Thoughts on Alias (The Jessica Jones Comic)

At the time of writing, I haven’t even so much as looked at a trailer for Marvel’s new Jessica Jones series on Netflix.  It’s not about a big, iconic character the way that Daredevil is, and consequently I’ve not been following the hype around it very closely.  Of course, it’s set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it is available on Netflix, so I suspect I’ll be watching it sometime in the near future.

But that’s not what I’m going to discuss today!

My familiarity with Jessica Jones as a character is extremely limited (I’m vaguely aware that she’s Luke Cage’s romantic partner in the comics and they have a child together, but beyond that she’s pretty much a gap in my general Marvel knowledge; I suspect that like many other people, I’ve occasionally confused her with Jessica Drew, who’s best known as the original Spider-Woman), and because of that unfamiliarity I’ve not been sure what to expect from the series.  Fortunately, the internet is a wonderful thing and io9 recently ran an article discussing the nature of Jones’s premiere book, Alias, which ran under Marvel’s mature reader imprint MAX back when that was still a thing.  It piqued my interest, so I picked up a complete run of the series (it’s only twenty-eight issues long) and binged it all on a day off from work.

Also, all the covers are lovely pieces of art. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

It is a pretty fantastic book.

I think what impresses me most about it is the way the book is constructed to explore Jones’s backstory in little bits and pieces, gradually helping the reader understand exactly why this woman with superpowers is actively hostile towards the superhero lifestyle and feels immensely ambivalent towards the Avengers.  We eventually learn that she has some serious trauma in her past, and the Avengers played a part in it (though unwittingly).  They loom over every part of the book as this weird four-color specter so that any time they intrude on the gritty world that Jones, Cage, and Matt Murdock inhabit, it’s super jarring.  Michael Gaydos, who’s the primary artist on the entirety of the series, presents a world that’s so grounded and inostentatious that the appearance of any character in traditional superhero garb stands out like a class-A weirdo; it’s a nice visual trick to help the reader identify more closely with Jones’s sense of alienation from the superpowered community (even more jarring is when Mark Bagley does guest art for the occasional flashbacks to Jones’s life as a superhero before her trauma, which is always brimming with classic superhero comic tropes).

There are some bits of weirdness that creep up occasionally over the book’s run which date it spectacularly (my personal favorite is the resolution of the first story arc, which ends up obliquely defending George W. Bush as a president who isn’t beholden to the shady people who funded his campaign).  At one point, when Jones is gradually becoming closer to Scott Lang (one of the guys who has been Ant-Man), they have a conversation about what happened in Jones’s past, and he bluntly asks her if she was raped.  The way Jones reacts isn’t really problematic here, but it’s odd to see a trauma which we eventually learn did involve what can only be categorized as sexual assault described as not rape.  In another arc, Jones investigates the disappearance of a teenage girl from a small town, and while the general catch-all bigotry of the white, Christian townspeople is explicitly criticized, it’s odd to see the eventual revelation that the girl who disappeared is a lesbian as something restricted to the pages of a mature reader comic (to contrast, I read an issue of Amazing X-Men from this year, a book which is firmly in the realm of appropriate for children, the other day which deals explicitly with the difficulties that an openly gay teenage mutant has with meeting boys because his mutation gives him a nonstandard appearance).

These are largely minor nitpicks though, because again, the book is really compelling stuff.  Reading it has me excited to check out the new show.

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