Well, I’m glad I picked this up while I was in the States this week, and thus only had to pay for it at its actual dollar value – if you’d factored in the unfavourable exchange rates at which we Brits have to buy our comics, then I’d feel even more ripped off than I do right now. Buying it under the (not unreasonable) assumption, based on the cover, that the issue’s main focus would be the return of Jessica Jones to superheroism, I was astonished to find this event relegated to near incidental, background status.
Here’s the skinny, for those who haven’t been following – Jessica Jones, star of the magnificent Alias and assorted titles and one-shots since, is probably the best original character that Marvel has come up with over the past decade. But a crucial part of her character is that she has superpowers, and doesn’t really use them – she’s someone who knows that while those who wield great power also have great responsibility, part of that responsibility lies in only employing them if you’re the right kind of person to do so. And for a multitude of reasons, having tried to be a superhero, she retired. It’s been hinted at for some time that she might return to her Jewel identity (despite the harrowing negative personal reasons for giving it up in the first place), and I’ve long thought it would be a terrible idea – but remained willing to give it a chance in the hope that there’d be good reason for it, and it’d be well-executed, and the moment given the gravitas it deserves. Sadly, this issue provides none of those things.
It’s all the more galling for being written by Jessica’s creator, Brian Michael Bendis. He should know this is a big deal. And yet, having recently had a story in which the New Avengers freed Luke Cage from Osborn Towers – and in which Jessica steadfastly remained at home – we now find her joining the (entirely female, conveniently) effort to break out Hawkeye (two points come to mind, here – firstly, the NAs must know their way around that place with their eyes closed by now; and secondly, how does this all fit together chronologically? By my count, Clint was captured before Luke, so why didn’t they rescue one when they were busy getting the other?). It’s a decision that’s over with in a moment, and yet has negligible impact on the story – all of a sudden, Jessica is simply there with the rest, in costume, practically hanging around in the background. And that’s it. Eight years or so of character development were leading to… this?
But if that’s the issue’s major disappointment, that’s not to say there aren’t others – primarily in the choice of Mike Mayhew as artist. He’s turned in some fine covers for Marvel in recent years, but on this evidence he needs to be filed with the Gregs Horn and Land as people who can paint lovely single images, but who simply aren’t sequential storytellers. And the photo-referencing is immensely offputting, whether it leads to inconsistent characters (Osborn doesn’t look anything like he’s ever been drawn, while Carol Danvers changes face and body shape by the panel), or because of the fact that Hawkeye has been so obviously cast as Cary Elwes (it makes me wonder if stills from Robin Hood: Men in Tights were the only archery-related references Mayhew could find). And the final page – already rendered somewhat unfathomable by the fact that the comic leading up to it, although predictable enough by its title, has been delayed until next week – is just a bizarre bit of facial work that almost looks laughable.
I’m not someone who’ll often slag off Bendis – I like him more than it seems a good proportion of the internet does – but that’s what makes it so disappointing when he turns out a book as weak as this. New Avengers remains a pretty decent read in general, but an Annual should feel like it does something special – this, though, is pretty easily skippable, especially given the surfeit of similar stories we’ve been fed recently.