Sunday, February 13, 2011

Alias, by Brian Michael Bendis

I still have this bias against the traditional sort of superhero comics. I read X-Men as a kid, but I'm just having a difficult time mustering interest as an adult in those titles. Even iconic stuff like Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, which really is very good, is a tough sell. The more the focus is on the superhero stuff, the less engaged I am.

Somewhere there must have been a list of awesome graphic novels that included a book titled Alias, though I can't imagine where*. I assumed it was a book focusing on a private investigator named Jessica Jones, and hey, that's enough. I'm inclined to like that sort of thing.

But when you don't really know anything about the book or about the writer, you'll often be surprised.

See, Alias was published under the MAX imprint of Marvel comics, which means that 1) Alias is set in the larger Marvel Universe of superheroes, and 2) writer Brian Michael Bendis is free to say “fuck” as often as he likes. Both of which are ultimately besides the point.

So yes, Alias does feature a private investigator named Jessica Jones who happened to once be a superhero named Jewel who was once in the Avengers. The 28 issues of the run feature characters like Captain America, Ms Marvel, Ant Man, J. Jonah Jameson, Daredevil, and a full cast cameo of the Avengers, but the story here is all Jessica Jones.

While there are four story arcs running across the 28 collected issues, the first three of which are investigations Jones takes on, but the real story is Jessica herself. Bendis's handling of Jessica's backstory is masterful and he dishes it out bit by bit, always serving the story while building a character. Jones is more than a frustrated investigator troubled by personal demons, though she is that. She is more than a superhero who walked away, though that is the core of her early identity in the series.

Why Alias works for me is that the focus is tight on character. This doesn't have to be a book with superheroes, but it happens to be. The writing of Brian Michael Bendis carries the day.

This is good stuff.

Bendis has done a good deal of work in the greater Marvel Universe, but I'm impressed enough that I'm willing to check out some of his other work. First up, naturally, will be The Pulse, which moves Jessica Jones from the MAX imprint to Marvel. Bendis has kicked ass with Jones, so why not read more of it?

*two hours later, I figured it out.

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