Marvel grows up with mature readers line as Bendis gets down and dirty with 'Alias'

Mon, May 7th, 2001 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Beau Yarbrough, Columnist

[Brian Bendis]
Brian Michael Bendis
After months of teases and hints, Marvel Comics has announced that it will be publishing a line of "for mature readers" comics, starting with "Alias," written by Brian Michael Bendis.

"It's a crime comic set in the Marvel Universe about a woman named Jessica Jones who was in fact a costumed superhero for a short time and who in fact sucked at it," Bendis told the Comic Wire on Saturday. "Her powers are unremarkable in comparison to the great icons of Marvel and she never found her niche. This really eats at her.

"She now tries to get by as a P.I. She is smart and feisty and incredibly interesting to me.

"What we will discover in 'Alias' is that her remarkable days weren't meant to be as superhero -- but as Jessica. And we'll all root for Jessica to figure that out as well.

"We'll also follow her through a totally unique look at the Marvel Universe. We'll see ideas and characters from a different light.

"It's a serious and adult oriented crime drama, much more in the vein of my graphic novel 'Jinx' than, let's say 'Powers.' It is character driven piece. And it is beautiful to look at with art by Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth, and stunning painted covers by David Mack.

"Edited by Stuart Moore and Nancy Dakasian."

You may have heard that "Alias" was originally going to star Jessica Drew, Marvel Comics' original Spider-Woman. You would have heard wrong, though.

"Nope. This is an urban myth that I believe I will never live down.

"I was at one time toying with doing Jessica drew because she has the best hair of any superhero in comics, but this book is entirely different than what that idea was to be. This character is totally different in every way but sexual gender. And there's that Jessica name that's not going to help me convince anyone.

"Any writer can tell you that the development process can be a sparkling and surprising one. You start in one place and end up in an entirely different one.

"I was also toying with a pornographic version of dial h for hero doesn't mean that this is that book either."

Among the established characters to be shown in what Bendis calls "realistic and adult situations": "Luke cage, Matt Murdock, Carol Danvers all pop in early. Others do as well but I'm not giving away any plot points. But you will be surprised."

"Alias" is the first official title in the mature readers imprint -- contracts have apparently not been signed in any others yet -- and it seems it may have been its inspiration.

"I don't know for sure," Bendis said. "But I got the feeling it at lest helped kick start it the right direction. Or was a healthy puzzle piece at the right time or something like that ...

"I believe this is something that Marvel has always wanted to do.

"What happened with me is -- after I got canned from 'Sam & Twitch,' the mighty [editor-in-chief] Joe Quesada made it very clear that he wanted to do a crime comic with me. I told him my idea a couple of weeks later. Something totally new -- something I hadn't tackled before. I had been developing it for a while. Instead of a proposal, I wrote what was essentially the first half of the first issue in screenplay form.

"I wrote it without editing myself for content or language. Just to show them what was on my mind. I wanted to give them something adult and clearly over the line. I also wanted to know where the line was and if it was moveable.

"I was surprised to get a call from [company president Bill] Jemas, who read it, asking me why Marvel couldn't publish material like this-his analogy being Disney makes adult product as well. I crossed my fingers at the hope of what this would mean and said, 'well, that's between you and Joe.'

Literally a day later, I was told the mature line was falling into place and 'Alias' was in it.

"So yet again, I have Forrest Gumped my way into something immensely cool."

Marvel's nascent mature readers line is already drawing comparisons to their Distinguished Competition's mature line, the Vertigo imprint. It's not an accurate comparison, Bendis said.

"Nope. I just think people love to judge and label things without having seen one piece of art or one word of dialogue ..."

"September is going to be a fun month for comic book readers. New and interesting ideas popping onto stands almost every week -- on top of the great comics that are already out there."

Given that he's working on a project for "Marvel's Vertigo," it's perhaps surprising that Vertigo itself hasn't lured him into their fold.

"I have had some cool offers," Bendis said. "But Joe Quesada just knows how to push my buttons."

With the exception of his two Ultimate Spider-Man comics, most of Bendis' work tends to be rather gritty and edgy, whether it's telling the story of post-Untouchables Elliot Ness taking on a serial killer or the investigation of a brutal murder of a beloved supeheroine. But this isn't a conscious choice on his part.

"Well, I see your point, but I just don't view the books that way. I don't sit down and go: 'time to be edgy.' It's flaky to speak of out loud, but the characters dictate the world and the tone of the books. The characters constantly surprise me. Sometimes I feel like a stenographer."

Bendis originally made his name -- and won an Eisner award -- with his own creator-owned works, a practice he continues to this day. The creator-owned comics hardcore might well be wondering why he didn't do Alias on his own, setting it in his own universe, as he has "Powers."

"When this book debuts it will be very clear why having it at Marvel is absolutely necessary. There's a theme and a tone that only works in the context of Marvel."

 
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