Monday, 20 February 2017

Jessica Jones: Alias Book 1 (#1-9) PART ONE

"How long you gonna kick me for?" - Jessica Jones

It's fair to say that amongst the Marvel faithful, writer Brian Michael Bendis is somewhat of a contentious figure.  Because I don't follow the Marvel Universe as doggedly as I do the DCU I have a pretty positive opinion of the guy mainly due to his amazingly good run on Daredevil in the early noughties and this series which kicked off the Marvel MAX line aimed at adult readers roundabout the same time.  This is the story of Jessica Jones, ex-superhero who has super strength and can fly but quit superheroing for reasons that veiwers of the Jessica Jones TV series will know about but which isn't revealed in this series until the final volume so I won't be giving the game away for anyone who hasn't yet seen the TV show.  She now runs Alias Investigations, a private investigations firm and somehow cases keep bringing her back in contact with the superhero world she never found her niche in.  Interestingly unlike Deadpool MAX and Garth Ennis's Punisher and Fury MAX series these stories are still very much set in the mainstream Marvel Universe, it's just here people have anal sex and say "fuck" which makes for some weird mental readjustments sometimes especially as only a few years earlier people in the Marvel Universe couldn't even say "hell" or "damn".  This first volume contains the first nine issues, and I've split it into two parts each covering an arc.  So time to enter the somewhat screwed up world of Jessica Jones by creator and writer Brian Michael Bendis and with art by co-creator Michael Gaydos.

We begin in the office of Alias Investigations. A man is sat in a chair, "God fucking dammit!" he expostulates.   Jessica tells him that when he hired her, "these things rarely end well".  She asks if he wants a moment alone, but the man is freaking out about the fact he's been cheated on.  He turns on Jessica saying she enjoyed snooping round their lives and laughing at him.  He lunges at her and she throws him through her office door.
Jessica and a photo of her as "Jewel".
Later she is talking with police officer who admonishes her for tossing the man through her door.  She explains the guy didn't like what she had to say.  Then the cop notices a photo of her in a superhero costume with The Avengers.  He sees one of her with the original Ms. Marvel and asks what her superhero name was:

Jessica:  " doesn't matter".

Cop: "Come on, maybe I've heard of you".

Jessica: "You haven't.  I don't do that anymore...I outgrew it."

The cop says she's not above the law.  He doesn't want to get another call like this one.  Her current job is something of a comedown from superheroing.  Jessica says it could be worse, she could be them.  The other cop pull the first cop away and leave Jessica alone.  She lights a cigarette and slumps forwards on her desk.

We then cut to her in the same position in a bar, she is somewhat drunk. The owner of the bar is Luke Cage, Powerman, who has unbreakable skin.  He starts chatting her up and she says to him:

Jessica:  "I just...I just want to feel something.... different."

Luke: "How about I just take you home..."

We then jump to them in bed together.   It's obvious that he is sodomising her,  She looks pained and reflects that Luke  will feel both bad and secretly good about what they did together that night. But she doesn't care, she just wanted to feel something, "pain...humility...anger. I just want to feel something different".
Thank goodness she wasn't on a date with Iron Fist!
Next day she is back in her office collecting her post when another potential client appears. She is a wealthy looking woman whose sister has gone missing and Jesscia came highly recommended.  Jessica agrees to hear her out.  Her sister is called Miranda who is the total opposite of her and who drifted through trouble her entire life.  But lately seemed to have her act together and had met a decent man who she described as "the one".  But when she told her not to be so gung ho and rush into something, her sister got really mad and now has cut of all communication between herself and her sister including moving house.  Her sister is worried about her and just wants to know if she is OK.

Jessica warns her finding her sister and confronting her "might make things worse".  The woman repeats that she wants to know she's OK.  Jessican takes some info from her and arranged a price then once alone gets to work.  She narrates in his head that she often spends more time checking if "the client is legit than I do finding the person".

Now thanks to the internet she can do a lot of the grunt work that used to involve going to the Hall of Records or bribing people at the police station. This research leads her to staking out a flat at night.  She sees the woman open the door to someone:

Jessica: "Wow.  That's one big piece of beefcake you got yourself there."

