Meet Jessica Jones, former costumed super hero, now a private investigator. Creation of Brian Michael Bendis, Jessica appeared in Alias for 28 wonderful issues, then starred as an assistant reporter for the Daily Bugle in Pulse, before now becoming part of the backup cast for New Avengers. She's married to Luke Cage, and they have a child together.
The "Alias" series was part of the "MAX Comics" label by Marvel, which means it's full of grown-up stuff. Not really grown-up, no serious nudity, but there's a far bit of violence, sexual references, adult situations, and lots of strong language (F*%# is spelt in full and used frequently). Alias is sheer brilliance, as it follows Jessica through some weird but fascinating cases.
Jessica herself has some super-powers, though she doesn't like to make a big deal of it. Several super-powered characters make appearance, including Luke Cage of course, and Jessica's friend Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel. Daredevil appears quite a bit too. Several of the cases Jessica takes on are super-power related, but not all of them are.
We're at issue #22 of Alias, and it's time for Jessica Jones to receive an origin story. I think that one of the things I enjoy about Bendis's writing is that he doesn't feel the need to explain everything. As long as we know enough about what's going on, we don't really need to know all the background. Once you learn to trust the writer, then that approach is very effective. And so it is that I have no problems with reading 21 issues of this book before finding out how Jessica got her powers, and her attitude.
Fifteen years ago, Midtown High School. The cool kids at school need one more for the dance. "How about Peter Parker? Are you kiddin'? That bookworm wouldn't know a waltz from a cha-cha."
Sound familiar? It should do, it's the opening page from Amazing Fantasy #15, and this version is rendered in a slightly Ditko-esque style, with retro comic coloring. But the camera pans away from "Midtown High's only professional wallflower," to focus on a plain-looking, bespectacled girl with braces on her teeth. She is seated on the school steps. Her school book bears her name (Jessica Cambell), and a love-heart inscribed "Jessica + Peter".
Today's the day. Jessica is going to ask Peter to the dance. She follows him to a science exhibit. As Jessica approaches Peter, he says "Ow!" (he just got bitten by a Spider) and suddenly needs to go out for some air. Jessica loses her nerve, and her moment. She leaves, and is almost run over by a truck bearing the logo "Ajax-Atomic Radio-active material." But she's rescued by a random passerby (not Peter). She runs off without thanking her savior.
Having skirted but avoided both the super-powered origins of Spidey and Daredevil, Jessica heads home. Her bedroom walls are covered with posters, chief among them is Johnny Storm. Jessica explores her own body, while staring at the Human Torch's image. I warned you this was an adult comic. Jessica's brother interrupts her, causing her to cover herself up with embarrassment.
Cut to the family car. The Cambells - two parents, two kids, are heading off on a holiday. Her parents are bitching at each other. Jessica's dad works in one of Tony Stark's companies, but he's having some problems with his shift supervisor, which is flowing on to affect his relationship with his wife. Still, the company did give them some cheap Disneyland tickets.
Jessica's brother Phillip is being a jerk in the car. Jessica hits him and calls him various names starting with F. Her father Dave gets angry. He turns around, and is distracted from the road. The car drives under the wheels of an army truck - part of a convoy. A cannister marked "Hazardous Experimental Material" falls into Jessica's lap as the car is tossed into the air, crashes and burns.
Jessica awakes in a New York hospital. The Silver Surfer is fighting Galactus nearby, and there is a power cut in the hospital. The hospital staff turn away from the fight to marvel at Jessica. She has been in a coma for six months, and has just awoken for the first time.
Cut again. This time to the Moore House for wayward children. Jessica is being offered a new family. A couple named Jones are looking for a child. The mother lost her own parents as a teenager, and was lucky to be adopted - now she wants to offer Jessica the same rare opportunity. The Joneses also live in Forest Hills, where Jessica lived until the accident. Jessica is unsure if she has the courage to take this second chance at life...
Bendis is greatly loved by intelligent, adult readers looking for a natural flowing writing style and moving, interesting plots. If you haven't read Bendis, you don't know what you're missing. His gentle storytelling style is a sheer delight to savor.
Sometimes I feel guilty for reading an issue of Alias so quickly. But then, I can spend half an hour struggling my way through a turgid wordfest like Universe X and as I close the cover, I've already forgotten what it was that I read and why I was supposed to care. But Bendis stories have a way of lingering long after the comic is back in its bag on the shelf.
I'll give extra credit here for the way that Bendis weaves this story deftly into Peter's back history. Many comics and stories have added to the events of Amazing Fantasy #15. This one does its work very carefully, not leaving a scratch on the original tale as it integrates its own back history.
Really, comic books don't get any much better than this. Among all the dross and flotsam of the modern Marvel offerings, this one really stood out. Thanks BMB. Five webs.
Alias is a gem among Marvel's offerings, and you should seek it out.