So I found myself, this week, buying nothing but new number one issues, all of wildly different tones and evoking wildly different reactions from me as a reader. But all also offering something that’s going to bring me back for more. Sometimes, the column just writes itself…
Jessica Jones 1
by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
I must admit that I was wary in approaching this book. I was a big fan of Alias back in its day, and even though this book is a sequel to that one, by the same creative team, I also know that it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the success of the Jessica Jones Netflix series. And while that show had a lot of high points, I didn’t like the way it dumbed down the title character. Or… “Dumbed-down” isn’t quite the right word. It just made her less complex. More of a noir cliché instead of the very real, very neurotic, deeply messed up self-defeating basket case I came to know and love in the funnybooks. So I was nervous that they’d follow suit here.
Plus, well… It’s Bendis. And Bendis has been pretty thoroughly burned out for a good while now. I gave up on his work for hire stuff when he finished his Avengers run, and after a while even his indie books started to suffer as he took on more and more work in TV and corporate comics. Scarlet seemed really promising when it launched. But then it went on hiatus for months on end, and when it came back, it just wasn’t the same. The spark was gone, and with it the innovative storytelling that made it worth reading. Worse, even Powers started to suck (though not as bad as that unwatchable TV show based on it), and that was the last straw for me. Unless he took some time off and scaled back the amount of work he was doing, I decided that I’d read my last Bendis book.
But then… Jessica Jones. One of my favorite characters, being done by her creators. I steeled myself for disappointment, and dove in.
Initially, I wasn’t very happy with it. The book opens with Jessica in prison for reasons I don’t know. Is this a mystery situation meant to catch everyone off-guard? Or is it something rolling out from the latest Marvel Comics crossover bullshit thing that they’re mistakenly assuming I’ve read? Because there’s the typical “Story Thus Far” title page on this thing, and all it tells me is what I already know:
Then it’s off to the prison. So that puts me off-balance, but not in the good way, the way I like to be put off-balance by a story. It just makes me wonder if there’s something I’m supposed to know but don’t, and that they aren’t going to bother telling me because, duh, who doesn’t read giant Marvel’s crossover bullshit comics?
Then I start wondering if this isn’t a complete reboot of the character, one meant to be more like the TV show. The wardrobe they give her when they release her from prison certainly sounds like what she wore on TV, anyway: ripped jeans, t-shirt, leather jacket. And she’s copping more of that cliché bad-ass edge she had on TV, too, so now I’m wondering what I’ve gotten myself into, and how much I’m going to hate it before it’s all said and done.
My confusion isn’t helped any by how choppy the storytelling is. Because the first few pages of this book feel like something Bendis was in a great big freaking hurry to get past. Incidents just happen, one after the other, without any glue to hold them together. Boom! Jessica’s in prison, but Boom! They’re releasing her, and Boom! The ferry’s late, so Jessica swims to shore! Boom! She’s at her office. The office she closed down last I knew, but there’s her answering machine with the blinky lights, and Boom! Misty Knight bursts in, asking where the baby is, and Boom! It’s Carol Danvers on the line, asking Jessica to talk. And Boom! There’s a message from a potential client, and–
And that’s where the book finally starts to congeal and feel like the comic I remember. There’s a case, involving a guy who’s sort of a rip-off of that Astro City story about the people who get rebooted too many times. Which again makes me wonder if this is a continuation, or a reboot, or what, but I’m more centered now. Jessica’s asking questions, being a smart ass, taking the case. This is the character I wanted to read about. Then she spots Jessica Drew (the character Jessica Jones was supposed to be before they told Bendis he couldn’t have Spider-Woman having butt-sex with Luke Cage and he made up a new replacement on the spot). And I’m afraid it’s going to be more mindless events without the glue, but no. Things are coming together now, and their conversation (they have a conversation instead of a fight) puts things into context. Jessica Jones has a kid with Luke Cage. The kid’s missing, and Luke wants to know where she is.
I’m a little put off by that at first. I don’t think Jessica would leave Cage out in the cold like that. She wouldn’t endanger their kid, or not take care of her, or– But then I stop. Because, no. No, actually, that’s exactly something Jessica Jones would do. Because she’s a train wreck of a character who handles crisis by pushing away everyone she loves. That’s the real Jessica Jones. That other Jessica Jones, the one who was living in marital bliss with Cage and raising a baby and living in Avengers Tower and getting her shit together… That ain’t Jessica. That’s some Rated T For Teen idealized fake bullshit. How the hell did I ever mistake her for the real thing?
Oh, yeah. I hadn’t realized that Bendis had burned out when he wrote her into Avengers and did all that crap.