As she keeps watching she sees the man get paged, which makes her think he's a doctor or a "big fat married cheating liar." But then something strange happens, the man leaves via the roof and removes his civilian clothes to reveal Captain America.  Jessica, is taping the whole thing and is dumbstruck at what she now has on film.
And suddenly shit gets real.
She later returns to her flat, stands outside paranoidly staring at it for forty-two minutes, "It's not like I don't have a reason... I am holding a videotape that people would kill for".  She decides staring at her own curtains is a "surreal fucking experience". She ventures inside, but no one is in there.  She watches the tape back and confirms she has taped Captain America and his girlfriend..

She ejects the tape and decides to destroy it.   She puts it in the microwave but pauses as various thoughts asail her.  She caught Captain America changing from his civilian to superself.  The man is a "living American legend,  A man of political infuence,  A man with huge enemies".  She starts to wonder if this was a set up, and begins to panic that "they" will harm her and her family to get the tape. 

Jessica: "I have been so fucking set up.  I am so screwed... come on, first instinct's always right.  It's a setup"

She calls the contact number the lady who first contacted her with this job, but the phonecall gives her the message that the number she has dialled has been disconncted.

She then hails a taxi to go back to the address she was given, but it's a baby clothes shop so she goes back to the woman she founds address and gets out when she sees a crowd has gathered round the place she was surveilling earlier.   Apparently the woman has been murdered, strangled by someone's bare hands. Called in by an anonymous source.
And now there's been a murder.
Jessica goes to Luke Cage's flat seeking comfort, but he peeks through the door saying now is not a good time. Then another woman's face pokes through demanding to know who she is.  Feeling stressed and sad Jessica sits on the stairs and weeps.  Next day she travel to Avengers Mansion.  She tells the gate communicator she needs to talk to Captain America.  It coldly tells her he is away, and she has fifteen seconds to back away from the gate.
She returns to her office and find two detectives waiting for her. She lets them into the office while one asks if she still has her powers and are all her detective licences in order. Then they get down to business, Jessica was hired to tail Miranda Pratchett. Jessica admits she only saw her once last night.  She pretends to be surprised when she is told Miranda is dead.  Unfortunately for her, the police take extensive pictures of the crowds and Jessica is in them.  For that lie they are going to arrest her and take her downtown.
A classic page of Bendis and Gaydos working together.
Jessica is sat patiently waiting in the interrogation room.  The cop, Paul Hall, says he heard "you used to hop around the city under the name Jewl".  She says she has no aliases now. He asks her some more about her powers, she says she is strong, strong enough to walk out if she wanted to.  Paul asks if she wants to do that now,  Jessica says she'd just end up in more trouble.  She also admits to being able to fly, but "I can't land real well"  She says flying is not all it's cracked up up be.

Paul holds up a photo of her as Jewel and asks why she doesn't do that anymore, "a symbol can mean a lot to people".Jessica says that't just not her way anymore.  Finally after more suprehero talk she asks what this has to do with why she has been arrested.   She asks for a phonecall, Paul says only "guilty people" ask for them.

He says she can wait a sec while he question her some more.  How did her powers work for her as a private dick?  "Up until today... pretty good".  She tell him she found the girl, then went to tell her sister but the number was disconnected and her address was a baby clothes store, so she went back to the sister's house to find a murder scene. She regrets lying to the police about being at the woman's house a second time.   She panicked:

Jessica: "I mean obviously someone is fucking with me and I didn't know what to do".

She thinks she was set up so she'd wind up being questioned by the police.  But she knows w
one thing, she didn't kill the girl and they are wasting time talking to her.  Paul asks when did she get home.  "One A.M." says Jessica.  And that was when she phoned the sister, Paul thinks that's an inapprpriate time to call.
Taken downtown.
Jessica says the woman was distraught when she gave her the job so she thought shes be happy to know her sister was safe and healthy.  At least she was when she left her. Paul changes tack and asks why officers were called to her office that morning.  Jessica says she has "an incident with an out of control client".  Who you threw through a plate glass window says Paul.

