When it comes to superheroes, I have to admit that I’ve always been more of a DC girl. I grew up watching the Batman Animated Series with my brother and Batman has always been my favorite hero. But the longer I read graphic novels and the longer the movie and television superhero frenzy continues, the more I am impressed with Marvel. They have not only had outstanding superhero stories but they have made the transition from comic to live action television show feel seamless. Last year when they teamed up with Netflix to bring Daredevil to life, it absolutely blew my mind. Here was a hero whose last screen appearance had been that terrible movie and Marvel and Netflix not only nailed Daredevil but gave him the brutal, gritty origin story that we had all been waiting for. Tomorrow, Marvel and Netflix team up again for one of Daredevil’s friends: Jessica Jones. Last year, I read Bendis’ Daredevil run right before the show was released because I wanted to get to know Daredevil before I saw him on the screen. This week, I did the same for Jessica Jones who I knew even less about. I’ll be looking at both the twenty eight issue series Alias as well as the follow up collection, The Pulse. Both are written by Brian Michael Bendis. Alias is illustrated by Michael Gaydos while Pulse is illustrated by a succession of artists including Gaydos, Mark Bagley and Brent Anderson. For the majority of this review, I’ll be focusing on Alias as Pulse is basically a sequel.
Alias is the story of Jessica Jones, a former superhero who turned out to be not all that great at the whole superhero business and has since created her own private investigations business. Due to an accident in her childhood, Jessica has super strength and the ability to fly (which she has at best poor control over). Instead of using these “gifts,” Jessica relies primarily on investigative skills, common sense and an allergy to bullshit to solve her cases. Alias has Jessica pursuing a number of different cases which have her running into all kinds of superheroes but in particular Luke Cage, Captain America and Ms Marvel. Throughout the issues, Bendis slowly introduces Jessica as a woman whose past has so seriously damaged her that her life is a total disaster. Jessica drinks heavily, has sex with whomever she pleases and curses more than any other person she interacts with. It isn’t until the last six issues of the series that Bendis finally reveals the horrifying story behind The Purple Man, the villain who tore Jessica’s world apart and led to her leave her cape and cowl days behind forever.
Over the course of reading Alias, Jessica Jones went from a character that I remember thinking “Who the hell is that?” when Netflix announced the series about her to one of my favorite female characters in the entire Marvel universe. What I love so much about Jessica Jones is that Bendis isn’t afraid to make her imperfect. Rather than being the incredibly beautiful, incredibly intelligent and always kind and understanding superheroine that we tend to see, Jessica Jones is quite frankly a bit of mess. Her violent, damaging past with The Purple Man has left her with an inability to trust anyone or open herself up to even good friends, a distrust of herself and her abilities and a worldview so dark that it’s a wonder she can see at all. And I loved that. Jessica Jones felt like a real person, not some idealized version of a superhero. When she realized she had powers, she felt obligated to help people like I think most of us would. But not everyone is meant to be a superhero and Jessica’s mistakes meant that people got hurt and she has to live with that. Which often meant turning to alcohol and sex to cope. I loved Jessica because she wasn’t afraid to tell people to fuck off if they made her angry and she wasn’t about to worry about other people’s expectations. She just was who she was and you could get the hell out if you didn’t like it. It was a refreshing change.
The Pulse picks up where Alias left off, with Jessica Jones pregnant with Luke Cage’s baby. In order to support her child, Jessica takes a job from Jonah Jameson, infamous editor The Daily Bugle. When disaster strikes and Luke disappears, Jessica is determined to find him. Working with her coworkers at The Daily Bugle, Jessica must deal with the fallout from Secret War, suspicious superheroes and a new villain if she wants to get her family back together again. While I loved Alias, I have to admit that I found The Pulse disappointing. Jessica goes from a complex, not exactly well balanced character to the crying pregnant lady. I would guess that she spends three quarters of the volume either crying or screaming at someone. Gone is the hardboiled, tough detective we had come to know, only to be replaced by hormones and a sappy ending. It’s not that I mind Jessica being happy, but it bothers me that everything has to be tied by in a neat little bow by the end. I loved Jessica because she was a mess. She was one of the first female characters I’d ever seen that made no apologies for the terrible things in her life, some of which she was responsible for. She felt real. But The Pulse just makes her into another one of those superhero stories that spends far more time on the romance angle than on the characters themselves. It frankly bored the hell out of me and had me irritated at both her and Danny Rand/Iron Fist who comes across as a bit of a jerk. Frankly I’m hoping that the show focuses on Alias rather than The Pulse.
If you get a chance before the show is released on November 20th, I highly recommend picking up the Alias series. It’s a very dark, brutal look at superheroes and just how badly it can go wrong when you have kids who aren’t prepared for the job. It features a compelling, horrifying villain and a female character who makes no bones about her imperfection. Unfortunately, unless you’re a fan of sappy romances, I can’t say the same about The Pulse collection. Regardless, I know what I’ll be binge watching this weekend!