This past year, Netflix and Marvel launched a hit with Daredevil. What made the show so well-loved was how it told a darker, bloodier, more consequential superhero story than Marvel was used to telling. Seeing a superhero fail, get weak, and be vulnerable was something viewers weren’t used to seeing.
Well, if that’s something people want and if Marvel and Netflix stay true to Alias, the comic book source material that inspired their upcoming Jessica Jones series,Â then the studio and streaming service will have another surefire hit on their hands.
A private investigator, Jessica Jones is also a former D-list Avenger known as Jewel â€” if anyone knew her at all. That echoed questions asked about the character when her Netflix series was announced. But not knowing who Jones is or what she does is the central point of Alias, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Gaydos.
Gaydos’s characters â€” even the good guys â€” are startling, lumpy, and mordant. You can pick out the fleshy parts of their eye sockets, the spots where their wrinkles sharpen, and the spaces where jowls will eventually form. Everyone looks like a rundown villain:
Or check out the moment when Gaydos shows Jones looking back at her past life as an Avenger:
Gaydos’s art is hitting on a lot of different levels here. It works because you know what comic book art is supposed to look like â€” all poreless, perfect, crisp superheroes. That photo of Jones and Ms. Marvel ain’t it. The costumes look silly when compared to what the cops and Jones are wearing in the present day. And as joyous as the picture is, it’s flanked by those mordant grays and browns. The only people smiling are the ones in the photo. The rest of this panel is startlingly cold, drenched in shadows.
That’s the point.
The world Jones lives in is hollow. We’re seeing much of it from her burnt-out, lived-in perspective. It’s not a place you want to spend a lot of time in. But the thrust of the comic is the mystery of who Jones is. You start to search the pages, seeking the flecks in her personality and in her actions that define her. The only thing you manage to find is that she’s in a bad place, but you don’t learn how she got there or how to get her out of it. One of the things she’ll eventually try is sex:
The scene, like the rest of the book, is bravely ugly. It’s not meant to objectify Jones. It’s supposed to convey the numbness she’s feeling and the malaise she can’t shake. The stink of the scene, the rawness, the uneasiness all feel the way you do after watching an episode of Breaking Bad. (And Breaking Bad player Krysten Ritter has been cast as Jones in the Netflix series.)
What Bendis does well is really trace this character’s emotional spiral in a way that feels human. Jones isn’t anyone we envy or want to emulate, but there’s something relatable in her failure and her voyage to rock bottom.
When we imagine ourselves as superheroes, we imagine soaring alongside Superman or fighting with Captain America. Bendis wants to imagine what living in this world of superlatives is like for all of those who are trapped between the heroics and the lives of regular people. Even though Jones lives in this fantastic world where superheroes exist, where she is friends with some of Earth’s mightiest heroes and biggest celebrities, and anyone is capable of anything â€” Jones still can’t get anything right.
Daredevil worked because at its core was a story about a man wanting to be great. Matt Murdock is a man who chooses to become super. Jones isn’t like that. She knows what greatness feels like and the pain that comes when you can’t achieve it. She’s a superwoman forced to come to ugly terms with her own humanity.
Alias isn’t a beautiful journey. It’s something will haunt and perhaps even destroy you. That’s what makes it so great.
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Michael Gaydos and David Mack (Cover)
Published by: Marvel
Availability: Alias is available online in digital format