Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Slow Flare Of Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1.

The Good: Psychology of the characters, Generally engaging and complex mysteries
The Bad: The artwork is not particularly stellar, Grammatical/continuity errors, Initially uninteresting protagonist.
The Basics: Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is a slow burn of a graphic novel that encompasses two mysteries for a former super hero to unravel.

I am, admittedly, a neophyte to Jessica Jones. While I am certain there are many fans of the character, who regard all those who discovered Jessica Jones through the Netflix television series (season 1 is reviewed here!) as poseurs, as one who enjoyed the show and is now going back to the books, I'm just happy to have gotten there! The truth is, one has to figure that Marvel Comics is banking on the various television series's it creates to bring people back to the source material. In the case of Jessica Jones, it worked; the first season of the show was more than enough to make me want to go out and track down Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1.

Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is an anthology of Alias issues 1 - 9 and has been reprinted a few times already under a few different (albeit only mildly different) titles. Alias was written with the intent of creating an adult comic book, much the way that NYPD Blue (season 1 reviewed here!) was produced with the intent of being an R-rated television show. Given that one of the most frequent words on the first two pages of Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is "fuck" (or some variation of it), the book gets instant credibility for that. But beyond the language, the political conspiracy case that opens Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is definitely more compelling to an adult audience than the usual comic book fare. Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is essentially two stories in one book: a case that causes Jessica Jones to create a politically toxic video tape and a missing person's case.

Opening with Jessica Jones investigating a belligerent man's wife (who appears to be a mutant) and tossing the man through her door at Alias Investigations when he tries to strangle her, Jones files a police report with two cops who are impressed that she has a past as a super hero. Upset, Jones goes to Luke Cage's bar and then has sex with him just to feel something. Shortly thereafter, Jones is hired by a woman who is looking for her missing sister. After a fight, Miranda completely abandoned her life for a man and her sister is worried about her. Jones quickly finds Miranda, who appears to be shacked up with none other than Steve Rogers! Jones is convinced she was set up, which is reinforced by her client disappearing and Miranda ending up strangled to death shortly thereafter. Returning to her office, Jones is interrogated by Detective Paul Hall, who got an anonymous tip that Jones was at the crime scene, which implicates her in Miranda's murder.

After getting sprung from her police interrogation, Jones turns to Carol Danvers for help, based on their old friendship. From Danvers, Jones learns that the woman who hired her is associated with Keaton For President, a Democratic candidate who is campaigning early against the sitting President because of his ties to super heroes. In tracking down who set her up, she is attacked by a hitman who leads her to the man who is setting up the President.

Jones meets with Danvers again to start to rebuild their relationship. After getting to work on one of her standard cases, Jones is visited at her office by Jane Jones, the wife of the missing Rick Jones. After confirming with her mother that she is not related to Rick Jones, Jessica begins digging into the life of the man who Bruce Banner was trying to rescue when he became The Hulk. But when she finds Rick Jones - who is a musician in Manhattan who has a lot of groupies and a surprisingly regular series of public appearances at a local club - he insists they have met before and that she must be working for the Kree or the Skrull. Rick Jones burned all of his super hero friends with the tell-all book he wrote and now, having an intergalactic bounty on his head, is drifting and trying desperately to survive. Jessica Jones attempts to intervene on his behalf, only to find there are considerable roadblocks - not the least of which are from Rick himself!

The relationship between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is initially unsettling. Cage basically hate fucks Jones and she lets him because she feels dead inside. For those of us coming to the book from Jessica Jones, there is a jarring difference in the relationship and characterization of Luke Cage in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1. Despite how disturbing that is, it adds a realism to the distraught nature of Jessica Jones that is not otherwise captured in the book.

Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 follows a former super hero turned private detective and it is interesting to see the tangents this puts Jessica Jones on with well-known, popular Marvel Comics characters. Seeing Captain America from a distance sets up the volume and there is something inherently triumphant about Matt Murdock coming to Jones's rescue (as a fan of She-Hulk, I kept waiting for Jennifer Walters to make an appearance!) when she is being interrogated.