Paul: "I hear you got a temper on day you're throwing one through a plate glass window...the next day maybe you're strangling a woman to death".

Jessica is offended by this but Paul goes onto say maybe she has multiple personalities in there doing stuff.  This makes Jessica furious at this and starts cursing him out, "this is bullshit. I didn't do anything. So I want to make a living in this shithole of a city. So what?  Now I'm a murderer? Fuck you! And fuck..."
Matt Murdock to the rescue.
She is cutoff by Matt Murdock aka Daredevil arriving as his lawyer persona. He tells the cop they have no right to hold her and takes her away saying next time they want to talk to her it will be through his office.  As they walk outside Matt says a friend sent him, that friend being Luke Cage.  He asks her flat out "Did you kill that girl?"  Jessica replies "of course not" and this is all the proof Matt needs. He give her his card and says of the cops, "ten bucks says you never hear from them again" and walks off.

Later Jessica visits Carol Danvers who is mad at her for treating her like utter crap in the past.  But Jessica needs a favour from her, she wants her to check the number the "sister" gave her.  Carol agrees and Jessica goes home to wait her email.  It finally arrives, the number was part of a "bank" numbers with the main number being "202-555-0812".  She also apologies for being cold towards Jessica and offers her help in the future to. Jessica wonders what area "202" is.  She dials the number and gets a big surprise, it's one for the for the commitee to elect the "Democratic Presidentail candidate Steven Keaton".

The next chapter begins with a jaunty party political broadcast for Steven Keaton that accuses the unnamed Republican President for spending too much time hanging out with superheroes, for being "someone whose ear is bent by people hiding behind masks and shadows".  Some political pundits then chew the strategy over.  One says it's a "poorly thought out strategy" his opposer says the President has done nothing but "gallivant and socialise with these costumed men masked men of... questionable backgrounds".  Steven Keaton has been getting his hands dirty with "real people" in contrast rather than getting "his ear bent by aliens, mutants and God knows what else?"
This was on in a bar and while it was on Jessica ruminates on finally seeing something that was in front of your face all the time. As the men on TV debate further with the pro-Keaton one saying that "fearing large men wearing masks is still good advice where I come from."  As he says that Jessica crushes the glass she is drinking from.  The barman grabs a baseball bat and tells her to get out, "I don't want your mutant shit in my place".  She staggers out mumbling that heroes fight for the likes of him.

She walks out into the cold light of day ruminating on her "make it up as I go along scheme".  First she is going to find the woman who hired her in the first place. She goes inside a "Keaton for President" campaign office and the woman who hired her spots her and tries to slip out the back, calling on her mobile as she does so to a "Mr. Lawson".  Like a vengeful angel, Jessica drops down from the rooftop.  The woman faints, Jessica takes her phone from her and sees she is calling a "Lawson. Daviano".
You cannot escape Jessica.
It turns out to be a firm of lawyers called "Lawson, Daviano and Silver".  Jessica walks into Lawson's office and asks him why she was hired via a third party by him to find a woman who was murdered.   Lawson blusters that he has never heard of her, doesn't know who she is talking about and he doesn't appreciate being accused of something.  When she refuses to leave he threatens to have the police come and arrest her, but she calls his bluff saying she'll know what she'll tell them.  Satisfied by his silent response, she leaves.

She then narrates to herself that the point of that confrontation was to discover that the lawyer knew who she was but not that their was a dead person involved.  Now she is going to wait outside staking out his car and follow him when he comes rushing out.  As she waits Matt Murdock calls her and says she is off the hook for the murder.  Also the lead deective was pulled from the case entirely.   The evidence that helped exonerate her was the fact that the woman had indentations of fingers from a very large man round her neck.

