Friday, June 02, 2017

Review: Jessica Jones Vol. 1: Uncaged!

Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos return to their Jessica Jones character for the first comic to star the super-powered Private Investigator since 2014, a move no doubt inspired by the well-received 2015 Netflix series (and, one imagines, a boost to trade paperback collection sales of the original 28-issue Alias series). The new ongoing monthly isn't titled Alias, after all, but Jessica Jones.

In truth, Bendis didn't stop writing the character when he moved on from her solo title, as he took her with him into the pages of the short-lived series The Pulse and his long run on the Avengers franchise, where she continued to play a role, albeit a small, supporting one. Doing so meant moving her significantly far away from the character who was able to power the iconoclastic Max imprint series, however, as she married Luke Cage, devoted herself to being a mother to their child and lived with the Avengers in Avengers Tower (and their other bases).

So to relaunch a title with Jessica as the star, and to make it much of anything at all like the TV show and the original comics run that inspired it, Bendis and Gaydos had to return the character to where she was over a decade ago. Surprisingly, Bendis accomplishes this rather easily, although granted the mechanics of how she became estranged from Luke, where their child is and why she is once again a pariah in the superhero community, taking shady cases just to make rent, is all left as a mystery. And it's a mystery, I should say, that was almost certainly terrible frustrating to anyone who attempted to read the first six issues of the series serially, as it was published, rather than waiting for the trade paperback collection (If I have learned anything at all about Brian Michael Bendis during the sixteen years or so I have been reading his work, it is this--always wait for the trade).

I suppose it would constitute a story-ruining spoiler to reveal what exactly is going on, which isn't made apparent until the final of these issues, so suffice it to say that when the new series begins, Jessica has just been released from a prison for superheroes, and is trying to get her life back together. Her daughter Danielle is not with her, and Luke wants to know where she is, as Misty, Jessica Drew and, finally, Luke himself all confront her about Danielle, with Jessica either telling them off or jumping away in a super-leap.

Meanwhile, she takes an unusual case and is just about simultaneously approached by a mysterious woman using Spider-Man villain Spot for muscle.

I was somewhat surprised how heavily this initial story arc revolved around the events of Secret Wars and Civil War II, and there's even a strange, hallucinatory appearance by a young black woman dressed like Captain America that Jessica addresses with, "Dani?" Danielle Cage is Captain America in a possible future, but you likely wouldn't know that if you hadn't read any of Al Ewing's various Avengers comics. I don't know that one necessarily needs to have read these comics to be able to read and enjoy Jessica Jones, of course, and I suppose it's worth noting that, at least in terms of the Secret Wars plotline, it is very much in keeping with what Alias originally did, looking at the fantastic events of the Marvel Universe from a street-level, more real-world point-of-view, and dramatizing how the world of superhero adventure affects those on the edges like Jessica Jones and her clientele.

The Secret Wars business, by the way, is that a woman hires Jessica to prove that her husband isn't crazy, because he believes he is a refugee from another universe, and that he was suddenly plopped into this universe when his own was destroyed, replacing the version of himself that existed in this universe. That, of course, sounds insane to everyone he explains it to, but he's basically like a civilian version of Spider-Man Miles Morales and, I don't know, I think Ultimate Thor and maybe Ultimate Captain America made it into the post-Secret Wars Universe too.

The Civil War II tie-in is a little weirder, in that here Bendis is tying into his own big event comic, which is a slightly more uncomfortable thing, and it's so much harder to do convincingly now that Bendis himself isn't writing from the edges of the Marvel publishing line, but is driving it himself with events comics like Civil War II. That element is that Alison Green, the innocent banking lady that Captain Marvel had extraordinarily renditioned and was illegally holding without charge based on a prediction from Ulysses that didn't pan out in Civil War II #4 (the final dumb and/or bad thing she did before Iron Man brought his team to the Triskelion to free Green and fight Captain Marvel) was radicalized by Captain Marvel, and become part of an organization intent on killing superheroes. (This is also somewhat awkward in that it makes the case, sort of, that she wasn't completely innocent, and that Ulysses was right to suspect her...after a fashion.)

If you didn't read any of those comics though, I don't know how you read this one. I asked my friend, who recently devoured and loved Alias and liked the Jessica Jones TV show, what she thought of this new series, which she has been buying and reading serially, and she said she has no idea what is going on. That may be a function of Bendis building it on event comics, and/or it may be a function of his writing for the trade as per usual, so that it takes about a half of year to demystify the mystery.

But read in trade, and being familiar with what it references? I liked it pretty okay. I did not care for the art much, however. Gaydos' style is, well, Gaydos' style and this is his character and a new version of his book. I don't know if he's gotten lazier since the early aughts, or if I've just become more aware of it, but there are quite a few irritatingly obvious shortcuts in the art here. It's not just the usage of photos for most of the backgrounds, although that too is annoying, but Gaydos recycles images repeatedly, so in the course of a single conversation between Alison and Jessica, Alison will continually make the same face and gesture. It's a very 1960s Hana-Barbera kind of thing to be seeing in a comic book collection published in 2017.

All in all, this trade is a pretty good reminder that you cannot, in fact, go home again, but Bendis and Gaydos have done a pretty good approximation of home here.

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