writer: Brian Michael Bendis
art: Mike Gaydos (framing story) and Mark Bagley (flashback)
Jessica wakes up from a drunken spree in Luke Cage's apartment. His gruff familiarity (interesting that she chose him as her refuge and not current boyfriend Scott Lang or employer Matt Murdock, a man she now idealizes) allows her to finally explain the dark secret that's been haunting her since the title began.
Let's start with the cover. It's pretty cool. The panel format allows Mack to comment on the concept of the issue (four-color whimsy that comes crashing down to earth) as well as the interior art, while depicting the sophisticated, sexual and complicated woman that Jessica has become. Like the one for #23, it's a collage, but one that alludes to pop art and the comics world all at once.
Bendis recently gave us "Jewel's" origin, and it was the standard "radioactive isotope" one that activated Spiderman, Daredevil, and so many others over the years. The difference in Jessica's case was that the accident (a banal car crash) was something she felt partially responsible for, and one that left her orphaned and bereft of family or friends. It took her a long time to get from that confused, hurting teenager to the brilliant figure Bagley depicts so perfectly in this issue (and in fact as he has done in every issue where we've seen Jewel in action in her ridiculous late-eighties-style getup). The contrast of Bagley's style and Gaydos's darker, more Vertigo look is a subtle critique of both artists, really, playing to their strengths while revealing Jessica's briefly shining past as a fragile illusion, a heaven from which she has fallen to hell.
I'm not sure how much to reveal of what she suffered at the hands of the mind-controlling Purple Man, whom she falls victim too with chilling ease. No Batman she, he snares her in a moment of complete over-confidence on her part. The story's not quite over to judge from the possible cliffhanger of the ending. Bendis' trademark talking heads dialogue is brilliantly carried out this time by Jessica and Luke, friends, colleagues, battle veterans and sometime lovers whose relationship is one of the most complicated ones I remember reading in comics.
Luke gets her to reveal herself as no one else could, because she respects him and knows he's seen even worse. And not one exclamation of "Christmas!" in sight.
Bagley is excellent in depicting the cockiness of an over-confident Jewel, walking head-on and unprepared into the Purple Man's nightmare. His hatred of costumed heroes makes her his whipping post, and Bagley's panel of a mind-controlled Jessica wearing the clothing of a sexual plaything is all the more tragic because it's Bagley drawing such a scene rather than Gaydos. Suffice it to say, under Killgrave's control, she pisses off the Avengers, leading to a very imposing Thor threatening her on the last page. Great work by all parties involved.
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