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Alias #23

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2003
By: David Kozlowski



"The Origin of Jessica Jones" (part 2 of 2)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Michael Gaydos

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Synopsis:
The Secret Origin of Jessica Jones continues. Now a teen-ager, Jessica struggles with the tragic deaths of her parents and younger brother, the tribulations inherent to being an outsider at high school and also learns to adapt to sudden super-powers; including the ability to fly.

Comments:
Last month I bagged on writer Brian Bendis for revealing the origin of Alias' star Jessica Jones, a character that gets a lot of mileage out of her "mysterious past". I couldn't see how uncovering Jessica's history would serve to enhance her current persona. I was also less than enthusiastic about Bendis' overt Marvel universe tie-ins (i.e., Jessica's father worked for Tony Stark, the near mishap with the chemical truck bound for Hell's Kitchen and how Peter Parker was her high school classmate and love interest). In fact, Bendis borrows so heavily from the origins of "Spider-Man", "The Hulk" and television's classic "Greatest American Hero" that it damn near borders on plagiary. However, it should be obvious to readers that Bendis is actually paying homage to those characters. At the same time he's also parodying them. What's odd, however, is that prior to this storyline Alias was a very gritty, crime-noir comic with moments of dark comedy. Or so I thought. But now I have to consider that Bendis was really just aiming for dark comedy all along. If true this would put all twenty-one previous issues into an entirely different light. Just in case you're keeping score: Bendis gets paid to write comics for a living while I earn nothing to review them in my spare time.

It seems like the trend in origin stories is to divulge just a tiny bit of the character's history, rather than the whole show. If you're hoping to get the entire background on Jessica Jones, how she came to be a chain smoking alcoholic with a grudge against the Avengers, then you'll be sorely disappointed. Just like in Marvel's Wolverine "Origin" only about 25% of the story is told. This two-part tale only delves into Jessica's high school experiences and picks up immediately after last issue, as Jessica is adopted and now faces a return to school. Her fellow classmates brand Jessica an outcast for being in a coma, which may sound oddly cruel to some, but it rings authentic with me. Bendis makes it clear that Jessica has always been an outsider and is apt to jumps to wrong conclusions, at the expense of other's intentions. It is very consistent with her modern-day image.

Naturally we see Jessica stumble with her newfound powers; her first obligatory flight ends poorly. We've seen this kind of stuff before, but Bendis' puts his trademark twist on the resolution, which has to be one of the best laugh-out-loud moments I've ever had reading a comic. Later Jessica talks with her new father about the realities of superheroes and super-powers. These things are usually cliché ridden or contain seriously flawed and ham-fisted dialog, but Bendis writes a wonderful father-daughter scene that is better than most Hollywood movies. In fact, every scene in this issue is thoughtfully approached.

The crossover, throwback art style from last issue has pretty much faded away. Artist Michael Gaydos returns to his simplified layout and spare detail style. Gaydos really handles facial expressions well. This issue calls for Jessica to be happy, sad, confused, angered, embarrassed and thoughtful. There was never a moment where I had to try and figure out the emotions of any character. Additionally, Gaydos crams a lot into twenty-two pages. While there are a couple of half-page and full-page splashes, most of the layout is of the six and nine panel variety - there are even a couple of eleven and twelve panel layouts. It all works and I salute Gaydos for such tight storytelling.

Final Word:
"The Secret Origin of Jessica Jones" turns out to be more of a coming of age story than a traditional super-hero origin tale. Bendis' writing is brilliant from start to finish, especially Jessica's moment with her adoptive father. Jessica's high-school aged characterization is very compelling; her confusion and angst at her situation is quite believable and painfully honest - I can't imagine what well of experience Bendis was tapping for this. I just wish that there were two or three more issues to cover what happens between high school and Alias #1. Predicting the direction that Brian Michael Bendis might travel next is nearly impossible, but I certainly hope he returns to finish what he's started here.



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