As he tells her this, a very large man with very large hands rips open Jessica's car door and drags her out. He wraps his hands round her neck and starts choking her.  Jessica gasps out "wh... what do you want from me?" as he throttles her.  "Nothing" grins the man in response.
Marko gets his just beatdown.
As he squeezes he says the best thing about work-for-hire gigs is that once he has killed her he can take her somewhere remote and do whatever he wants with her, "then you'll find out why they call me 'Man Mountain Marko'". Ewwwww. This give Jessica her second wind, she claps her hands either side of his head and he drops her, clasping his ears in pain.   Then she grabs his balls and squeezes, grounding him while she thinks about how she dislikes fighting.  She kneels on Marko's chest and keeps punching him until he tells her who he is working for.

Then we cut to a rich asshole called Mr. Zoumas playing golf.  Jessica comes walking across the green towards him.  His bodygaurds point guns at her but she bluffs them into thinking she is bulletproof.  Zoumas tells them to stand down.  He tells her to sell the tape she made, to make money or save herself from a murder rap. "You murdered the girl because you wanted me to give the tape away..?" Jessica is incredulous at this.

Zoumas wants to know what she wants from him.  She wants him to confess. He says, to what? Tricking her to making a tape of Captain America's secret identity? Confess to a murder?  If he was to, the authorities would need to see the tape.

Zoumas: "All I want you to do is give up flag boy to the press.  And it seems this is something you have no interest in doing... But now you've got me where you want me - caught red-handed.  But to do anythng about it you have to give uo flag boy.  They call it a stalemate girl".

Jessica wants to know why him.  Zoumas says it's because he's the "President's little buddy".  The President has debts and hasn't paid them.  Services have been rendered and not been attended to.  Zoumas is so mad at the President he gave himself an anal fissure.
Mr Zoumas tells Jessica the facts of life.
So the plan is to put someone into office who does understand who and what they are.  So they have manufactured a scandal "involving an asshole who dresses up in our flag".  Scandals involving the President are egineered by big money and leaked via third, fourth and fifth parties, "so it seems like an accident.  A slip.  A coinkydink.... we make it look like... like it just sort of happened".

He then tells Jessica to release the tape, because if she destroys it or comes at him again, he'll come at her and "I'll paint a picture of you to the world so ugly even you won't fuck you."  Then a year later he'll have her killed in her sleep.  He walks off to play the next hole.

Then her mobile goes off and she takes a call from a Clay Quarterman.  He tells her to turn around quickly and walk away the direction she came from.  As she goes and hides in the treeline, Clay says they have had a bug on her since the crime scene in Manhattan.  Suddenly helicopters descend over Zoumas's group and opens fire, then agents drop down to arrest them.

Clay: "Jessica you have to go right now, or I can't protect you from my superiors. Oh, and by the way, if yu had taken the job with us at S.H.E.I.L.D none of this would ever have happened to you.  But you never listened to me, not once".

Later Jessica is relaxing at home watching a news report on Keaton wihdrawing from the Presidential race to "spend more time with my family."
Steve Rogers thanks her in person.
There is a knock at the door and Steve Rogers is there.  Jessica hands him the tape and he says it's out of both of their hands now - S.H.E.I.L.D stuff.  Steve notes she didn't release the tape, she says "it didn't even occur to me to do that until he told me that was what they were counting on."  She then tells him she is sorry about his lover. Steve starts blaming himself but she tells him not to do that to himself.

He then asks her why she doesn't do "it" anymore.  She admits it's because she realised she didn't have "that thing".

Jessica: "That thing that inspires be.  I dunno, better than they are."

Steve says he has met a million people in his life and "can't think of three who would have done this for me."  She protected him when he needed it most. She jokes he's not going to salute her is he?  He smiles and leaves saying if she wants to try again, she should at least call Carol, "she's a good friend to you".  After he is gone we finish this arc with her on the phone to Carol.
A happy ending? For now.
This is a fantastic introduction to a character that would go on to become a big part of the Marvel Universe.  Jessica Jones is a mass of neuroses and secrets that will slowly unravel as this maxi-series continues.  She gets drunk, has bad sex and lurches from one situation to another without much of a plan but with a brain shrewd enough to put the clues together and figure out a modernday polictical conspiracy to disgrace Captain America and bring down the Presidency.  Bendis's characteristic dialogue with lots of pauses, and repeats is matched beuatifully by Gaydos's artwork which has a very Warhol-like quality of using pages of the same image over and over.  His thick lined art gives the it a heft it might otherwise lack and the combination of the naturalistic speech and almost cartoonlike artwork reminds me very much of peak Cerebus the Aardvark which is a huge compliment as far as I am concerned. It's interesting seeing how the MAX philosophy can work with the mainstream Marvel Universe though it helps they are on the peripheries as the book concentrates on the rackety lifestyle of Jessica Jones. Book One contains two arcs, this was the first, the second I'll look at in a few days.


