Jessica Jones vol. 1: Uncaged

August 6, 2017

Bendis’ first series with Michael Gaydos featuring self-destructive former-superhero-turned-P.I. Jessica Jones, known back then as just plain “Alias,” is easily one of the high points of the writer’s tenure at Marvel.  It provided a mature, grounded look at the underbelly of the Marvel Universe that not only still reads well today, but paved the way for one of the better Marvel Netflix shows.  It’s because of that show’s success that we’re getting this new series from the original creators which finds Jessica’s life in shambles once again.

How bad are things for her this time?  When the series opens, she’s being let out of the Cellar, the Ryker’s-adjacent superhero prison in New York.  We also find out in short order that she’s on the outs with most of her superhero friends after she took Danielle, the daughter she had with Luke Cage, and hid her away somewhere.  Now she’s got Misty Knight, Jessica Drew,  and Cage himself hounding her to find out where she hid Danielle.  If that wasn’t enough, Jessica soon finds herself entangled with an anti-superhero group led by a woman who has a very specific bone to pick with Carol Danvers after the events of “Civil War II.”  All of this just makes the routine spousal investigation job Jessica took appear normal by comparison.  Until the wife who hired her winds up dead.

 

If you’re thinking, “This sounds like a lot to take in,” it actually reads pretty well in the comic.  The biggest problem with all of this, and the volume at large, is that the reason why Jessica throws her life away feels pretty contrived.  I know that self-destructiveness is a big part of her character, but the way Bendis has written the character since the beginning has had her fighting against that and winding up in a pretty good place overall.  Based on that I just can’t believe she’d throw it all away because one of her best friends asked her to.  Maybe Bendis has plans to dig into Jessica’s thought process regarding that decision at a later date because as things are now it just reads as a means for the writer to get his protagonist back into a bad place.

 

The thing is I can pretty much forgive him for this because the overall story here reads very well.  Bendis’ output over the past few years has been decidedly uneven, but this is something of a return to form for the writer.  One of the best things about his early Marvel work was how he fused grounded human concerns with credible superhero action.  That’s on fine display here as we see Jessica hash things out with her super-powered friends in a way that feels perfectly relatable.

 

There’s also the matter of the case she takes on with the woman hiring her because she thinks her husband is going crazy.  Why?  Well, he believes that eight months ago he was married to another woman and they had a kid together.  Then the universe was destroyed and rebuilt and now he’s married to someone completely different.  This should sound very familiar to anyone who’s read “Secret Wars” and it’s a unique way of looking at the fallout from that event series that manages to make the man’s plight sympathetic despite the morbid turns it takes.  It’s the kind of stuff that has been missing from Bendis’ recent superhero work and it’s good have it back here.

 

It’s also good that Gaydos is back illustrating this series because I can’t imagine a proper “Jessica Jones” title without him.  His style is so integral to the lived-in, down-to-earth look of the series that it just wouldn’t feel the same.  This is probably why “The Pulse” didn’t click until he came on to illustrate its final arc.  Aside from defining the look of Jessica’s world, Gaydos is also great with making a very dialogue-driven title interesting to look at.  Whether it’s his impressively emotive characters or willingness to draw as many panels as needed, following the many conversations of this title is never boring.

 

Were I a betting man I’d say that the whole reason Bendis has thrown Jessica’s life back into the toilet is to show that she’s capable of pulling herself out of it no matter what the situation.  This means that this new “Jessica Jones” title is going to have a remarkably similar arc to her previous one.  Normally that would count against it, but this volume does provide a lot of the grounded superhero drama that I liked about her original title so much.  So it’s not a groundbreaking return for the character, but a welcome one all the same.

 

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

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