For a long time, superhero comic books had been something regarded for all audiences. The colorful battles between superheroes and supervillains were seen as something for everyone. However, the changing times came to comics and brought with them a darker subject matter. Superhero comics grew more willing to explore issues such as drug use, sex, and death, using their great heroes to tackle these more mature subjects with a new lens. This came to be a mixed blessing, bringing a natural evolution to what superhero comics were capable of thanks to writers like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, but also bringing those terrible attempts to be “mature” by throwing out gratuitous sex and violence. Still, this new change brought about a new form to superhero comics, and along with that was an idea at Marvel Comics. Much as there are G or PG rated films, there are also R-rated films. Thus, it made sense to create an imprint they called MAX, which was devoted to comics made for an adult audience. With this new element, they had room to explore subject matters in a darker depth than would be appropriate in their mainstream fare. Though there were plenty of titles that used existing characters, this imprint was launched with a comic centered around a brand new character. Her name was Jessica Jones and the comic was Jessica Jones: Alias.
Created by comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, the series centered around the work of Jessica Jones. Once a former superhero and Avengers member who had super strength and could fly to a degree, she had experienced a traumatic event that inspired her to give up that line of work. In its place, she formed a private detective agency known as Alias Investigations. Spending her days drinking away her pain, she takes on all sorts of cases. Of course, some of her cases involve her dealing with people of extraordinary powers, from investigating the disappearance of noted sidekick and Avengers member Rick Jones to finding a girl persecuted in her small town for being a mutant. No matter the case, she takes them on as she takes on her own issues and frustrations.
For being the first MAX title, the series definitely stands out with making its more adult presence known. It has a frank tackling of subjects like sex and violence, but where it really shines in being a more “adult” comic is in terms of its characters. Jessica Jones is shown as a character haunted, both by her tragedy and by her past as a superhero. Her interactions with people are colored by her superheroic past, with many who question why she’d give up being a hero with her powers. It comes in all forms, from a boy named Malcolm who is a fan of her choosing to work as a detective to police who deliver a demeaning interrogation where they bombard her with questions about her superhero past. It even affects her love life, as the issue of “cape chasers” and those who want to be with her solely because she was a superhero factors in. As for the trauma, it has left her as a bitter soul, one who drinks away the pain and lashes out whenever her temper gets the better of her. Still, she manages to cling to some form of justice as she seeks out the truth and protects other. Jessica feels like a character who would fit in snug company alongside the heroes of pulp detective stories.
This “adult” handling of characters also extends to criminals, such as with Zebediah Killgrave, better known as the Purple Man. Prior to this series, he was a C-list Daredevil villain, a criminal who could release pheromones that allow him to dominate a person’s will and make them do whatever he wanted. With this series, however, the Purple Man became one of Marvel’s most monstrous villains. Though he had committed heinous crimes with his power in prior comics, this series reinforced the horrifying potential of such a villain on a personal level. It portrays him as a man who can simply take whatever he wants, with his powers allowing him to partake in psychological torture and sexual abuse, and it shows the impact of such a man in his role of Jessica Jones’s trauma. The intimate portrayal of these acts and seeing how much their impact has burned into Jessica over the course of this series really solidifies the true horror of such a criminal, bringing him beyond just another mind-controlling villain.
Though the fruits of the Marvel MAX imprint has brought mixed results, Jessica Jones: Alias is a strong and well-written series that shows what can happen when the idea of a mature story of superheroes is handled akin to a film noir detective story. Jessica Jones herself has even become a bigger figure within Marvel itself, becoming a regular presence in the main comics universe alongside heroes like Luke Cage. In fact, as Netflix moves forward with original content set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of their upcoming shows will be centered around her, simply known as Jessica Jones. That series will arrive on Netflix on November 20th. Hopefully it can capture the same skill in writing and character that this series does so well.
For those wanting to check out the original comics, Marvel is re-releasing the four volumes of Jessica Jones: Alias. The first volume is currently released, with the second volume in November, the third in December, and the fourth in January. There will also be an omnibus of the complete series released on September 29th.