  1. Initial thoughts:

    Love the artwork. Reminds me very much of the original Warrior version of V for Vendetta. I especially like when artists use the layout as a narrative device in itself.

    I've heard a few people rave about Jessica Jones, mainly in relation to the TV series. I understand that she's meant to be a 'progressive' character. I'm not quite sure why that is at this stage. She's certainly a cool character though. We've chatted before about post modernism and deconstruction in the superhero genre. I like this take on it. It's easy enough to come out with some big motivation for abandoning life as a superhero. But I like, and find very believable, the rather mundane 'just not that into it' feeling. It's nice to see someone accepting the 'power > responsibility' thing and just not wanting the hassle.

    I think what I like best about this is the sense of 'banality'. It's just so jaded. It's not quite the same as angst or cynicism. Weirdly what it most reminds me of is that old Jo Brand sketch "Drudge Squad" where they were cops but still had to get their annoying kids to school in the back of the police car, telling them to shut up whilst they were trying to arrest villains.

    Alan Moore says he created Rorshac to illustrate what it would *really* be like to be a superhero. No time to shower or eat properly. But perhaps he went a bit far there. You could have a totally asocial superhero, but it's far more interesting to have someone who does want a bit of normality like friends and relationships. I imagine being a superhero must be like being a celebrity. You have to ideally date and have friends only with other celebs as they're the only ones who can relate to the lifestyle (same with police and medics I suppose though). Must be a bit annoying and frustrating that you can't have normal friends as it will never work out. Your world's are too different, and the potential consequences too risky, for both of you.

    I wonder if the Captain America bit was meant to reflect that?

  2. It's frustrating not wanting to give out spoilers both for this and the TV series. But I think she's hit a nerve a decade or so after her first appearance because later books deal with her having been subjected to the ultimate in gaslighting and which left her the mess she is now, she has severe PTSD and suddenly that's clicked with where we are today.

    I too like the banality and the same writer bought a similar feeling to his seminal Daredevil run. It was like Daredeviling was just a job, no glamour just something he had to do like being a lawyer during the day. I loved those Jo Brand sketches too! Jessica Jones actually crossed over with Daredevil, she was his bodyguard for a while.

    I definitely think being a supe would be very much like being a celeb, like how Garth Ennis portrayed them in "The Boys". Course they were groomed to be celeb first, hero second. I don't think the Marvel and DC universes are as cynical. But I definitely think having Steve Rogers visit her showed up the contrast between the superhero lifer and the non-particpant. Sweet moment though.

  3. „It's fair to say that amongst the Marvel faithful, writer Brian Michael Bendis is somewhat of a contentious figure.”

    I, as a Marvel faithful, can totally confirm that. The only thing I came across from him that I liked was, well, Alias. He was also the creator of the Siege event, which I didn't like at all, but had consequences that led to great things. Oh the joys of shared superhero universes. :3

    Generally from what I heard his street level stuff (Alias, Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man etc.) seems to be really liked, everything else he wrote is either divisive or outright hated. I can see why. His style only really fits some specific type of stories, and can outright clash horribly with other genres like space opera... so when it was announced that he'll leave the main Guardians of the Galaxy book the reaction was great rejoicing: “Oh god. FINALLY!”
    (I'm not sure why anybody thought giving him that specific book was a good idea in the first place.)

    ... also if I can trust rumors he is the type of artist who doesn't take criticism well.

