Investigating Alias #24-25

Alias (2001-2003) 024-000Investigating Alias is a weekly issue by issue look at the source material that inspired the popular and critically acclaimed Jessica Jones Netflix show.

In this installment of Investigating Alias, I will be covering Alias #24-25 (2003) written by Brian Michael Bendis, drawn by Michael Gaydos, and colored by Matt Hollingsworth with flashback art and colors on Alias #25 by Mark Bagley and Dean White.

Alias #24 begins the final arc of the comic, “Purple”, in which Jessica Jones finally talks about how she was mind controlled by Zebediah Killgrave, aka the Purple Man, forced to watch him rape young women, and eventually sent on a “mission” by him to kill any superhero in her path. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Michael Gaydos and Mark Bagley (with the exception of one panel with two naked girls on Killgrave’s bed) don’t show Killgrave’s rapes, but convey his horribleness from quick flashes of him using his power on Jessica Jones, and Jessica’s reactions to him in the present day.

Alias #24 and #25 are powerful and unsettling issues of the series and had a huge influence on the Jessica Jones Netflix show from the close relationship between Jessica and Luke Cage to Killgrave’s ability to instantly make someone do what he wants and even the support group for Killgrave’s victims. And most of all, the show and comic both show the effects of Jessica Jones’ PTSD without exploiting her or participating in victim blaming.

Alias #24 features an out of left field cameo appearance from Kevin Plunder aka Ka-Zar, the ruler of the Savage Land, who wants Jessica Jones to find his pet sabretooth tiger. This case is a little too much for her so she goes home looking for something more local, and then gets a phone call from a woman named Kim Rourke, who needs her help finding information about Zebediah Killgrave. Kim was referred by Avengers Mansion so Jessica flies over there and confronts her friend Carol Danvers for bringing up something terrible for her past, and things get heated with Scott Lang shrinking, growing, and hopping in her cab while Captain America just wants everyone to sit down and have a cup of tea. Scott also found out about her past with Killgrave without her permission so Jessica jumps out of the cab and goes to Kim’s house where dozens of Killgrave’s victims are assembled. She tells them about how his powers come from pheromones, and that he is currently in the supervillain prison, The Raft, after confessing to some mass killings. However, the people in the support group want closure and for him to confess to each of their situations, and Jessica empathizes with the group and takes the case.

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Alias #25 opens with Jessica Jones lying in her underwear at Luke Cage’s apartment. Working the Killgrave case has heightened her PTSD, and she ended up angrily calling Luke, flying into his apartment, and then puking all over clothes. Luke sent her clothes to the cleaner, let her crash on his couch, and now wants to know what’s wrong with her. Jessica tells him about Killgrave as the art style switches to the style of Mark Bagley’s Amazing Spider-Man comics in the 1990s complete with early digital style colors from Dean White that are different from Matt Hollingsworth’s darker, more naturalistic palette. Jessica (then Jewel) was doing a routine superhero patrol when Killgrave placed her under his mental control, made her attack the police so he could get away, and made her his slave for eight months. He didn’t have sex with her, but even worse, he made her watch as he raped college age women and forced her to bathe and beg him for sex. After a headline shows Daredevil saving the day, Killgrave just snaps and orders Jessica to kill him and any superhero in her path. The issue ends with Jessica flying and then punching Scarlet Witch when she is surrounded by both the Avengers and Defenders. She flies away and is confronted by Thor.

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Alias #24 and #25 is a study in what to do and what not to do with someone, who has been through a traumatic event, like being raped or having a family member murdered in front of them in the case of some of the people at the Killgrave support group. Listening is the key, and this is why most of these issues is dialogue driven with Gaydos using the interview layout format for Jessica Jones to answer the support group’s questions about Killgrave. He also uses a 21 panel grid as Jessica opens up to Luke Cage about her past with Killgrave. Luke Cage isn’t perfect and makes an insensitive joke about group sex with the New Warriors, but he’s a better listener than Scott Lang, whose dialogue in the issue is basically him mansplaining to Jessica that he already knows all about her past because he has Avengers clearance. He also doesn’t respect her boundaries and uses his size changing powers in creepy ways like jumping into her taxi cab, hiding on her sunglasses when he’s shrunk down as Ant-Man, and generally making a mess of things.