So… This comic still has its problems. The opening is still choppy as hell, and I’m bothered by how badly Kurt Busiek is being plagiarized. I suspect that Bendis isn’t going to be able to hold this thing together well enough to keep my interest.
But Michael Gaydos is on point on the art.
But more importantly, Jessica Jones reads like Jessica Jones. And in the end, I’m intrigued rather than annoyed by the book’s mysteries and how they’re being presented. I still don’t know if I’m supposed to know why Jessica was in prison, but I’m pretending I’m not. And if it’s a question that’s never answered… All the better. If it’s just something from a crossover bullshit comic that’s not important to the current story, I don’t really care. And that’s the approach I’m sticking with. We’ll see how it goes. Fingers crossed.
by Genndy Tartakovsky
No, seriously. Holy crap.
This is some good shit.
Not that I expected any less.
What you’ve been looking at are images from the first issue of CAGE!, a loving tribute/parody of the 1970s blaxploitation adventures of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. It’s written and drawn by Genndy Tartakovsky, the man behind Samurai Jack, one of the best cartoon shows of the last 20 years, and he brings that show’s entertaining mix of action and comedy to bear here. It’s riotous, fun, and shamelessly retro. While Cage may have moved on to a more modern interpretation of black cool in the regular comics, in this book it’s still the Seventies. New York is riddled with crime. And Cage is kicking ass in yellow silk and silver headbands.
Of course, Tartakovsky being Tartakovsky, he’s not taking things too seriously. As I said before, this is a send-up as much as a tribute. As you can see, the whole thing is super-cartoony, and that applies to Cage’s personality as much as it does his look. When Misty Knight stands Cage up on a date, he loses his temper…
…and goes looking for her. But when he gets to her apartment, he’s not greeted with an apology and some sweet cyborg arm lovin’. No, what he gets is a face full of this:
Further proof that Tartakovsky knows his 70s Marvel: Jean Grey was once Misty Knight’s roommate, so Cyclops showing up to look for her isn’t a complete non sequitur. It is a pretty dark gag, though, considering that this attack is followed by an editorial note explaining that Jean Grey “was destroyed in the last exciting issue of X-Men.” I guess ol’ Cyclops didn’t handle his grief very well.
There’s another great 70s comics reference earlier in the issue:
That page is kind of a funny gag on its own, but it seemed eerily familiar to me as I read it. Then it hit me: it’s a parody of an old basketball ad that ran on the back covers of a zillion comics in the 70s (art by the late great Jack Davis):
Funny business. And that, in a nutshell, is Genndy Tartakovsky’s CAGE!: highly-skilled, appropriately brutalist cartooning in service to a loving parody of a bygone era. This is the good kind of nostalgia, the kind that celebrates the past while still recognizing its absurdities and, most importantly, working as a its own thing in the present-day. It’s a fast, breezy read that I enjoyed a lot. Can’t wait for issue two.
by Warren Ellis and Phil Hester
This one caught me by surprise. I didn’t even know there was a new Warren Ellis comic debuting this week til the guy at my local funnybook store told me (hi, Gary!). I had even overlooked it on the shelf until he pointed it out to me. Of course, that might just be an appropriate way to be introduced to this book. It’s got a strong dreamlike quality to it. Even after reading it, I feel a little bit like I missed it.
This is not a criticism, understand. I love shit like that. This is the good kind of confused that the Jessica Jones comic so utterly failed to deliver. Here, I know it’s intentional. And I’m given just enough info to let me know that I don’t begin to understand everything that’s going on.
But I’m talking in circles. Shipwreck is the story of Dr. Jonathan Shipwright, a scientist who survived the wreck of an experimental spacecraft, seemingly because he’s given himself the ability to warp space, disappearing like a ghost to reappear somewhere else, further along his path. He now wanders the earth (which may be an apocalyptic wasteland), looking for the person who sabotaged the flight. Sounds like the premise of a 1970s sci-fi adventure show. Except that Shipwright is… not right. He wanders aimlessly, not sure if anything is real, feeling like he’s in a dream.
And the story itself mimics that dreamy quality. Shipwright enters a diner and meets a man who seems to be an agent of some shadowy agency who knows all about him, and explains the premise. Then he goes in the kitchen, and finds a woman who’s in the process of butchering and cooking her lover, to stop him from leaving her and never coming back.
There’s no connection between these events, no apparent rhyme or reason. It’s very much like reading a dream, where one event flows into the next, seeming significant for reasons you can’t quite explain.
I won’t say that the experience of reading this book set my world on fire. I’m finding Alan Moore doing similar things far better as I make my way through Jerusalem. But I enjoyed it. I’m intrigued by it. And I will definitely be back for more.