  4. Oddly I really like the collected Age Of Ultron he wrote, but Avengers Versus X-Men and House of M had me tearing my hair out (I say this a pro-X-men person). I can definitely see how his style doesn't fit the grander narratives of the suoerhero. Actually I'd be interedted in seeing him have a go at The Punisher, it could work well with his style. Or not lol.

  5. Well, he'll get the Defenders next.

    Alongside Jessica Jones, Spider-Man (not Ultimate anymore because the Ultimate Universe fell casualty to Secret Wars (2015), but those characters), and the 2 Iron Man books (which currently feature Victor von Doom, and Riri Williams). He is prolific if nothing else.

  6. He reminds me of Geoff Johns who occupies a similarly blessed position at DC. Difference being I haven't much liked anything Johns has done at all apart from "52" and even then he was working as a team not solo.

  7. Hope this works...

    (Emailed you btw)

  8. Great article, cheers for the link Alan! 40 is a good age to turn, looks like 2000AD shows no sign of slowing down even though I feel old from remembering it' 10th anniversary!

  9. Gawd, I can remember Prog 1. Imagine how I feel!

    I'm feeling sorry for Luke Cage now though. No tattoos, no piercings and he can't even have a flu jab. A superhero's lot is indeed not a happy one.

    Jessica is really growing on me though. Been pondering more on your post. I wonder if having her as a PI is a throwback to the old pulp fiction noir. It was the standard occupation of jaded ex cops. Maybe drawing a parallel between police and costumed vigilantes. All the tropes are there. The drinking, the failed romances. Even the 'mystery woman client turns out not to be who she seems' and the voyeuristic compromising photograph,

    That noir grittiness does suit the story though.

  10. She definitely a clever way to blend noir sensibility with superhero narratives. I'll just mention Gotham Central again as my favourite Batverse blend of cynical noir cop action with superhero/villain malarkies. I think this opening adventure deliberately hits every noir trope it can, it's cool that it's a woman living the rackety life and making all the bad decisions but still having a strong moral core. You don't often see women comicbook heroes as low in the gutter as poor old Jessica is at this point.

  11. Do you remember Space Precinct? I liked that idea of mundane police work in a fantastic world (which of course was just normal for the characters). Bit like Star Cops. In the very early Dredd stories there were regular cops and the judges were a select elite. It was implied there were only a dozen or so.

    But yeah, it's nice to see a female character that's a bit of a mess. And for just pretty regular could happen to anyone reasons. It makes her very identifiable and sympathetic. You know I quite like 'reality' in comics. But what works well here is that she's still in the regular 'fantasy' universe. That could have gone really badly but they've pulled it off here and it just highlights the juxtaposition.

    Heh, I've just remembered an old cartoon strip called RoboMan. There's a strip where the superheroes are down at like their version of DVLA renewing their flying licences. The Superman expy fails the eye test so he's told he can now only fly if he wears glasses.

    "Oh great, there goes my secret identity."

  12. I very vaguely remember Space Precint, I think my little sister and mum used to watch it.

    I'm doing a women characters month next month and ol' Jessica will be part of it, be interesting to compare her to the variety of other female characters I'll be featuring.

  13. Being cop in a superhero universe Marvel edition:
    The Birds Rights Activist should protest this clear anti-bird bigotry! From Al Ewing's Mighty Avengers run. :D

  14. 'Birds Rights Activists' sounds like a 1970s British TV cop show description of feminism.

  15. In my early career at the bar I was confused by statements in a case referring to the heroic efforts of one 'PD Rebel'. From the context I could only assume that PD stood for 'police detective' and had replaced 'DC' (detective constable).

    It was only when I asked for him to be produced as a witness that I found out PD was 'police dog'.

  16. Birds Rights Activist:

    The internet is for random shit! :D

  17. Speaking of old school lady superheroes.

    Interesting, I hope we're seeing a trend for some of the classic 40s gals coming back into vogue. They're all out of copyright now too so some wonderful opportunities.

  18. Oh man Bird's Rights Activist is something I came across thanks to Gail Simone's tumblr long before I discovered MRAs were a thing (I was a very sheltered online "feminsit"). Suffice to say it's even funnier now a year reading every post of We Hunted The Mammoth has filled me in.