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Alias #23

Posted: Monday, June 16, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Plot:
The book opens with Jessica returning to school, where she finds Flash Thompson isn't exactly about to let the fact that her family was killed, and she was put into a coma, stop him from making fun of her. After she lets Flash know what she thinks of his attempt at humor, an distraught Jessica heads off to spend some time alone, and she's in such a sour mood that when Peter Parker happens by and attempts to strike up a conversation, she bites his head off. As she runs away from the school, caught up in her grief, we see her make a rather amazing discovery, as she actually leaves the ground, and finds herself flying high above the city. However, her flight isn't exactly all that controlled as she ends up coming down in the Hudson River, and the only thing that keeps her from drowning is Thor, who happens by to rescue this fair, but foul mouthed maiden. We then join Jessica later that night as she has a conversation with her foster-father about why someone who found they had superpowers would decide to become a super-hero, and this conversation inspires Jessica start down the path to become a hero. We then join her as she tests her powers in the park, as she uses her super-strength to knock dock a tree, before turning her attention back to her flying. We then see Jessica manages to secure her first victory as she lands on the Scorpion, who had been attempting to rob a laundry mat.

Comments:
This issue was pretty much what I expected it to be going in which is a bit of a shame really as most times Brian Michael Bendis is able to exceed my expectations. Now I think part of the problem was that this issue is largely devoid of the back & forth interaction that is the strongest feature of Brian Michael Bendis' writing, as except for a brief exchange with Peter Parker, and a fairly solid moment that Jessica has with her foster father, this issue is mostly Jessica slowly discovering she has super powers. Now the scenes where she discovers & tests the limits of these abilities are quite entertaining, as I've always been rather fond of the early moments in a super-hero's life as they stumble and bumble their way through their early battles, and by extension watching Jessica's awkward first steps was a lot of fun. This issue also has one of the more amusing guest-appearances by Thor that has ever been offered up, with his final line to here being a classic Jessica Jones moment. I also enjoyed the scene where she reacts to Flash Thompson's tormenting, and the scene where the Scorpion attempt to rob a laundry mat was a wonderful bit of comedy. Jessica's first victory of a costumed villain also comes about in a rather amusing manner, and the reaction of the crowd to her victory is also a cute little exchange.

If I did have to make one quibble about the book it would have to be the opening "fourteen years ago" caption, as the news report on television makes it clear Spider-Man is active, and since Peter Parker was in his final year of high school when he was bitten, if one adds the fourteen years, he's now pushing thirty. Still, it's not a huge detail, and it's easy to ignore, so I'm simply going to let it drop. The book does have some fun playing around in this earlier era, as her scene with Peter Parker is a fun exchange, as we see Peter extends his olive branch, and Jessica not only snaps it in two but she cusses like a sailor while doing so. In fact Peter's stunned expression is a wonderful little moment that perfectly contrasts the two characters, as Peter the shy, introverted boy next door, while Jessica is the foul mouthed hellion who every mother would dread seeing their son bringing home to meet them. From her reaction to Flash's taunting, to her steady stream of cursing as the law of gravity reasserts itself, this issue shows us that Jessica has never exactly been your typical super-hero. The scenes where she tests her abilities is also a fun little exchange, as after she manages to rip her shirt while testing her super-strength, we see her suddenly grow bored of testing that ability, as she shifts her attention to the far cooler ability to fly.

I have to say I remain quite surprised that Michael Gaydos is the one who is providing the art for this arc, as from a visual sense the work is a fairly noticeable departure from what we had been getting. The work has a simpler look to it that nicely captures the mood of this period of Marvel history, as Peter Parker has his little cowlick, and Thor looks bright & colorful. The art also does a wonderful job conveying the sense of hurt, as the scene where Jessica is running, while she's tormented by visions of the accident, perfectly presents the idea that she has not moved past this tragedy. The sense of discovery when we first see her high above the city is also very nicely done, as is the cute scene where she nearly drowns as she tries to take to the air once again. The art also does some nice work on the facial expressions, as her reaction to the comments made by her foster father manage to really sell the idea that she's considering becoming a super-hero, and her look of uncertainty, during her early attempts at flight is also quite impressive. Now the Scorpion with his full face mask was a little strange, but since I've always made a big fuss about battle armor leaving one's face completely exposed I guess I really shouldn't be making too much noise when an artist finally adopts a logical design that a villain seeking complete protection would wear.

Final Word:
A somewhat predictable affair, that doesn't really bring anything new to the table when it comes to detailing Jessica tentative first steps on her path to becoming a costumed hero. However, it a pretty enjoyable exercise that manages to play up the idea that Jessica isn't exactly your run over the mill super-hero, as her encounter with Thor is a hilarious contrast between the two characters. I also hold a certain fondness for these type stories, as my favorite sequence in the Spider-Man film was his awkward looking pursuit of Uncle Ben's killer, as there's something intrinsically entertaining about the idea of a hero who is pushed into action when they are completely unprepared, and watching Jessica test out her powers is a nice first step down this road. In the end the issue is pretty entertaining, as the Scorpion scene made me smile, and one does have to love the little exchange on the final page as Jessica gets her first opportunity to bask in the lukewarm praise of the gathered crowd. The silver age style art also helped to make this origin tale into something special.



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