Brian Michael Bendis does a decent job of using the artwork to establish the relationship between Jones and Carol Danvers before she enters the narrative in the third chapter. The inherent conflict between Danvers and Jones is not made explicit right away - though there are certainly clues to it - but because the shot of Jones as Jewel and Danvers as Captain Marvel together is repeated through the early chapters, the fact that they were once close is seeded well. As a result of the seeding, the sense that the reader is coming in on the middle of a fight that pervades Danvers's introduction into book is not nearly as jarring as it could otherwise be.

When Steven Keaton comes into the narrative, Brian Michael Bendis gets into a little thornier territory (which is ironic considering the book has had a manual strangulation, rough sex and language that premium cable can get away with but basic cable cannot). Keaton is a Democratic candidate for President, but he is written more like a Tea Party candidate, which begs the question - why didn't Bendis just make Keaton a Tea Party primary challenger for the sitting President? In addition to being politically accurate (the Tea Party's tactic has been to eliminate moderate Republicans through primary challenges), it would have characterized the debate better. But having a Democratic candidate challenge a sitting President on - essentially - national defense is a strategy that has not been successful in decades, pulling the reader out of the narrative the moment Keaton is initially characterized.

But more than that, there is something incredibly unsatisfying about the revelation of the book's first big conspiracy because it doesn't jive with politics from the real world. The first major player in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is a studio executive who bankrolled the sitting, Republican, President. There is something inherently wonky about the Democratic candidate not being supported by the "Hollywood liberals," when the Republican President is!

There are a few other wonky writing moments in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1, though most of the book is solidly written. When Jones gets a call from Matt Murdock, she asks herself what Nelson & Murdock is . . . despite having their card and calling to check the number earlier in the book. Similarly, in the fourth chapter, Jones says "As supposed to . . ." when the phrase should be "As opposed to . . ." There are a few glitches like that in the book that are not part of Jones being drunk or dialect and one has to wonder if Bendis and his editor were under a serious deadline, but it is troubling to see some of the glaring mistakes in form in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1.

Rick Jones is an interesting choice for the case for the second story in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1. Jones becomes a vehicle by which Brian Michael Bendis is able to explore a surprisingly human consequence of the Kree-Skrull War. Rick Jones has become ridiculously paranoid and that fits given that the Skrull are shape-shifters and he pissed off the entire race. When Jessica Jones comes into his life, he has no inherent reason to trust her and the paranoid reads as very realistic.

Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 truly becomes clever in the final scene of the second story. As the tale surrounding Rick Jones unwinds, the harsh humanity of it and the tie-in to Jessica Jones's other case is very cleverly executed.

On the artwork front, Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 features ridiculously simplistic artwork. In fact, while it works to convey Jessica Jones simply listening, Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 saves money on the artwork with repetitive frames. The style in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is directly analogous to the artwork in The Walking Dead for its simplicity. Fortunately, Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is colored to make characters recognizable and easily identifiable.

Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 is a book I found myself re-evaluating both as I read it and as I considered it. There is a lot of merit to the basic premise of Jessica Jones as a protagonist; the idea of a super hero who voluntarily stops using her powers and becomes a private investigator is quite original. But when I consider the textual Jessica Jones - on the page - I was forced to admit that I would not have cared at all had I not become such a fan of Jessica Jones Season 1 (as evidenced by the squeal of delight I let out when Malcolm is first revealed by name near the end of Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1) and if I had been trying to read the comic book Alias, I don't know that I would have been drawn back to it month by month to continue the story. In other words, while Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 develops, it does not go so far and is not such a significant or indispensable story that I would have been drawn to it on my own. And while the idea of Jessica Jones as a private investigator with a super hero past is a neat idea, in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 that idea is not very well-developed. Instead, the book states that premise over and over again before it truly launches it.

That, alas, makes Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 a very tough sell and a take-it or leave-it graphic novel. The bottom line for me was this: I would not have enjoyed Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 if I were not mentally comparing it to Jessica Jones and fans of the first season of Jessica Jones are not at all guaranteed to find something to love in Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1.

For other Marvel Comics heroines, please visit my reviews of:
She-Hulk: Single Green Female
Marvel Her-oes
Red She-Hulk: Route 616


For other book reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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