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.