Alias: In Which We Meet Jessica Jones

Happy Jessica Jones Week, e’erybody!

As you all know, Netflix’s Jessica Jones series is coming out this Friday, November 20th and I am HYPED!  In preparation for this, I just finished reading Alias, the comic series that introduced her to the Marvel canon.

Alias was written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Michael Gaydos.  The series was the first to be published under Marvel’s MAX imprint which specializes in mature, R-rated content.  The story is very much in the style of a gritty detective noir, with Jessica Jones as a private investigator with an acerbic tongue and a penchant for cigarettes and alcohol.

The series begins with Jessica taking various cases around New York.  However, we quickly learn that she is quite different from the archetypal gumshoes of yesteryear.  You see, Jessica Jones has superpowers.  She has super-strength, limited invulnerability, and can (sort of) fly.  What’s more, before her stint as a private investigator, she fought as a costumed superhero named Jewel.  This has lead to her rubbing elbows with the Avengers, many of whom appear as supporting characters in the book.

However, the interesting thing about Jessica is that although she has these powers, she doesn’t like to use them.  She not only abandoned the Jewel moniker but will often unashamedly and pointedly claim that that part of her past is over.  Instead, she brings about justice through her work as a private investigator.

As each issue offers glimpses past her harsh exterior, it’s clear that Jessica is a good person who truly wants to help people.  Her stand-off attitude is more of a defense mechanism than anything else.  After several story arcs about the cases that she works on, the series reveals what has made Jessica Jones into the woman she is today.

WARNING: Here be spoilers!

Jessica was actually born Jessica Campbell.  Her parents and younger brother were killed on the way to Disneyland when their car ran into a military vehicle carrying radioactive materials.  The accident left young Jessica in a coma for months, as well as gave her her powers.  She was adopted by the Joneses, and later took up the Jewel persona.

Her heroic career was cut short, however, when she stumbled upon the villainous Killgrave.  Killgrave, aka “The Purple Man,” has the power of mind control.  With it, he can make anyone do whatever he wants.  Killgrave kept Jessica as his slave and plaything for eight months.  All the while, the young woman was lead to believe that she loved him and was forced to do whatever awful things struck his fancy.

Unfortunately, when Jessica was finally able to break free from his control, her still-addled mind led her to attempt fulfilling Killgrave’s final command: to kill Daredevil.  Her mind still weaning itself from his powers, Jessica dazedly attacked Scarlet Witch, leading the Avengers to retaliate in anger.  The Avengers’ attack left Jessica in a coma for several months, from which she recovered with the help of Jean Grey and members of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The traumatizing experience with Killgrave left her emotionally and mentally scarred, so Jessica decided to give up the superhero life and turned down a job offer from S.H.I.E.L.D and the Avengers.

I think that the darker, more mature tone of Alias was essential to properly bring Jessica Jones’ story to life.  The series explores the seedy underbelly of the Marvel universe where dirty politicians try to expose superheroes’ secret identities for leverage in their campaigns, people with powers are killed and treated as less-than-human, and drug-lords use and sell mutant genetic tissue as a way to get high.

Bendis’ verbose dialogue perfectly fits the patter of an old film noir, and Gaydos’ art (and covers by David Mack) provide a great visual style that match the story as it delves into the shadows of Jessica’s world.  I also really liked that in the flashback and dream sequences, the art took a more cartoon-y style (by Mark Bagley) to look more like a standard superhero comic.  The imagery really encapsulated the more fun and carefree attitude that Jessica had before her run-in with Killgrave.

On that note, one of my favorite elements of the book was how Killgrave, The Purple Man, was portrayed.  The character is written in a way that breaks the fourth wall.  Normally, when writers add meta elements to the narrative, it is done tongue-in-cheek as a gag or a nod to the fanbase.  Here, The Purple Man’s insistence that Jessica is in a comic book is downright chilling.  His stares directly through the page, his mockery of Jessica’s ignorance, his teasing insults towards the readers themselves — it all creates a sinister feeling of unease.  I think that in lesser hands the depiction of Killgrave could’ve failed spectacularly.  It could have easily been seen as a gimmick, or just a silly, stupid idea.  But the way that the creative team handled it put me on edge as I turned the pages of the book, unsure of what the villain would do next.

Overall, I really enjoyed Alias.  It was certainly dark, but in a way that didn’t feel gratuitous.  With the death of her family as a child, the horrific life under Killgrave’s control, and the physical trauma of being beaten to near-death by the Avengers, it’s clear that Jessica Jones has been through a lot and suffers from many issues because of it; and this book does a great job of exploring who she is beneath all of that.

Sure, she might have physical super-strength, but Jessica’s real power is the strength she has to keep going.  She may try to escape her pain by keeping others at a distance and drinking lots and lots of whiskey, but she also pushes past her own fears to help others in need.  Because of that, Jessica Jones feels less like a comic-book character, but more like a real person with real problems who does what she can to stop injustice from spreading.  For that reason, I am incredibly excited to see how she translates from page to screen in the new Netflix show.

I’ll be back on the 20th for a Jessica Jones Binge-Watch and Blog-Along.  Until then, let’s re-watch the chill-inducing trailer for the millionth time:

So good.

See you on November 20th, e’erybody.  Get hype!

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