Investigating Alias #8-10

Alias #8 and #9 wrap up the relatively low key “B-List” storyline where Jessica Jones tracks down Marvel’s ultimate sidekick and general failure at playing Bob Dylan songs, Rick...

Alias #8 and #9 wrap up the relatively low key “B-List” storyline where Jessica Jones tracks down Marvel’s ultimate sidekick and general failure at playing Bob Dylan songs, Rick Jones, on behalf of his frightened wife. In an all too predictable twist, he’s just some guy, who read Rick Jones’ book Sidekick, and is pretending to be him. This is why he gets extremely paranoid when Jessica tries to reach out to the Avengers and Fantastic Four to solve his “Kree-Skrull War” issue. There is also a sub-plot where she tracks down a woman’s husband, who hits on men in gay chat rooms and then meets them in public. The treatment of this man’s sexuality is a little awkward as Jessica automatically assumes that he’s gay and frightens him into coming out after he gives a psychological explanation for why someone would pretend to be close to superheroes.

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On the other hand, Alias #10 is a stand alone issue with an experimental format. Instead of the usual comic with word balloons and grids and layers of panels, this issue is a basically an illustrated screenplay with dialogue typed out over Michael Gaydos’ oil painting-style art, which focuses on an important static image, like Jessica reading the newspaper headlines in the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson smoking his trademark cigar, or a double page splash of the Globe headline that outed Matt Murdock as Daredevil. The plot of Alias #10 is more humorous than previous issues as J. Jonah Jameson hires Jessica Jones to find out Spider-Man’s secret identity while Ben Urich reports on her discoveries and leads. He pays her an advance after insulting her former (superhero) and current (private investigator) professions as well as her gender and is rewarded with Jessica billing food for soup kitchens and help for orphans and people suffering from AIDS to the Daily Bugle. Rage ensues.

In Alias #8-9, Jessica Jones decides to stop wallowing in alcohol, loneliness, and paranoia and actually try to help Rick Jones, who she calls a “friend of a friend”. His (supposed) paranoia about the Kree and Skrull Empires putting an intergalactic bounty on his head corresponds directly to her paranoia in “Alias Investigations” when she was constantly wondering why she ended up with a tape with Captain America’s secret identity, and if she had it in her possession. The opening pages don’t contain much danger, but Gaydos bathes the page in shadows, silhouettes with a black and grey palette from Matt Hollingsworth. Most of the issue is a constant walk culminating in Rick Jones talking about how he’s considered a “war criminal” for putting a stop to the Kree-Skrull War while being literally fenced in. After reading issue 9 where it’s revealed that he’s a delusional liar, these pages show how trapped Rick is in the false life that he’s made for himself. (And he can barely play guitar.)

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Even though the Rick Jones she was with was a phony and a good chance for her to test her investigative and bullshit detector skills, Jessica Jones does make a connection with the actual Rick Jones through the pages of his book Sidekick, which features more gorgeous spot illustrations from Bill Sienkiewicz. Alias #8 opens with a page from Rick’s book where he compares himself to Forrest Gump because of his series of superpowered coincidences, including seeing Bruce Banner become the Hulk, becoming Captain America’ new sidekick, and sharing the Nega-Bands with Mar-Vell, or Captain Marvel. Sienkiewicz’s illustration for this page shows the rush of cosmic power for Rick Jones, but there is also pain and anguish as Mar-Vell died of cancer before he had the chance to possibly become a powerful, inspirational hero , or basically the Superman of the Marvel Universe in Rick’s mind. (Sorry, Hyperion and Sentry.)

Likewise, Jessica has both a positive and fearful response to her close connection with the Earth’s mightiest heroes. (Arguably, she is better deserving of the Forrest Gump of the Marvel Universe title when the “Secret Origin of Jessica Jones” connects her closely to Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and even Thor to go along with Luke Cage, Carol Danvers, Matt Murdock, and heroes she talks to a more regular basis.) She is still awkward around the Avengers and Fantastic Four, whose robot receptionist she can’t get past. Also, her abhorrent hanger-on Malcolm shows up again at her lowest point and calls Edwin Jarvis a “mutha fucka” after she passes out in front of her laptop. Captain America might owe her one, but she is still uneasy in the world of superheroes and scratches her head when the cheating psychotherapist she is tracking for his wife brings up the concept of “mutant envy”.

And it all comes to a head in a diner conversation with the fake Rick Jones where Jessica is at her most vulnerable and talks about the strong physical, almost somatic response she had to being around superheroes. From reading his book (Especially the Sienkiewicz illustrations, one of which shows Rick in a daze surrounded by Thor, Cap, Iron Man, and Vision.), she thinks that he shares this feeling too. Bendis’ writing gets both vivid and earthy as she compares  the feeling of being around the Avengers to blood shooting out of her fingers, or when it’s so hard to process a teacher’s lecture that it sounds like a foreign language. Jessica is at her most earnest in her dialogue, but Rick just gives her several non-responses and proves that he isn’t the real Rick Jones. The little nods and gestures by Jessica in the present show her process of finding this out.

