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In the Beginning

  Alias: The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones

 

Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos

MAX/Marvel, 2004

Rating: 4.0

 

 

Posted: June 12, 2004

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Brian Michael Bendis is currently enjoying an unlikely reign as one of the most popular, top-tier superhero writers in comics; unlikely, given that he initially made his mark with a series of gritty, black-and-white crime comics (Jinx, Torso) marked by stuttering, hesitant (i.e., "real") dialogue and atrocious spelling. Don't get me wrong: Bendis certainly deserves his present success, but that's more thanks to his willingness to place his characters in extremely dire situations, creating the kind of "Holy Shit!" moments arrested adolescents crave.

Alias, Bendis' detective series set squarely in the Marvel Universe, has had its fair share of such moments while allowing Bendis the opportunity to revisit his noir-ish roots, and The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones, the series' concluding volume, packs in the most yet. Here, Bendis unfolds the origins of Jessica's short-lived superhero career (involving radioactive materials and a spectacular car crash that leaves her an orphan) and reveals the humiliating ordeal at the hands of a mind-controlling villain named Killgrave that drove her out of the spandex scene for good (the flashback scenes are nicely handled, as always, by Mark Bagley, whose bright, mainstream style is a good contrast to Michael Gaydos' darker, more abstract artwork). There are also guest appearances by the truckload, including a cutesy bit revealing that the teenage Jessica Jones was a painfully shy wallflower with an intense crush on fellow nerd Peter Parker.

Such moments add agreeable layers to the story, but they're undermined by Bendis' signature tic -- his trademark halting dialogue -- which has long since worn out its welcome, and its effectiveness. Characters begin sentences, stop, falter, and try again, which works well occasionally to accent emotional scenes. But Bendis uses it as a crutch, the only "authenticity" weapon in his arsenal, and its overuse is a glaring distraction.

Secret Origins is compelling reading, but not always in a way that feels entirely healthy: Bendis doesn't just put Jessica through the wringer, he breaks her down and leaves her an awkward, jumpy, self-conscious mess -- a state she inhabits throughout the course of the series. But if the piling on of travails seems excessive, the writer does offer his protagonist a chance to confront the man who messed up her life, although her eventual triumph comes via a deus ex machina involving Jean Gray of the X-Men.

Ultimately, Origins wraps up a definite arc in the character's life and sets up a new one, excising (a little too neatly) one long-running romantic subplot and inserting a major life-changing event toward the end. All of this paves the way for the new ongoing series The Pulse, which repositions her as a reporter at the Daily Bugle. It's a promising setup -- who's not intrigued by fresh starts and new beginnings? Hopefully Bendis can use the change to make a fresh start of his own, easing up on both the quirky dialogue and Jessica Jones herself; a certain amount of wrenching drama is great, but who wants to keep coming back to a train wreck?

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
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