Investigating Alias #26-27
Investigating 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 #26-27 (2003) written by Brian Michael Bendis, drawn by Michael Gaydos, and colored by Matt Hollingsworth with flashback art on Alias #26 by Mark Bagley, Rick Mays, and Art Thibert and flashback colors by Dean White.
In Alias #26-27, writer Brian Michael Bendis, artist Michael Gaydos, flashback artists Mark Bagley and Rick Mays, and colorists Matt Hollingsworth and Dean White show how Jessica Jones decided to swear off the superhero profession, and why she hates being pitied. Bendis also give Jessica and Killgrave their non-flashback meeting in The Raft where Killgrave is aware he is in a comic book in a twisted version of Animal Man #26 as he says he can’t escape prison because he’s not “the writer”. There is a theatrical quality to Killgrave’s dialogue that David Tennant channels in the Jessica Jones Netflix show, and Bendis uses the character to get in some cracks about people not buying the comic, slut shaming Jessica Jones because she enjoys sex and sleeps with multiple partners, and worst of all is a “continuity error”. Along with being a rapist, murderer, and manipulative bastard, Bendis makes Killgrave the kind of comic book fan, who sees female characters as sex objects and cares more about continuity and big reveals than an emotionally authentic story. The metafictional twist is a little jarring so late in the series, but it’s evidence of Killgrave’s god complex as he “scripts” the page with his dialogue and also shows how much he gets under people’s skin with his abilities.
Alias #26 continues Jessica’s recounting to Luke Cage of her time under Killgrave’s thrall. There is the final Bagley and White flashback as she dodges Thor’s hammer, but gets decked by Vision as both the Avengers and Defenders try to take her down. Luckily, Carol Danvers swoops up and takes her to a SHIELD hospital before she sustains any more injuries. The art switches again to a manga style from Rick Mays (Kabuki Agents: Scarab) as Jean Grey tries to get Jessica out of her coma by telling her that none of this was her fault, Daredevil took down Purple Man, and making her realize she needs help. Next, Jessica recovers at a SHIELD hospital and strikes up a friendship with Agent Clay Quartermain, who has appeared throughout the series, and she also gets an apology from Iron Man and the (Kurt Busiek/George Perez-era) Avengers along with a job offer as SHIELD liaison to the Avengers. But because she was manipulated by Killgrave, Jessica thinks she failed as a hero, and this is her official retirement as a superhero. The issue ends with Jessica going to The Raft (and getting access with the help of Quartermain) to confront Killgrave and find some kind of closure for herself and the families that have been affected by him.
As I mentioned earlier, Alias #27 starts strangely with Killgrave being aware that he is in a comic book and breaking the fourth wall in a creepy, opposite of Deadpool and She-Hulk kind of way. Talking with him is too much for Jessica, and she apologizes to the head of the support group that she was supposed to help. Then, there is a major plot twist with Killgrave escaping The Raft after a prison riot, and the support group woman blames it on Jessica because she’s a “mutant fuck”. The next pages are very tense as Jessica is afraid to go to her apartment or office and calls Carol, her mom, and Malcolm as she freaks out about Killgrave’s whereabouts. Quartermain offers to pick her up in a SHIELD helicopter, but she thinks he is being manipulated by Killgrave and runs to Scott Lang’s apartment. She wakes up with the TV blaring and sees Scott covered in his own blood and ants in a mega cliffhanger setting up the final issue of the series.
Alias #26 is all about Jessica Jones coming to terms with her trauma and PTSD in her own way from the flashback sequences to her conversation with Luke Cage and finally deciding to confront Killgrave head on towards the end of the issue. The opening page of the issue is intimate and emotional as Gaydos uses a six page grid to show the give and take nature of Jessica and Luke’s chat as she talks about how difficult it is to tell her story out loud, and that she doesn’t want to be pitied. And Luke is there just to support and listen; he admires the fact that she dodged a blow from Thor’s hammer and gives her yet another warm hug. For some reason, she calls Scott instead of him in Alias #27, but that could because of her panic captured by lots of shadows and black from colorist Hollingsworth and pained, intense facial expressions from Gaydos.
And part of Jessica Jones’ trauma involves superheroes as Bendis and Bagley create a dark juxtaposition between the speed lines and bombastic poses of Thor, Iron Man, and Vision swooping through the sky, and the dialogue about how fast and scary this encounter was. Both Bagley and Gaydos show the physical damage that Vision inflicted on Jessica for hitting Scarlet Witch while under Killgrave’s control , and the mental scars are much worse as she slips into a coma. This flashback scene shows that the Avengers aren’t the best choice for solving problems that involve any kind of psychological nuance. Saving the planet perhaps from the Kree, Skrulls, and Thanos perhaps, but not helping a young woman overcome the mental control of her psyche as well as PTSD from being used as a sex object by a twisted man. And because of their punch first mentality, they don’t listen like Jessica Jones does in her private investigator work and possibly cause more harm than good.
