Sunday, 5 June 2016

Jessica Jones: Alias, Volume 1 Review (Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos)

Jessica Jones used to be a superhero (“Jewel”) but she’s put the bright outfit away for a grunge-y grrrl look and opened her own private detective business, Alias Investigations. While her cases are mostly cheating spouses, her latest one sees her stumble across an iconic superhero’s secret identity, unwittingly becoming a pawn in a larger political game involving a Presidential candidate! 

The thing that struck me the most about this comic from 2001 is how poorly it’s aged. The “secret” the first storyline revolves around is people not knowing Captain America is Steve Rogers. Everyone’s known Steve is Cap for so long that I forgot that once upon a time it wasn’t common knowledge, same as Iron Man was originally “Tony Stark’s bodyguard”! Even quaint old Avengers Mansion is still a thing in this book! 

But it’s also the tech that really dates this. Steve checks his beeper, Jessica uses a camcorder to record footage on a VHS tape, a character uses what looks like a Palm Pilot while one character asks another if they have an email address! Jessica poses as a gay dude in a chatroom for work reasons and then muses “I wonder if this is the first time in the history of the internet that a guy was speaking to a girl posing as a guy?” - ahhh, the innocence! 

The book’s strength is also its weakness, namely Brian Michael Bendis’ dialogue. He must’ve really fancied himself as the comics Tarantino because he has his characters natter on and on and on about nothing (with the occasional swear as this is a MAX title) so much of the fucking time! I’ll give him that there’s a flow to some of it, that it sounds convincing and it’s sometimes interesting but there’s too goddamn much of it! Just when the story starts picking up pace Bendis chucks in a ridiculously lengthy conversation full of repetitive, redundant dialogue to slow everything down again. I just know a better writer could’ve said just as much in less than half the waffle Bendis spouts! 

And yet through all of the obnoxious amounts of dialogue and the nine-issue length of this first volume (roughly double the size of most Marvel books) I didn’t really come to know Jessica’s character that well. Why did she stop being a superhero? We’re told vaguely that she didn’t fit in or something but that’s it. Why did she become a private detective? Eh – Bendis wanted to write a crime noir comic with a former superhero as the lead. She just comes off as a depressed, dull woman, hardly a compelling protagonist. 

The first story is an elaborate conspiracy mystery full of the usual twists you’d expect from the genre, even the clich├ęd crooked politician trope is trotted out, but the second was so very slight and overlong for what it was. Four issues for that? Come on. Bendis’ characters are just blathering on again stretching out nothing. 

I didn’t really like Michael Gaydos’ ink-heavy artwork or the way some of the characters, rather than appear natural, looked like gargoyles! But the layouts of the book are really clever. There’s a good mix here: pages without dialogue, pages stuffed to the gills with it, wide panels, splash pages, tons of little panels, repeated imagery, negative space - it’s a very creative way of engaging the reader and telling the story.

The first volume of Jessica Jones: Alias is a decent detective comic, fairly well executed in the classic noir style but with a girl detective. Maybe if I’d come across this ten years ago, possibly a bit more, I’d have been impressed with the rapid dialogue approach but I’m looking past it now and seeing a lot of extended scenes where there’s little else but the writer in love with hearing himself yammer on. I can see why people like this one – it’s chatty, accessible and breezy - but the creative team’s style and aged flavour kept me from enjoying it as much; as it is, it’s just an ok relic but not enticing enough to keep me reading the series.

Jessica Jones: Alias, Volume 1

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