Comic Book Preview
The comic book industry’s criminal mastermind, Brian Michael Bendis, talks about his new Marvel MAX title, ALIAS!

Dateline: Tuesday, September 4, 2001

By: Senior Editor

As many comic book readers are aware, this fall sees the launch of a new line of Marvel Comics specifically designed to appeal to mature readers. The MAX titles will feature frank subject matter, cruder dialogue (presumably where appropriate), and a darker and perhaps more violent tone. These ain’t for the kiddies, and although two of the series set to launch the line, FURY and U.S. WAR MACHINE, draw on characters familiar to long-time fans of the primary Marvel Universe, the third (and first to hit comic shop shelves) will star a former superheroine so obscure, no one can remember her at all! Are we losing our minds? Thankfully, according to series creator and writer Brian Michael Bendis, our memories are mercifully intact.

"Initially I was going to use an existing character, and then I realized where I was going with it and it was a better idea to start with a new character," says Bendis.

ALIAS focuses on one Jessica Jones, a former Avenger that no one can recall too clearly – mainly because she’s never actually been in a Marvel Comics before. Jones’ super-career was clearly undistinguished, and her life took a downward turn that found her resorting to work as a private investigator to pay the bills. She’s not a happy camper.

"I thought it would be better to start from scratch. I didn’t want her bogged down in any continuity that I didn’t want to create for her," adds Bendis. "There was something about her being so unknown in the Marvel Universe that was much more intriguing. The joke is that her adventures were so boring that Marvel never even published them! Maybe she was always [about to appear in] MARVEL TEAM-UP just after they canceled the book. I wanted to create a character that was queen of the Marvel ‘B’ characters, the one that never accomplished anything that captured the public’s imagination as a superhero."

The origin of the ALIAS series has its roots in the end of another Bendis project and a rather serendipitous phone call from Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe

Cover art to ALIAS #1
© 2001 Marvel Comics

"I’ve been developing the idea of the series for about a year before I was at Marvel," says Bendis, "and when I fired off of SAM & TWITCH, Joe made it very clear that he wanted to do a crime series with me. I had an open opportunity, which was very nice."

The concept for ALIAS developed quickly from that point, and although its eventual home in the MAX line would find it somewhat removed from the Marvel Universe proper, it was always intended to dwell in that fictional reality.

"I had a pretty strong idea that would need to be a Marvel comic to have the dramatic potency I wanted, and I told [Joe] what it was about. I gave it about a week and then I literally just handed in what I considered to be the first issue script, about twelve pages of it. I wrote it as a play - not a lot of description, just the dialogue, very bare bones just to get a sense of it. I just wrote it straight as if content wasn’t an issue."

Bendis naturally didn’t expect the script to make it to the page with all of the edgier content intact, but the reaction from the Marvel editorial office was surprisingly encouraging.

"I said, ‘This is what’s on my mind, and I’m pretty sure you can’t publish it as it is, but where’s the line? Let’s talk about it.’ I’m just one of those guys who doesn’t understand people getting upset about language."

While no MAX line as yet existed, both Quesada and Bill Jemas read the script and realized that this was the opening salvo in a new imprint.

"Bill called me and said, ‘Why wouldn’t be able to publish it?’ I said, ‘It’s between you and Joe!’ The next phone call I got was that they were probably going to do the mature readers line, and ‘you’re the first one out of the park.’ It was really flattering. The whole time I’ve known Joe, it was ‘If you have a story to tell that’s worth telling, let’s find a way to tell it,’ instead of, ‘Oh we can’t do that!’"

That first script also contained what has become a particularly controversial scene involving Jessica and former Power Man himself, Luke Cage. Although the first issue had yet to hit stands, this scene ignited a firestorm of controversy in the industry press, a phenomenon that Bendis naturally found quite perplexing.

"I’ve never been in this situation before where something I did was being scrutinized like this before it came out," says Bendis. "When it actually comes out, I don’t think anyone’s going to be outraged by it. And this thing with the printer…I was even more shocked."

Bendis is referring to a recent incident in which an Alabama-based printer - American Color Graphics, based in Sylacauga, Alabama – refused to print the first issue of ALIAS due to its "offensive" content. While Quebecor Printing has stepped in to print the issue and preserve the title’s schedule, the entire affair seems a bit odd even to industry veterans.

"It’s weird. It’s kind of a cheap thrill from the creative side that something like this causes this kind of stuff, that you’re the first mature readers book and something like this happens," says Bendis. "But it goes away immediately. I just want people to like the book. [Artist Michael Gaydos] and I worked really hard on it, and I don’t want people reading it to see how offended they’ll be by it; I want people to enjoy the craft of the story or the idea. Now I fear that especially online, I have a good week of not listening to anyone talk about the story, but just talking about whether they’re offended by it. And I don’t even care if you’re offended by it!"