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Matt Hollingsworth colors this scene in a deep blue that is very different from the yellow palette of the coffeehouse or the black and grey for her other conversation with Rick Jones. This shift in color shows that this sequence is a transformative moment for Jessica even if the plot isn’t very exciting and Rick Jones’ wife is a one-dimensional “crazy woman”. But the story ends on a well-earned note of cynicism as Jessica profanely continues to wonder why ordinary humans are so obsessed with superpowers. Jessica is like a former child star, who has tasted the supposed rewards of fame, but realized its bitterness and shakes her head at people like fake Rick Jones, who will do anything to get a taste of it.

Speaking of fame, Alias #10 deals with Jessica Jones and Marvel’s mascot, Spider-Man in a kind of unofficial crossover of Bendis’ main books: Alias, Daredevil, and Ultimate Spider-Man. He also gets to indulge his inner playwright with long, repartee filled conversations that go nowhere and then find their way back. J. Jonah Jameson is a perfect character to be featured in this kind of format as he can’t shut up and is constantly talking over or at the people around him, including his loyal employees, like Robbie Robertson, Ben Urich, and Betty Brant, who make appearances in the comic.

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For example, when Alias #10 opens, Jessica Jones is sharing polite, if slightly sassy small talk with Jameson’s receptionist sharing an easy back and forth conversation. But then Jameson bursts in and starts by asking Jessica’s business before yelling for various staff members. When he does pay attention to her, he wraps his compliments into vicious personal attacks. Jameson commends Jessica for going relatively public about her superpowers, but then refers to her crime fighting days as Jewel and Knightress as a “questionable past”. He even leads off his chat with her by saying she’s not the most moral person because she’s a private eye. Then, he gives her all of her press clippings as some kind of a thank you gift. J. Jonah Jameson is a real character and assumes from his place of privilege that he can bludgeon his employees into submission and by extension the superpowered community of New York. But perhaps he’s finally found his match in Jessica Jones.

Because of the experimental format, Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth are only limited to a few images per page in Alias #10 unlike Alias #9, which featured a 28 page grid to show the irritating nature of Malcolm’s attempts to get a job from Jessica and his stale antics. However, this limitation leads to some of Gaydos’ richest work in a Saturday Evening Post illustration style, especially with Jessica’s reaction shots, like her smirk filled grin when she asks for an advance to her smile when J. Jonah Jameson yells at her over voicemail about how he’ll sue her and make her a persona non grata even though suing someone for helping the less fortunate will lead to negative media attention on Jameson.

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And some of Gaydos’ full or double page images are clever, like using Ben Urich’s glasses as a reflection of J. Jonah Jameson’s seething rage as he tells his boss what Jessica did with her expense account. This is done in a matter of fact, “Just the facts, please.” way fitting of this skilled and ethical reporter, who has a heart for those helping the ordinary people of New York even if they wear a mask like Daredevil and Spider-Man. He is also willing to do anything to get a good scoop, and  busing tables at the local soup kitchen is a small price to pay for uncovering Spider-Man’s secret identity even if it’s just Jessica trolling J. Jonah Jameson while being a good person and ensuring he’ll never come after her advance.

Even if its “twist” is anti-climactic and the characterizations of side characters veer into mirrors for Jessica’s self-actualization, Alias #8-9 features some excellent use of colors to indicate mood in the story as well as give Jessica a truly vulnerable moment where she talks about how she feels about being around superheroes.

Alias #10 solidifies Jessica Jones’ status as the one woman trope buster of the Marvel Universe as she breaks J. Jonah Jameson’s 40 year reign of terror over his employees and the masked heroes of New York by standing up to him in a clever, yet altruistic way. Even though he just wants to sell papers, J. Jonah Jameson is a toxic person, who can go from calling Ben Urich the best investigative reporter to the worst one at the drop of a hat. This is what make Jessica’s triumph against him so hilariously cathartic, and Alias #10 one of the series’ most memorable issues. The form of the issue also makes it act as an interesting Venn Diagram between prose, comics, and visual arts showing a complementary relationship between the blocks of text and sparse images. Occasionally, there’s an oppositional relationship like Jameson’s smiling face as he smokes and tries to take Jessica down a peg. It’s also a nice gateway drug for fans of Spider-Man and/or Daredevil to get into Alias and Jessica Jones.

Alias #8-10 (2002)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Michael Gaydos and Bill Sienkiewicz (8)
Colors by Matt Hollingsworth
Letters by Wes Abbott and Richard Starkings
Published by Marvel Comics (MAX)

Categories
ComicsMarvel
Logan Dalton

Logan is a nerdy, bisexual ginger, who recently graduated university with a degree in English Literature and Overanalyzing Comic Books. He loves comics, music (especially New Wave and BritPop), film (especially Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright), sports (college football and NBA), TV, mythology, and poetry. Joss Whedon is his master, Kitty Pryde is his favorite superhero, and his current favorite comic is The Wicked + the Divine.

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