For three Wednesdays, the Comics Daily team will be taking it in turns to pick a comic – a run, full series, graphic novel or even single issue – that we feel defines the last decade in some way. These aren’t necessarily our absolute favourite or objective “best” of the decade (if we could even pick just one of such a thing), just books that we think have been a special part of our comics reading over the past ten years. This week, it’s James’ choice…
Brian Bendis has been a major force in the comics industry throughout the decade, and could arguably fill out a top 5 list by himself. As writer of Powers, he proved that it was still possible for creator-owned superhero comics to punch above their weight. A record-breaking run on Ultimate Spider-Man helped anchor Marvel’s Ultimate line, which he contributed to extensively. Through Daredevil, The Pulse, New/Mighty/Dark Avengers, Secret War, House of M and Secret Invasion, he’s often seemed almost single-handedly responsible for steering the Marvel Universe. But his most impressive work to date was, in my eyes, on Alias.
Alias was launched as part of Marvel’s MAX line, a rival of sorts to DC’s Vertigo imprint intended to tell stories with subject matter unsuitable for children. And certainly, Alias did that, with its warts-and-all portrayal of Jessica Jones, a private investigator and former superheroine consumed by self-loathing. The fairer sex has received notoriously short shrift from the mainstream comicbook conpanies over the years, so allowing a male writer free rein to use graphic nudity, violence and swearing in a female-led series about a down-and-out superheroine – well, let’s just say it could easily have gone horribly wrong.
Instead, Jessica Jones might just be one of the greatest new characters to come out of Marvel in decades. Indeed, in creating a female character who wasn’t conventionally attractive or sexualised, who wasn’t exclusively defined by her relationship to the men around her, and who wasn’t portrayed as a fantasy girlfriend for the series’ readers, Bendis created a female lead who was almost unique in the genre. That alone made the series great. The fact that he also placed her in a gripping detective saga that also served as an ongoing character study just made it even better.
Collaborating with Bendis on the series was Michael Gaydos, an artist who translated the noir-influences and emotional depth of Alias into a unique look that capably placed real, human drama alongside the fantastical background of the Marvel Universe. Occasional appearances by Ultimate Spider-Man artist Mark Bagley helped the book evolve into a meta-commentary on female superheroes just in time for the series to conclude, too soon for the readers, but, in fairness, at exactly the right moment for the narrative.
Years after the series finished, there are still lessons that can and should be learnt from Alias, and it’s a shame that Jones herself has been relegated to the supporting cast of New Avengers, losing a lot of her character in the process. The planned Bendis/Gaydos Alias miniseries should remind readers of this frequently overlooked modern classic, but hopefully it’ll also serve to remind Bendis of the depth and nuance he once instilled in the character. Whatever her fate, there can be no doubt that the initial 28-issue series of Jessica Jones’ adventures deserves to be recognised as one of the best comics of the decade. If any Marvel comic can be considered a must-read, this is one that can.