Plenty of people can tell romantic stories about reading Wonder Woman or Thor for the first time and being hooked on comics from then on. My introduction to the medium was decidedly less cool. My first books were the Disney comics stacked in between my sister’s growing collection of Spider-Man issues. I remember none of the plots of these books, making me wonder if they were plotted at all.
Later, when I got older and paid more attention to my sister’s comic books, I found myself bored with superhero stories. Why should I care about a silver dude surfing around space, talking like a caricature of an eighteenth-century gentleman? Nevermind the fact that I found the books overstimulating, looking like a deconstructed Zoetrope. All the action and overlapping dialogue and narration might have been too much for me then.
So, I didn’t read comic books for a long time. I bought into the pretension that superhero comic books were silly rags for boys and nerds—and I was totally neither. Yet I kept trying. I wanted to understand why my sister and millions of others love them. To this end, I took two comic-book related courses in college.
Then Marvel came to Netflix, and my point of view was forever altered.
A Heroine I Could Relate To
Beginning in 2015, Netflix gave us Marvel’s lesser-known heroes in their own set of series. Jessica Jones (created by Melissa Rosenberg) was the first one I watched and one of only three that I truly enjoyed. (I’m highly critical and selective, okay?) It was this gritty neo-noir show that gave me a “superhero” I could relate to. Unlike the larger-than-life super-powered mythical male figures or hyper-sexualized females, Jessica Jones is a leather jacket wearing, foul-mouthed private eye with PTSD who doesn’t want her powers. This I could dig.
Once I finished the series, I read the out-of-sequence volume my sister had bought, which was even further down to Earth than the show. In Jessica Jones: Alias, Vol. 2, Jessica hardly uses her powers except when someone pisses her off. She’s just a person with the same relationship drama, dealings with bureaucracy, and work problems we all have—and in a real way instead of the tangential, histrionic manner we usually get from the big-time superheroes.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Michael Gaydos, Alias, Vol. 2 follows our anti-heroine on a five-issue arc as she investigates the disappearance of a sixteen-year-old girl from Lago, New York. The story is a quiet, small-town mystery. It’s got the classic murder, bullying, and outcast mutant trope as every reader would expect. Jessica is at the same time a private investigator just doing her job and a strange interloper who stirs up as much controversy as she uncovers. Her main transgression starts with her presence, but she also has sex with a cop and curses out a bigoted pastor (he foolishly calls mutants “abominations”).
How Bold, How Blue…
The story is told through dialogue and thought captions, no unnecessary narration here. This helps the story flow and progress naturally as if we see the events unfold in real-time. The at-times bold coloring and layout assist in creating a simultaneously realistic and cinematic look. A few pages are washed out with moody purple or cerulean, providing another kaleidoscopic means of getting inside Jessica Jones’ head.
In terms of layout, it’s like no other comic book I’ve read. Among the typical six-panel and nine-panel grids are pages whose panels look as if they’re drifting away. It’s reminiscent of high school PowerPoint presentations, but it isn’t just some cheap effect. It’s like a movie or a memory.
Of course, none of this is particularly unique to veteran comic book readers, especially lovers of irreverent misfit stories. But it’s these stories that color the world of comic books darker and more enticing.
Alias may not have been the exact catalyst for my commitment to reading comics, but it led to a deeper exploration behind the scenes. Subsequently, I took a history of comics and a comic book writing class at university. Now I have two comic book outlines burning holes in my hard drive. Some day the market will want an eight-page book about penguins in the North Pole converting to Judaism. When that day comes, I’ll have Jessica Jones to thank.