“Fear: Part 2”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Michael Gaydos, Matt Hollingsworth (colours)
Publisher: Marvel comics
Anyone who ever followed Alias will need no more incentive to be reading this book than the names of that series’ two key creators, and the leap in quality from the last couple of issues of this title shows just why Jessica Jones’ original book was such a hit. It’s enough of a pleasure to see Bendis and Gaydos back together that they could even have probably got away with an inferior story, but they’ve really brought their A-game to this book. “Fear” presents Bendis creation Jones going into labour three months ahead of time (okay, so if you’re a continuity freak the maths doesn’t work) at the same time as reporter Ben Urich looks into the case of D-Man, a third-tier superhero who seems to have developed a habit of stealing from crime scenes in order to fund his homeless existence. These two story threads are fun in parallel but are so far unconnected, and although Jessica’s story is given a lot more focus this issue I’m equally intrigued by yet another interesting take on a forgotten z-list character that Bendis might be able to turn into something quite original.
Jessica Jones’ story doesn’t really progress all that much this time round (she’s still grunting and groaning and waiting to see her baby make an appearance by the issue’s end), but there’s an interesting sequence of events involving the delivery of her child which gives some thought-provoking insight into how super-powered people might be treated by regular hospitals in the Marvel Universe. Their fear of Jessica’s “mutant” baby leads to small-minded squabbling and bickering amongst medical staff, serving only to accentuate the fear and anxiousness that the expecting mother is palpably feeling at the premature birth of her child. Indeed, the title of this arc is beginning to make more and more sense as the story progresses, with both Jessica and Luke Cage put in less-than-enviable positions as expectant parents, having to face the base fears that all human beings experience when the life of their child hangs in the balance. It’s a very human element of a superhuman story which really helps to ground the fantastical characters of the Marvel Universe, and provides a threat that can’t be defeated by a simple fistfight. Nevertheless, whereas Jessica has no choice but to remain stoic as she is carted from one Doctor to another (courtesy of Carol Danvers and the guest-starring New Avengers), Cage at least gets a chance to play macho man as he tears through the city to reach his distressed girlfriend in time for the birth.
Michael Gaydos’ artwork is better than ever in this issue, augmented by the subtle yet vivid colouring of veteran colour artist Matt Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth has shown over a number of titles just how important the contribution of a colorist can be to a comic book, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here, adding a crucial realistic edge to the urban surroundings of Luke Cage and Ben Urich, but never letting things get unappealingly murky or washed-out in the name of gritty realism. He also makes sure to infuse the more superheroic elements of the story with important dashes of colour, creating a classic Avengers feel for the scenes which feature the New group, and adding a portentous air to the final couple of story pages which might not have had as much impact without Hollingsworth’s dramatic lighting. Gaydos’ linework is pretty much faultless too, providing a deceptively rich amount of detail with a minimum amount of photo-reference (although a couple of elements do appear a little too traced from real-life images). His rendition of super-heroes has noticeably improved since his work on Alias, and the big arrival of the New Avengers feels suitably grand as a result, putting me in mind of Alex Maleev’s best work on Daredevil.
Bendis excels in the usual places, with his stylised “realistic” dialogue and entertaining characterisation both present and correct. He also manages to squeeze a fair few guest appearances of Marvel Universe characters into the story, but none of them feels forced or out-of-place. Whether it’s Ben Urich talking to J. Jonah Jameson about his case, Warbird giving Jessica a lift to the hospital or Janet Pym putting out the Avengers Assemble call, the inclusion of these faces seems very natural and they serve the story well without ever feeling as though they’re indulgently outstaying their welcome. A good thing too, because the writer has enough on his plate juggling a couple of unrelated story strands here - and since there’s no crossover of the subplots to speak of, Bendis has to be very careful with his pacing in order that the reader feels that both stories are advancing sufficiently to keep him entertained on a bi-monthly schedule. Whilst I would have liked to see Ben Urich’s investigation into D-Man progress a little more this issue, I can’t fault Bendis for concentrating more on the most engaging part of his story, and taking the time he needs to tell the tale of Jessica’s eventful and emotional childbirth. I’ll be sad to see the writer leave this title in a couple of issues, but this final arc may prove to be a powerful enough swansong to cap his tenure with Jessica Jones for a while, without getting repetitive or overly melodramatic. I’m certainly sufficiently gripped to tune in for his final issues to see where this story goes.
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