Alias: Introducing Jessica Jones

Though now popular from the Marvel/Netflix show: Marvel’s Jessica Jones, this Max title by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos in 2001 came out of nowhere. Jessica Jones had never appeared in any comics before, but even by the first page of the first issue of Alias, she had made her mark. The brutally honest, crass, tough girl that smoked, drank, and swore her way through every adventure made a quick and lasting impression on the Marvel community. Her success in this solo line eventually brought her into main continuity with follow-up arcs in The Pulse and eventually New Avengers, as well as the incredible Netflix show, years later.

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Issue #23; Cover Artist: David Mack; Source: Wikipedia.org

This 28-issue run collected an interesting array of arcs, covering various cases that Jessica had been hired to solve. One cool and creative thing about these stories was how Bendis wove them in and out of the larger continuity of Marvel, but without requiring Alias readers to be hugely avid readers of concurrent titles. Jessica is very much at the fringes of the larger Marvel superhero community, but she is still a part of it in her own way. Her cases involve everything from accidentally discovering Captain America’s secret identity, helping a strung out guy claiming to be Rick Jones, finding a runaway in a small town who claimed to be a mutant, rescuing the newest and youngest Spider-Woman, and eventually confronting her deepest and darkest fear, the psychotic super-villain, Purple Man. These arcs ranged from psychological thrillers to crime dramas to even off-beat comedies, but they all felt really genuinely Jessica Jones.

There were two single issues in this run that perfectly encapsulated the beauty of what Bendis and Gaydos accomplished here. In #10, JJ Jameson hired Jessica to track down Spider-Man’s identity. After JJ insulted her and acted like his typical self, we see him reviewing expense receipts she submitted, where she scammed him by doing charity work instead of working the case. The art was great and the whole thing was really funny. In #15, Jessica had two really honest and frank discussions with other superheroes about relationships and how difficult life can be as a powered person. The second one in particular, while on a date with Scott Lang (Ant-Man II) was a great dialogue showing a different side to superhero dating.

The most iconic arc, though, was the final one. It featured the Purple Man and his horribly messed up treatment of Jessica. It also presented the first real explanation of Jessica’s origin in issue #22. This arc is definitely the primary influence for the plot of the Netflix show, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, in its first season. They definitely pulled from the whole series for tone and emotional arcs, but the Purple Man plot is entirely self-contained in the final 6 issues of Bendis and Gaydos’ run.

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A scene from Jessica and Scott Lang’s first date. Artist: Michael Gaydos; Source: Marvel Comics, via sequart.com

Overall, this series is the most honest superhero comic series I have ever read. Bendis and Gaydos brilliantly show the underside of being a superhero in the Marvel universe, the self-doubt and emotional struggles that accompany life as a powered individual. Jessica isn’t a great person, so she doesn’t rise to the challenge and become a hero flawlessly like so many Marvel characters do. But she’s also not a bad person, so she never does anything evil or that takes advantage of non-powered people. She’s somewhere in the middle, like the rest of us. She wants to be good, but it’s hard to be brave and selfless all the time. Sometimes, the biggest obstacle to doing the right thing, the hard thing, is ourselves. That is what Jessica Jones knows and it makes for such a unique and groundbreaking story that it is no surprise Marvel chose this for the Marvel/Netflix team-up. She also confronts some very real, disturbing, and gritty problems like abuse, drugs, alcoholism, and the most graphic sexual encounters I’ve ever seen from Marvel. What is most impressive about Alias is that these topics aren’t just added for shock value. They are built into a real story that genuinely cares about character development and depicting believable reactions to these unbelievable circumstances.

Somewhat along the vein of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Alias is a natural comparison to that seminal work from the mid-1980s. They both seek to break down some of the overly romanticized tropes in superhero comics, and show its readers what kind of flawed individuals can be found behind them. The big difference here is that Alias provides some hope and human decency to ground the story in a truly likable character, even despite her very apparent flaws. Watchmen, on the other hand, is a deconstruction of the genre so complete that its characters flail helplessly against the unrelenting onslaught of reality. Their power is powerless against this pessimistic world view, and most characters are so flawed that they are unlikable. Somehow, despite her many mistakes, her combative personality, and multiple acts of selfishness over the course of the series, Jessica Jones rises beyond her flaws and becomes an instant favorite.

Alias is an incredible read for a mature comic fan, though it is not for the faint of heart. I highly recommend it to adult fans of the superhero genre. It is definitely one of the better comic runs I have ever read. An instant classic.

Rating: 9 of 10

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