In Alias #11, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos give Jessica Jones a break from being an urban P.I. and have her take a missing persons case in the small fictional town of Lago, New York. She is looking for Rebecca Cross, the teenage daughter of a middle class family, who is the subject of a lot of local media attention. Her parents separated after she went missing, and her mother Katherine thought her dad, Ed, who is both an alcoholic and unfaithful, killed or kidnapped her. He does happen to be a terrible person that happens to love his daughter very much. The case gets interesting towards the end of Alias #11 when a random student at Rebecca’s school says that Rebecca was a mutant.
Alias #12 features some guest art from its cover artist David Mack, who draws the collages in Rebecca’s diary, and Ultimate Spider-Man artist Mark Bagley, who draws a two page flashback of Jessica’s brighter days as the superhero Jewel. Jessica talks to various high school students about the possibility of Rebecca being a mutant, including a disgusting jock named Freddy Thompson. (The literal first words out of his mouth are “Fuck my dick. It’s the hottest sub in the history of the world.”) She also has a few drinks and flirts with the town sheriff Sean while going over the investigation, but he throws her in jail when the sex gets too rough. The issue ends with a Saturday hangover, and Jessica picking up on a throwaway line from a reporter earlier about a church
Alias #11-12 is a nice change of pace from the previous issues of the series because it is the first arc that is removed from the major players in the Marvel Universe. Excepting a flashback, no established Marvel characters or their impersonators appear as Jessica Jones works on a seemingly routine missing person case. The lack of superhero distractions allows Bendis and Gaydos to explore how out of place she is in this small town where the newspaper is free, the main drug kingpin is a senior in high school, there’s one bar, and everyone is expected to go to church on Sunday. Her arrival has disrupted Lago’s fragile ecosystem, and there is a feeling of uneasiness in every interaction she has with a townperson besides the friendly flirting with Sean in Alias #12. Multiple times, she or the people she is talking ask if she is speaking English or actually a foreign language in a metaphorical sense, which pegs her as an outsider.
In Alias #11, Gaydos reuses poses and layouts from previous arcs of the comic for the interview scenes with Katherine and Ed Cross. But unlike Alias #1 where he zooms into the woman’s emotional face, Gaydos uses two pieces of art for Katherine Cross: a vacant expression and blinking. This forces Bendis to shoulder the lion’s share of the storytelling with one of his trademark naturalistic, yet rambling monologues. He gives both Katherine and Ed Cross more characterization than a stereotypical feuding parents freaked out for their child even if Ed’s drinking, womanizing, and watching TV in his underwear looks like sitcom dad with added darkness. Katherine Cross has come to terms with how bad her relationship with her daughter was and feels guilty about it, which is why she is shelling the big bucks for Jessica to find her. However, the event has caused her to take charge of her life and leave her husband, who objectifies women and is a loser. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth makes her scenes well-lit and gives her bright, blonde hair because she seems like a good person unlike her husband, who is stuck in the darkness until he walks out of his split level and lets Jessica have the run of the place.
Through the collage diary, Bendis creates a connection between Jessica Jones and the missing Rebecca Cross, who we only know about from the reports of others. In a single panel, Gaydos shows the process of growing up using scrapbook pictures as Rebecca goes from a chubby, blonde baby to a striking young woman with dyed white hair, stylish sunglasses, and a black top. Basically, she resembles a more understated Black Cat or Silver Sable, which makes sense because she has posters of anti-heroes or “anti-heroes”, like Daredevil, Punisher, and Elektra in her bedroom. The diary is gorgeously put together even if the sentiments are done in broad strokes like images of a cage or “deep” quotes, but it’s kind of the job to make big, sweeping statements about the meaning of life and other conundrums. David Mack draws the diary pages in his signature mixed media style, and he captures the feeling of being the Other as a teen even if the pages don’t reveal much about her location or the case. It’s a refreshing subversion of mystery fiction tropes as the secret diary doesn’t have any special clues, but is just the poetic expression of an intelligent young woman, who was bullied by her peers for just being different. The inset panels from Gaydos reveal Jessica’s empathy for Rebecca with some of her most sincere facial expression that stand in direct contrasts with her eye rolls towards Freddy Thompson or disdain for Lago’s ace reporter.
And she is treated in much the same way by Sean, who seems like a nice guy up for a one night stand, but ends up being horrible to Jessica in a major way by putting her in jail because the sex was “too much” for him. (Not everyone can be Luke Cage.) Instead of communicating with her and telling her to slow down or take a break, he treats her as less than human and doesn’t even let her crash on his couch. In the first panel after the sex scene and probably alcohol induced flashback, it looks like Jessica is caged up like an animal, which is possibly how Sean sees her. It is how men like Ed and Freddy Thompson talk about them (who looks like Flash Thompson’s cousin or something with his bowl cut.) throughout Alias #12 with Ed referring to Jessica and his wife as “bitch” numerous times, and Freddy seeing cat calling and asking a girl out as synonymous. Lago is a town where toxic masculinity is an accepted practice, and no one does anything about it. (Katherine won’t go into details about her husband’s “leering” when Jessica asks her about it.) It is a small, insular area, which allows misogyny to grow like a weed, and this throws off Jessica off as some hot flirting and making out turns into slut shaming under the harsh yellow palette of Matt Hollingsworth.
The best part of Alias #11 and #12 is that it uses Rebecca’s mutant status as a metaphor for being a LGBTQ person in a non-urban area. Rebecca’s mutant status comes out when she rebuffs Freddy’s sexist advances by blaming her mutant powers to get him to go away, and this becomes the chief topic of school gossip with the note “Die” getting painted on her locker. However, one of Rebecca’s old friends has never seen her manifest her powers and says that she isn’t a mutant because she didn’t deny the fact when someone asked her if she was one. There is clearly some unreliable narrator tricks going on, and this makes the teen gossip more authentic as well as the mystery more compelling. The images of Daredevil, Punisher, and Elektra around Rebecca’s things shows her admiration for these dark figures and shows her as part teen being edgy and part being inspired by their more violent approach to justice. Maybe, she fantasized about taking the law into her own hands and silencing the bullies, who threatened her and made fun of her for her mutant status. Or how I feel when I read Midnighter.
The fear of being outed as queer in a predominantly conservative community is a tough one, and it is why I personally didn’t come out as bisexual while living in a certain area, which will remain unnamed. Even enjoying or doing something different from the unspoken norm can leave to censure. While living in this area, I got in trouble for bringing Watchmen on a Central American mission trip, was censured for knowing the Saw films existed, and was told that the Christian alternative metal band Flyleaf was “bad beats”. (Whatever the hell that is supposed to mean.) It is fitting that Bendis makes the connection between homophobia and certain branches of Christianity comes in the final pages when Jessica happens upon a bigoted preacher practicing his anti-mutant sermon in a noirish sequence from Gaydos and colorist Hollingsworth, and the small town mystery hits peek eeriness.
Despite some reused panel layouts and weak facial expressions, Alias #11-12 takes Jessica Jones out of her element and city while also putting a microscope to the misogyny, racism, and homophobia (The latter two through the mutant metaphor) that grow like putrid fungus in some, small American towns. Plus having David Mack doing any kind of interiors is a storytelling treat as his images flesh out the missing character Rebecca better than any flashback could.
Alias #11-12 (2002)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Michael Gaydos (11-12), David Mack (12), Mark Bagley (12), Rodney Ramos (12)
Colors by Matt Hollingsworth
Letters by Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott
Published by Marvel Comics (MAX)