As Bendis himself admits, ALIAS is hardly the most risqué book to hit the stands, although recent events would seem to suggest that it has emerged from the Hellmouth itself.

"Hello! I’ve done things more gratuitous - in fact I did them in POWERS a couple months ago. As far as someone being offended by language, it’s just par for the course for me; this is how I hear people talk."

He also bristles a bit at the way in which the internet culture has helped to eliminate surprise from the relationship between writer and reader. Last month, he even made a few headlines with a statement in which he urged people to keep the major plot development in his latest issue of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN under wraps.

"I don’t mind the rumor-mongering. Most of the time I find it funny. The reason I went bananas is [the plot to ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #13] is something we crafted a while ago and…remember when you were a kid? I didn’t know Elektra was going to die! She died and I was in shock. Now you know everything about every little thing, even if you don’t go to all these sites."

"I wanted to see if people could hold their tongues. I asked very politely that no one post any pages, and so far so good. It made me feel good. Of course, now that I’m saying this, someone is posting the entire issue. I hope not. We know too much before these things come out. Just trust us on this one, I promise you we won’t screw it up. If you print it, it’s not a news story! It’s just ruining something! There’s no news here, you’re not saving people’s lives, you’re just f**king up a comic book!"

As Bendis urges online journalists to wrestle with their ethics, Jessica Jones will be facing just such a struggle of her own in the pages of ALIAS. In fact, the final scene of the first issue drops Jones right into a major moral quandary (no spoilers here, Brian!), and that’s just how Bendis wants it.

"We’re going to put her in a situation right away that explores this dramatically and see how she comes out of it. It’s a character study - we root for Jessica not to be her own worst enemy. Immediately we see that she’s smart and sassy, but man, does she hate herself. She’s probably the character I relate to the most," laughs

The Marvel Comics "mature readers" imprint MAX
© 2001 Marvel Comics

"We’re going to root for her because although her time as a superhero was uninspired, it could very well be that this time in her life, what she’s doing now, is the most inspired and meaningful work of her life. We’ll see it in the cases she takes and why she takes them. She doesn’t even realize what a good person, what a hero she is."

For those familiar with Bendis’ other superhero-crime hybrid series, POWERS, Bendis is quick to point out that the similarities are only on the surface.

"The only thing that’s similar to POWERS is the juxtapositioning of the crime and superhero genres, and hopefully the quality. I’m not the first person to juxtapose these two genres, but POWERS is a homicide book and a cop book; ALIAS is not. POWERS is two leads; ALIAS is not. It’s an entirely different tone, with different kinds of stories and a different point of view. I won’t shy away from the fact that I think anyone who reads POWERS will like ALIAS, but they’re totally different animals. ALIAS is darker."

Adding to that atmospheric darkness is the artwork by artist and collaborator Michael Gaydos. For Bendis, it’s a natural pairing that has an interesting history behind it.

"[Gaydos and I] went to college together. He was a year ahead of me at the art institute at Cleveland, and I absolutely hated him. I broke in at Caliber and had my toilet paper comics, and he had the first comic that Tundra ever put out! It was full color, fully painted, on glossy paper, and it was the exact same cover price as my sh**ty Caliber black and white comic. He was also fully functioning as a creator – he really had a voice - and I absolutely had no idea what I was doing."

Despite an apparent lack of contact between Bendis and Gaydos, they were destined to work together.

"I don’t think I spoke to him twice the whole two years in college because I was just sickened by him. He ended up doing Caliber stuff as well, and in art school they have a tendency to pit us against each other. But I fell in love with his artwork, particularly his line art. We did a few stories together, and I just kept warning him that I was going to put him on the map. Like Mike Oeming [artist for POWERS], I knew there was a quality there that if people just saw it, they would love it. Everyone behind the scenes in comics is a big fan of his, and we don’t know why people don’t know who he is. I think people are going to get to know him now. Issues #2 and #3 are really stunning, and I think he’s approaching the series with everything he has, so it’s awesome."

For all of the projects on his plate, Bendis is truly energized by the potential of ALIAS. It’s an enthusiasm he feels he needs to apologize for, although it’s doubtful his fans would ever hold it against him.

"I know I sound overly excited and hype-y, but it’s been a particularly fun couple of months for me. I’m sure if you talk to me in a month, I’ll be all mopey and hate everything."