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Just Start at the Beginning - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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September 20th, 2009


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08:48 pm - Just Start at the Beginning
Alias, by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos (with covers by David Mack), is not related to the television show. It takes its name from Alias Investigations, run by Jessica Jones, private investigator. Why Alias Investigations? Well, she used to be a superhero. Bendis is no stranger to telling the tale of a former superhero, but this time the story is set in the Marvel Universe, which requires the sly retconning of Jessica's entire existence. Jessica Jones has been around all along! She knows Luke Cage! She hung out with the Avengers! But now she locates missing people and tails cheating husbands.

On my re-read, I found that I wasn't as drawn into the series as I was the first time around, although I still really liked it. Jessica's first case is a little larger-than-life and very exciting and intriguing, like a good noir flick, but the rest of her cases are much more low-key and downbeat, and they often end a little anticlimactically like Powers cases often do. It's a different style of storytelling, and while I can dig it, I tend to like a little more punchiness to my stories. I think it would appeal to people who don't read a lot of comics, though; one of the strengths of the series is that it stays in the dark Marvel underbelly and doesn't require you to really be too familiar with the Marvel Universe proper, although it helps (I did appreciate the Daredevil crossovers, especially the scenes from DD that we see from Jessica's perspective as Matt's bodyguard). The cases, even when they involve superheroes, are very grounded.

There is no overarching mystery in Alias. Instead, what keeps you reading from issue to issue is Jessica Jones herself. The introduction describes her as "not-so-hardboiled," which is true. What's great about Jessica is that she's real. She's a down-to-earth, insecure, sarcastic, chain-smoking detective, who talks like a regular person, not in darkly overwrought metaphors, no matter how appropriate they would be in her line of work. She just wants to do her job and get paid. She may have superpowers, but she just wants to have casual sex and date like anyone else. (Alias was the flagship title for the Marvel MAX imprint, which, like DC's Vertigo, allowed more adult content—the first word of the first issue is "FUCK!") And she's also not a stone-cold hottie like most comic book women; Gaydos draws her kind of frumpy. She's...normal. This time around, she reminded me a bit of Toby Daye.

Throughout the series, we get little hints about Jessica's past life as a superhero and why she left that life, and the final seven issues finally tell the story of how she got her powers—she has to keep telling people she's not a mutant—and what caused her to put away the costume. Even though these final issues are the most comic-book-y, they're the most evocative and affecting.

Alias ran for twenty-eight issues and was collected in four trade paperbacks (that have been reissued as larger omnibus versions now), so it's not a lot to read, but it's worth it.

Jessica's story continues in The Pulse, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Mark Bagley, Michael Anderson, and Michael Gaydos. J. Jonah Jameson hires her to assist Ben Urich in writing more positive superhero-related stories. Unfortunately, that potentially interesting premise is never really explored. The first story has huge ramifications for the Marvel Universe, but it doesn't really have anything to do with Jessica. The second story is a Secret War tie-in that is strange and confusing if you haven't read Secret War (and even if you have, probably), and though it does feature Jessica more prominently, it's not really her story. Only the final story arc really focuses on Jessica as a character, and it's more about accomplishing two big milestones in her life that we pretty much knew were coming since the end of Alias. Thankfully, it's the one illustrated by Gaydos, so Jessica finally looks like she's supposed to. The other artists tend to draw her as prettier, which looked weird coming off Gaydos's conception.

Overall, I found The Pulse pretty disappointing in an "I'm glad I didn't pay full price for these" kind of way. I liked the stories and characters well enough, but it sure made me appreciate Alias a lot more.

Jessica Jones is now an established character in the Marvelverse running around with the New Avengers, but she got her start as a private eye. I highly recommend you give Alias a look, especially if you have a thing for female private eyes.
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Comments:


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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 21st, 2009 05:03 am (UTC)
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Heh. It's funny; it never occurred to me until now that Jessica would still be around. I had assumed her story had ended with The Pulse. It's cool that she's still kicking.

I was thinking of writing a Women of Marvel post about lesser-known female characters like her that are pretty cool. Jessica Jones, Maya Lopez/Echo, Angela Del Toro/White Tiger, Night Nurse. I like 'em.

I can't get myself involved in the Avengers. They are far too fucking complicated. The Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. are really cool but they make my head hurt.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 21st, 2009 05:18 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I read some of that on Wikipedia, which also implied she's going to suit up again soon. She'd better work on her landing.

NA #22 is a Gaydos-pencilled fill-in, for example.
Oh, thanks for the heads-up. I'll look for that.
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From:handyhunter
Date:September 21st, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)
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I have a lot of love for Alias. I read The Pulse, but it doesn't come close to what Alias was. I've tried some of the New Avengers, but didn't get into it; if there were a collection of just the Jessica Jones parts I'd read that!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 21st, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
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Icon!

And yeah, The Pulse was nothing like Alias. And Bendis's mainstream Marvel stuff isn't as good, from what I hear. It seems like too much messing with the universe as a sandbox as opposed to telling stories with characters. He was able to keep himself in check with Daredevil, but he just goes nuts with the goddamn Avengers. (Have you read his run on Daredevil? It's SO GOOD.)
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From:handyhunter
Date:September 21st, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
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I haven't read Bendis' Daredevil yet - I started that title with Ed Brubaker - but it is on my TBR list! I'm also interested in Bendis' Agent of SWORD story. I'm not so keen on the motion comic it was released as initially, but I'll give the paper version a try.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 21st, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC)
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Ooh, I'm about to read the Brubaker run, which Bendis set the stage for. I also recommend Powers. I think I heard about the Agent of S.W.O.R.D. thing. I was wondering what Agent Brand was up to these days.
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From:handyhunter
Date:September 22nd, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
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Thanks for the rec!

So far (one episode/issue in) Agent of SWORD seems to be mostly about Spider-Woman, who I don't know anything about, though Brand has made an appearance.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 24th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
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So I read the first issue because I didn't realize it was a Bendis/Maleev team-up until now, and...I rather liked it! It reads more like the good Bendis; he's most in his element when he's noir-ish. I didn't know Jessica Drew was a private eye (which makes the fact that Alias was supposed to be about her make more sense). This could be a good story as long as Bendis doesn't let his hard-on for the Avengers get in the way.

I'll give the motion comic a try, too, but I think I'll be seeing where this goes. For some reason, I didn't have any titles out this week, so maybe it will fit into my schedule well.
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From:handyhunter
Date:September 24th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
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I don't know anything about Jessica Drew, but so far I find "Agent of SWORD" interesting, though I've only seen the first episode of the motion comic and I'm not entirely sold on that format. I didn't see "Agent of SWORD" in my comic store today, but I was in a hurry and wasn't looking very hard.
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From:the_narration
Date:September 22nd, 2009 08:35 am (UTC)
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I enjoyed Alias a great deal, but you're right that The Pulse didn't have the same feel or quality at all. And Bendis' other Marvel stuff was kind of crazy bullshit nonsense.

Still, Alias was cool. I liked its small scale, personal stories and gritty look and feel.

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