Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brian Michael Bendis’ Calling Card – Alias

Brian Michael Bendis is going to be a name that will define so much about this generation of comics. He’s certainly synonymous with the Marvel way of telling stories of late and he’s just about ubiquitous on the stands, especially when it comes to events. But he also has a history as an indie crime writer, and even artist, and for every bombastic blockbuster that he throws out he also tries to offer something a little more noir. Fans sometimes like one side of Bendis, others vehemently defend the other, but in the end I have had to make my choice for what can best express the greatness that can be the man they call Bendis. Hit the jump to see what and why.

Bendis is someone who has written so many stories now, and so much of it loosely termed a classic of its time, or at least the event of the day, that trying to pick his absolute best, the work that can represent him without anything else, becomes interesting because so much of his stuff instantly goes out the window because he should not be defined by Secret Invasion, or House of M, or Siege. That’s Bendis working for the man and I’m looking for Bendis working for himself. His early works, Jinx, Fire, AKA Goldfish, et al are all really good but I’m not sure they’re his lasting voice in this world. But they’re close. I think he’s hitting another classic in the works with the recently launched Scarlet but even I can see it’s far too early to call it on that one.

I’d love to suggest Bendis’ Daredevil run as his calling card but I’d rather keep that as the calling card for Daredevil. Though it hits on many great Bendis themes, such as back alley dealings, fractured narratives, great characters building up to fantastic moments. I’m wondering whether Ultimate Spider-Man or Powers might actually be his best work, but I wouldn’t know because I sadly haven’t read either. I know, trust me, I know. So, I’m going to pick something that feels like Bendis really hitting the stride of a lot of things he wants to accomplish in his writing. I have picked:

Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias

Alias was the debut work from the Marvel MAX line, adults only. It focuses on Jessica Jones, a private eye in the Marvel U. She’s a down on her luck noirish type who seems to bounce from bad situation to worse situation and she’s probably in love with Matt Murdock, in theory, but in practice she instead slams herself through an almost self-abusive relationship with Luke Cage. Bendis writes harsh characters in this series, and lays his pages out in a different form from the usual Marvel manner. The first trade looks at Jessica following a man only to find out he’s Captain America. It’s a good case to introduce us to the character and also the tone of the series. The last trade, which focuses more on the history of Jessica and how she’s related to the Purple Man, is also something that I feel could stand alone and be given to many readers. Alias is possibly a hard sell to any comic fan because it does rely, to some degree, on continuity of the regular U, even if Bendis does wash it through his own lens. You could also give the entire omnibus that collects all 24 issues, but again, is that too hefty for a calling card?

I think Alias shows Bendis at his best writing a tough female lead, crafting a twisted noir story, with capes, and also giving Luke Cage some love. It would set a benchmark for his work with Marvel that Daredevil definitely lived up to but his Avengers work tends to steer away from. Bendis seems to like writing broken people, and he’s actually quite good at it, and while superhero comics will only let you get away with that for so long in a more independent title you can keep someone’s soul in the shadows for as long as you want, and Bendis certainly controls the amount of light that ever gets to reach Jessica’s heart.

By giving this trade to someone who wants to explore Bendis I think you’d be showing them one of his best sides, a dialogue heavy story that works so well for the characters and the situations. You don’t need massive superhero fights in the sky to make this title sing, all you need are a few well chosen lines and some great art, which Michael Gaydos certainly provides. Alias is good value because Bendis manages to keep the quality, and the tone, true for the whole 24 issue run but I’d let someone new to the man’s work just try the one trade, really soak it in.


I chose this title because I think it shows Bendis more on his true game. He can sell the heavy hitting characters, sure, but he dominates on the smaller people in the bigger story. This is Bendis as he instinctively is; it’s him being allowed to play to his strengths. I don’t think you’d be disappointed to check it out.

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Bill said...

I'd go with Daredevil (and use Born Again as the character's calling card), since it's my favorite run of more than 6 issues of any superhero, but Alias is damn fine work.

You're missing out on Powers (at least the first few volumes) and Ultimate Spider-Man, though. USM is quite a time/money investment to catch up on, coming up on 150 issues, but to be that consistently good (there's been maybe 2 story arcs where I felt at all disappointed) for that long is remarkable.

Ivan said...

The only thing I know about Alias is that it has a buttsecks scene, and for the longest time I thought it was a comic adaptation of the TV series. Am I a bad person?

twobitspecialist said...

On that note, why is it called Alias, anyway?

Anonymous said...


I was always under the impression that it was called alias due to the fact she is a private invesigator that used to be a superhero.

"at another time; in another place; in other circumstances; otherwise. “Jessica alias Jewel” means that Jessica in other circumstances has called herself Jewel."

Then again I may have been way off base.

Anonymous said...

I just can't stand the bendis talk, I f I wanted to read a talk between two characters I would go and buy a book. I really hate having to read talking heads with some different expressions of it. I prefeer Hickman, Aaron or even Loeb!


kate said...

then why dont you read a book SASTRY you dont have to read it nor do all comicbooks have to keep doing the same recycled stories or have a fight every issue

Aaron K said...

@twobitspecialist - Jessica Jones' detective agency is called "Alias Investigations", so that's at least a partial answer. Now, why she called it that is another question.

@SASTRY - Over the last decade, I think *writers* have become more well known than artists. By contrast, the 90s were known more its artists. Consequently, there are going to be WORDS in comics. And since we don't really get the narrator bubbles of Stan Lee, those words will be spoken by characters, mostly to each other. I know: it's a radical notion. If words upset you so much, try children's picture books. I'm sure there are some great ones out there! :)

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Ivan - no, it doesn't make you a bad person, it just makes you someone who can now catch up and enjoy.

@SASTRY - I guess it' just a matter of taste. I really prefer character work over action so this type of things gets me because it's person buildinhg completely from the ground up, which is kind of cool. If you dig on other stuff then that's fine as well.

kate said...

usually I cant stand superhero comics but this I like probs because shes a superhero

Kate said...

shes no I meant

Anonymous said...

It is solely on the merits of Alias that I'm giving Scarlet a try.

On the other hand, Bendis' Avengers work made me sell off almost all of my Avengers collection because he showed me just how ludicrous a conceit a team book is.


Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Fan4Fan - I really dug Scarlet, to be honest, and can't wait for the second issue, so I'll be interested to see what you make of it.

mugiwara said...

Alias is one of my favorite comics, but all the photoshoped talking heads were really annoying. I dig Bendis talk(at least in Alias), but when there is a whole page of characters talking with only two different facial expressions, I feel I didn't have what I payed for.

Anonymous said...

@Aaron K: wow did not realise that for saying my toughts about Bendis I would be so attacked.... sorry man but I do not like to fight over a 3rd person ; p


Kirk Warren said...

@SASTRY - Think you might be taking it to personally. Seemed pretty playful/tongue in cheek response from Aaron to me. Definitely not an attack from what I can see.

Anonymous said...

@Ryan K Lindsay

Well, I forgot to look for it on my first go to the shop. Then, not wanting to drive back just to give it a look... I... uh.. downloaded a copy.

Well, that convinced me to make the drive back and pick up an issue and I, too, am definitely looking forward to the second issue.

If it sticks, it will be my only regular Marvel book now that the real Spider-Girl has folded shop.


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