5.03.2006

Graphic Novel Of The Month

I'm really going to have to preface this. If I tried to explain how tired I am or how stressful work is, it would likely be longer than this review and bore you to tears. So... this is an "off the top of my head" sort of deal. This book is phenomenal and you should buy it.

Alias: Omnibus (Marvel): I have honestly read just about everything Brian Michael Bendis has written. I think he's a great writer, with occasional moments of absolute brilliance. He can capture convincing dialogue and really provide some insight into people's psychological motiviation. Bendis takes a lot of heat, but like anyone, you get more credit for what goes right than you should and you take more heat for what doesn't. Like anyone who writes a ton of books, they're not all going to be award winners, misfires are healthy in the long run. And his overall body of work is quite impressive, for me this is the shining jewel in the crown. Michael Gaydos is one of those guys who's never my *first* choice as artist for a project, but quickly proves to be the *best* choice for said work. Inventive page layouts, ability to capture complex emotion, and work in whatever color palette suits the tone of the story. So, that said... Alias is my favorite title from these two. Amid a pretty strong body of work, I think this book is completely off the charts in terms of inherent quality and also for the impact it had on the medium.

First book in Marvel's fledgling MAX line for mature readers. With that single word, "fuck," on the opening page, Bendis announced to the world, here I am. Here's the book that I wanted to do. Here's the idea in my head with no holds barred. Here's the book that Marvel couldn't, perhaps shouldn't, publish, but took a chance on by creating a separate line for it to usher it into the marketplace. Bravo Marvel Editorial. And you don't hear me saying that very often. This wasn't just alcohol and sex and fucked up situations for shock value's sake, but included those things as a natural expression of the way some things, some people, and some situations really get. Now, mature readers books have been around forever. And I've heard that word and seen the act in comics before.Why so special here?

Because this book has Marvel A-listers in it. Move #1: Juxtaposition. We see Captain America and Spider-Man and Daredevil and The Human Torch. But they're not the headliners. The made up character of Jessica Jones and some B-listers like Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, and The Purple Man are. This was a clever move. You can do anything you want with B-listers. And as long as the A-listers are bit players in this tale, you can cleverly use the juxtaposition to your advantage. Jessica as a young girl is right there in her bed, masturbating to the image of Johnny Storm. But he's not in the room, he's removed, but inhabiting the same world. Captain America isn't really doing any of the creepy weird shit that Jessica is, but he's there inhabiting the same world, the same page. He knows about it. And that makes for some interesting reading and some very mature themes. That move ushered in a whole new style of attempting to expose the dark side of things that's had a lasting impact on the medium. Sort of a revival of what Frank Miller and Alan Moore did in the mid-80's. Dare I say it, Bendis is a Renaissance Man.

Move #2: Shift into reverse, slam on the gas. Role reversal that is. Remember Luke Cage as a blaxploitative joke? Gone. Now he's a caring, soulful, intuitive, bad-ass. Most importantly, remember Jessica Jones? No, you don't. She's a made up character that Bendis weaves into past Marvel contintuity, continuity be damned. Yes, he will burn this village in order to save it. Female lead in a largely male dominated arena. Troubled female lead. This chic has problems. She is literally and figuratively getting all fucked up. And we don't know if she's going to come out of it. The familiar certainty of most "superhero" books, that everything will work out, the good guys will triumph, and the world will be saved is blatantly missing here. Let's not forget what a bold move this was. And his swan song, The Purple Man. Remember him as a one line joke? I mean seriously, the guy is purple. That had been the extent of his character development for years. Maybe he'd use his mind controlling power to rob a bank or something. But what if The Purple Man was sick, sadistic, sexual, and brilliant in a Hannibal Lecter sort of way? Bendis explored that and made one of the scariest, creepiest, most uncomfortable villains we'd seen in a while. Out of The Purple Man.

Move #3: Understand the human mind. This book reads like a psychology text book. Let's examine this young woman. This young woman whose star was on the rise. This young woman who endured a traumatic and tragic incident, for months. How would she bury this incident in her sub-conscious, attempting to swallow it down to make it go away, but never truly addressing it? How would that manifest? What job would she take, who would she seek out, and what would she avoid? How would she punish and torture herself? What true friendships would emerge from this oddball cast of B-listers? Would she ultimately transcend her origins?

There's really only one way to find out. You know what to do. Grade A.

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