Monday, January 15, 2007

Book-A-Day #183 (1/15): Alias, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos

I must be liking Powers more than I think, since I seem to be seeking out other, similar comics written by Bendis. This is the next obvious step -- Powers is "cops in a superhero world," and Alias is "ex-minor superheroine as PI in the Marvel Universe."

This is a somewhat grown-up version of the MU: sex and bad language exist here, as they don't in most of the regular MU comic books. That has horrified some Internet commentators (and thrilled others), but, coming to this soon after Kim Deitch, the mere existence of those things in comical-book form doesn't mean anything in particular to me. Oh, my, the F-word and Captain America on the same page; aren't we cosmopolitan?

Bendis's dialogue is growing on me, or maybe I'm just getting used to it. It is generally speaking naturalistic, but it's a very stylized kind of naturalism -- I suspect Bendis deliberately styles his dialogue on David Mamet. The swearing works in context, because the people here swear like normal people (or, rather, the ones who do swear do so as part of their regular speech, and the characters who wouldn't swear don't toss in some curses just to keep up). The overlapping speech isn't used as much here as in the early Powers issues, and Bendis has limited himself to only having people repeat themselves three or four times, for the most part. It reads a bit like dialogue that's meant to be performed rather than read, but it works most of the time. It's a very talk-heavy series, so Bendis does some layout tricks to make it all work. (That's not quite code for "a lot of talking heads," but close.)

The viewpoint character is Jessica Jones, a PI who used to be the very minor superheroine Jewel (apparently she was briefly partner or sidekick to the Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel in the '80s -- this is all retcon, though; the character didn't really appear at that time), and who now mostly investigates straying spouses, alone, in New York. It pays badly, but she seems to be OK at it. As the series starts, it's not clear how long she's been doing this, though it does seem that she doesn't try to trade on her minor superhero contacts or to use her powers (low-end brick: limited flight, strength, probable invulnerability on some level) in her work.

This book collects the first nine issues, which cover two cases: Captain America's secret girlfriend and Rick Jones's abandoned wife. (The series isn't really set up that cleanly, though, and I like that: it meanders in and out of the cases as they come up, and her private life, such as it is, also comes in and out as thing happen.)

I like the character of Jessica Jones, though she's a bit passive. On the other hand, that may be deliberate -- she's a character in a universe where the usual reaction to anything is to punch someone through a wall, so her occasional lack of affect and reaction is clearly different from what we expect in a Marvel comic. And she feels much more like a real human being, with conflicts and doubts, than the usual long-underwear types. So I'll probably look for more of these; I think the series is collected in three more volumes.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

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