In contrast with the violent punches and split second decision making of the Avengers (Except for Carol Danvers, who truly cares about Jessica and gets her out of the brawl.), Jean Grey takes a slower, more meditative approach to helping Jessica rebuild her mind after Killgrave’s manipulations. First, she places her at ease with the pretty manga style of Rick Mays’ artwork being attributed to Jessica’s enjoyment of the “kick-ass” film Akira. Mays’ art style is cartoon-y, accessible, and almost therapeutic and works in tandem with Jean telling Jessica that none of this is her fault, and that Killgrave wasn’t in love with her. However, the cut back to reality via Gaydos’ art is super jarring with Jean wearing a green sweater and not a cute green and yellow Phoenix get-up and Jessica still recovering from her physical injuries. But she finds support at the SHIELD rehab along with hugs and smoke breaks from the “cute” Agent Quartermain, and his willingness to be genuine and hear her out creates a nice friendship between them. His taking out the skeevy political kingmaker back in the first arc of Alias no longer reads like a deus ex machina, but helping a friend out.
This real connection between Quartermain and Jessica is the total opposite of the Avengers’ apology to Jessica as Iron Man doesn’t even let Carol greet her and launches into a spiel about how bad he feels that they attacked a fellow superhero. His dialogue reads like a politician’s off a teleprompter. The awkward poses of the various Avengers from the late-1990s/early-2000s iteration of the team written by Kurt Busiek, including Beast, Wonder Man, Jocasta, Scarlet Witch, and Vision, makes them look like they’re going through the motions for a Make-A-Wish kid instead of truly apologizing for physical and mentally hurting a fellow superhero. And, of course, Jessica sees through the facade and calls Nick Fury’s immediate job offer after the “apology”, a “payoff”. Why would she want to work with people, who detached her retina and beat her up? There’s also her own insecurity about being a superhero after Killgrave forced her to use her abilities to beat up police officers and Scarlet Witch. She has a very good reason for turning her back on the superhero profession, and her disdain toward random people asking her why she retired and if she knows The Thing and other random heroes makes complete and utter sense now.
Alias #27 is also proof positive than Killgrave is more frightening when he is offscreen or panel and in a character’s head rather than smarming around like some Joker wannabe. The pace in the “Purple” arc truly picks up in this issue as Jessica flies, jumps, and runs all over New York to her main haunts of her apartment and office. Gaydos’ panel layouts get thinner, and he uses lots of close-ups on her to show how unsafe and uneasy she feels. Jessica even calls her mom, who she hasn’t talked to the entire the series because that is how dangerous Killgrave is. And there is the continued use of black from Hollingsworth, which is kind of like the purple that the Jessica Jones TV show uses, when she is afraid of him. This visual touch puts an added level of desperation into every conversation that Jessica has until she crashes at Scott Lang’s place. And Bendis and Gaydos go full horror movie on the final page of Alias #27 with a truly revolting image matched with an insane reaction shot from Jessica.
The Jessica Jones TV show captures the tone of the second half of Alias #27 and extends it to a full season of television. Basically, tonal adaptations are much better than straight up adaptations of comic book arc’s plots. (Looking at you, Zack Snyder and Watchmen.) With his ability to get anyone to do what he wants, virtually anyone can be his pawn, and both Bendis and Melissa Rosenberg channel this fear in the comics and TV story of Jessica Jones. In the Jessica Jones TV show, there are cutaway shots of Killgrave whispering to or licking Jessica when she is doing some normal like sitting in her office or on the train home. Likewise, in Alias, Michael Gaydos shows his presence by having a drop of purple in Jessica’s eye when he escapes from The Raft. He is a relentless presence of evil, who thinks he can get away with anything and is a compelling, utterly loathsome villain.
Killgrave’s terrible comments towards Jessica about her getting naked for comic book readers and multiple references about her being a human retcon show that Bendis and Gaydos are aware of fan criticism of Alias being paced, plotted, and extremely different in tone and attitude to that most Marvel superhero books. Alias isn’t filled with fight scenes, huge plot twists, and there are no easy answers to Jessica Jones’ problems. Michael Gaydos also draws the book in a more naturalistic way with a touch of noir and a muted color palette from Matt Hollingsworth, who will occasionally go bright when a character, like Captain America, Spider-Man, or even Speedball shows up in the comic.
Alias is about a woman, who thinks she isn’t a hero and does heroic things in her own unconventional-for-the-genre ways and focuses on the nuances of her emotions and fucked up relationships instead of punching, hitting, or telling a thrilling crime yarn like Bendis’ work on Daredevil. Alias #26-27 shows this by spending an entire issue of Jessica Jones coming to terms with her traumatic relationship to both Killgrave and superheroes, facing her fears and confronting Killgrave, and then unraveling everything because just punching someone, quipping at them, and throwing them in prison doesn’t solve everything. (Sorry, Spider-Man, who definitely has his share of personal issues.)