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Unlike TV shows, like Law and Order: SVU and the recent season of Game of Thrones, and comics like Lobo and Aquaman, which use rape for cheap drama in advancing plotlines, Bendis, Gaydos, and Bagley take Killgrave’s actions very seriously and focus on how his victims’ feelings instead of throwing in cheap plot twists. They show Jessica to be visibly affected by the return of Killgrave to her life with Gaydos drawing a double page spread of Jessica Jones flying on top of a roof, touching her stomach, and taking a moment to process her feelings before she goes to the support group. Bendis, Bagley, and Gaydos also use dialogue, facial expressions, and gestures to depict his actions instead of showing the rapes. Bagley draws his first appearance in Alias #25, which goes from being a happy superhero escapade complete with upbeat dialogue from Bendis and a poster worthy splash page to slow close-ups of Killgrave’s smirking face as he tells Jessica Jones to take off her clothes and then beat up the police so he can finish his steak. This jarring shift in tone from traditional superhero tale to disturbing mental manipulation shows how destructive and evil he is.

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Alias #24 and #25 establishes Killgrave as one of the most terrible and pathetic villains in the Marvel Universe. Like in the Jessica Jones TV show, he never takes “No” for answer and is what rape culture apologists, like Roosh V and his Return of Kings cronies, aspire to be. He uses his mental abilities just to sate his own appetites from telling 84 people to stop breathing when a restaurant is too loud to his rapes of college students that he makes Jessica watch for eight months. However, like most men who sexually assault women and manipulating other people for their own pleasure, Killgrave has an inferiority complex and tortures Jessica Jones mentally and sexually because of the many times he had been defeated by Daredevil, the Avengers, or other superheroes. He hates these superheroes because they have the power to ruin his lifestyle of getting anything he wants from anyone.

One of Bendis’ finest moments as a writer in Alias comes in issue 24 when Jessica is talking with Kim Rourke about Killgrave’s abilities and whereabouts. Jessica tells her, “It isn’t the person. The victim cannot be blamed  for– for– for anything they do when they are under this asshole’s control.” This line of dialogue is a sharp right hook at victim blaming and gains meaning later on when Jessica reveals to Luke that she still struggles with realizing that her beating up police officers and Scarlet Witch and watching Killgrave rape women wasn’t her fault because his pheromones felt so “pure”. Killgrave’s abilities could be a metaphor for date rape drugs, like rohypnol, which incapacitates victims and impairs memory. But, in spite of these manipulations and feelings, Bendis makes it completely clear that Killgrave is 100% in the wrong, and that it isn’t Jessica or any of his victims’ faults that they did terrible things for him.

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On a slightly happier note, Alias #25 starts to a create an emotional bond between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage and was the first issue of the series that I could see them actually working as a couple. First of all, Luke doesn’t shame Jessica for her drinking or use of profanity like Scott does in their date back in Alias #15 and helps her at her lowest moment without getting angry or defensive. She got angry and flew into his apartment and busted his fridge? So, he makes up a spot for her on the couch while cleaning her vomit stained clothes. However, they really bond once Jessica opens up about her past and feels bad that no one asked about her when she went missing for eight months while she was with Killgrave. Gaydos draws a pained expression on her face, and then Bendis gives Luke some simple dialogue (“Come here.”) and he gives her a hug. Luke Cage doesn’t have the answers to all of Jessica’s problems, but he is just there for her and listens. He is supportive of her just like Jessica is supportive of the other Killgrave victims that want her to investigate him.

By caring about the emotions and feelings of victims of Killgrave’s rapes, sexual assaults, and other mental manipulations, Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, and Mark Bagley use Alias #24-25 as an opportunity to create empathy for Jessica Jones the character and show how truly difficult it is for her take on the case involving him. They also lay the foundation for Killgrave as a villain, who is the ultimate embodiment of rape culture, with the inability to be refused anything by anyone that continued to be explored in the Jessica Jones TV show. One difference between the comic and show in regards to him is his hatred for superheroes, which is why he sends Jessica after them.

Alias #24 and #25 are two difficult comics to read and think about with their descriptions of rape and depictions of PTSD, but Bendis, Gaydos, and Bagley make sure that the blame for all these terrible things are laid squarely on  the rapist, Zebediah Killgrave.

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