand, made sure he had lines of escape, maybe beat up a guy...okay, I might be nitpicking here. I just think Bendis could have gone into a little more depth about Jones as a PI, emphasize some of the training or constraints. I like her interactions with the NYPD, that feels right for the character.

Artwise...like I said, not a fan of Michael Gaydos. He's very competent, he just doesn't wow me. The best part of his compositions are usually the little details, like an Avengers coffee mug or something. Layout is basic; Bendis doesn't think in terms of layout or pacing like Alan Moore or Warren Ellis or even Jack Kirby or Frank Miller, and Gyados doesn't bring any particular vision to it either.

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This isn't the right issue, but it really is the little details.

I will also say, that as silly as the first story-arc is, I do like the kicker. Missing sister's boyfriend being Captain America is a good note to end on. It surprises people, and like I said, you need to move fairly quick with first issues, because if you don't hook the reader's attention you won't have a second.

The thing is, you have to judge the comic on its own merits, not in context of any of the stuff that came out later. And on its own, Alias #1 is a very solid effort at doing a superhero noir PI. I appreciate that. I don't ultimately like where Bendis took the character, and I still don't have any desire to watch the actual fucking television series, but it's a good first issue. It isn't immaculately illustrated, it isn't going down in history as any sort of classic, but it gets the job done.

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