Readers received an unapologetic punch to the gut when they first met Jessica Jones in Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ ALIAS over 15 years ago. Then, in 2015, fans and the uninitiated alike encountered “Marvel's Jessica Jones,” the award-winning and hard-hitting Netflix series starring Krysten Ritter. This fall, Bendis and Gaydos return to street side New York as part of Marvel NOW! with JESSICA JONES!
Although Bendis and Gaydos look to pick up where they left off with Jessica in some ways, they will also be pushing into new territory with their tough-as-nails super hero detective. In the lead up to the series’ release, we sat down to talk with Bendis about all things Jessica Jones, from his time on ALIAS and his experience as her creator watching fans around the world embrace the small screen depiction to the upcoming title that will reunite him with the rest of the original creative team.
Marvel.com: Before we get into your upcoming work on JESSICA JONES, I have to ask how life has been with the critical and popular success of the Netflix series?
Brian Michael Bendis: I’ve just been overwhelmed by an insane amount of gratitude. A Peabody just showed up in the mail! [Laughs]
It’s a very different experience, you know? You give birth to a character, and now she’s out there in the world. It’s hard to describe but it’s a beautiful thing. She’s been taken care of so lovingly, and the response from non-comic book people has been tremendous. The first time I figured out this was going to explode was when I was sitting at an outdoor mall having lunch with David Mack, who did the covers for [ALIAS] and also the credits sequence for the show. All of the sudden, this group of women were talking really loudly about Jessica Jones at the table next to us, and they were arguing on her behalf as if she needed defending. So, David turns to me and asks if they know who we are, and I told him “No, this is where Jessica is now—that next level. She’s out in the world now and no longer ours.” That was weird.
Marvel.com: So, now Jessica Jones returns to Marvel Comics in a new series as part of the Marvel NOW! initiative! I imagine the successful television show on Netflix helped spur this renewed interest in the character?
Brian Michael Bendis: No, actually. It was really talking to [Marvel head of TV] Jeph Loeb and others that got me into that mindset to think about her. I was literally sitting here in my office thinking about what I would do next. You see, there’s a reason we ended the first volume, and that’s because the story got told, and that was a weird experience, too. I remember calling up Joe Quesada, who was the editor in chief at the time, and telling him I had just written issue #38 or #39, and we kind of got to the end of the story. Conclusively. For a lot of people, it’s always “to be continued,” but I was concerned we had actually gotten done with what we set out to do and wasn’t sure what to make of it. Joe simply said “Then be done! Have a series that didn’t jump the shark! We can then bring her over into the Marvel Universe and see if she can find her way,” which is what we did.
So, here we are now, years later. Of course, it doesn’t really matter how much time has gone by in the Marvel Universe. It’s really more of a question of what’s going on in the Marvel Universe that’s going to get Jessica’s attention. Where would she be in the midst of all of this? I think that, given all of the events that have taken place in the years since the series ended, there are a lot of mysteries for her to explore – from massive, world-spanning ones to some that are much smaller in scope that may have slipped through the cracks of our larger stories.
We can explore those questions and more, particularly how life as a super hero with a baby changes things. Having that baby makes you vulnerable to the outside world and ripe for more tragedy than anything else. The minute your baby is born, you think “Uh oh. I need to keep this baby alive!” And she lives in a world that is very dangerous. The stress of keeping it [all together] is something we dive into in the first issue. If there are any similarities between the first issue of this series and the first run is that something has happened to Jessica, which we don’t see occur, but we’re there to experience the fallout. I won’t spoil it, but when we open the book, something pretty shocking has happened and no one in the Marvel Universe is speaking to her.
Why? You’ll have to look and see…
Marvel.com: Looking back on ALIAS, are there any insights you’ve gained as you move forward with JESSICA JONES?
Brian Michael Bendis: When it first came out, it was not originally universally praised, even though people remember differently. It took a few issues for people to land on what they thought about it. I’d be remiss to say there weren’t some that loved ALIAS right away, but there are a few web sites that originally were so furious about her existence. I remember them specifically. They were so furious with us for creating Jessica and tackling the things we tackled. And then the show came out, and I saw those same sites talking about the original comic book series as if it were some sort of revered text. And I did enjoy the turnabout. It’s kind of cool, and I know Stanley Kubrick and the Coen Brothers saw something similar, but I’d never had that happen to me until “Jessica Jones”—not that I’m comparing myself to them! It’s just that I had only seen it happen before.
Marvel.com: As you know, comics criticism runs at a fast pace, always needing to keep up with the here and now. Do you think it’s possible this could be a situation where people just needed time to process what they were reading, and perhaps the show itself helped readers to better appreciate what you and Michael were doing in the original series?
Brian Michael Bendis: Oh, sure! With that time missing, it’s easy to overlook things. Take [writer] Ed Brubaker’s run on CAPTAIN AMERICA. You had to have the whole run in hand to really understand what his work was about. That’s hard to accomplish within the moment of a single issue. It’s something I’d like to see more of as there is so much material coming out, and it’s easy to miss the bigger picture. I hope that we can get more of that though.
Marvel.com: And I understand you’ll be joined by fellow co-creator Michael Gaydos on the new series?
Brian Michael Bendis: We haven’t worked together regularly [since ALIAS], though we’ve done a few things once in a while, like the one-shot for the television show. Now, some people don’t know this but we went to college together. He was a year older and made my life hell, as he was a better artist than me in every way. I was excited when I broke into comics with a contract as a student, but then he turned around and landed a contract the next day with an even bigger publisher. He had a book that would get the full four-colored treatment while I had crappy newsprint!
Anyhow, we stayed in touch over all of those years, and Michael was in and out of the industry as he often was doing work with more mainstream publishers along with his comics. Whenever he came up for air, we’d see if I had come up with air, and that’s kind of how we were able to make this work.
And I just love the way he shows Jessica’s world. We’re kind of back to that place of rediscovering who we are as adults, though I think I write well for him—and he obviously produces amazing art! For some artists, I need to figure out a bit about how they see the world so I can write for them, but with guys like Michael or [ALIAS and JESSICA JONES cover artist] David [Mack], they have very similar mindsets as I do, so it actually feels a lot easier. But at the same time, I also really want to challenge them to draw something that perhaps they might not have otherwise done on their own, so that’s something else you have to consider.
Marvel.com: So you’d say things are running well then?
Brian Michael Bendis: So far, so good! And we’ve confirmed that Matt Hollingsworth will be joining us as well, so we have the old team back together again: Me writing, Michael on art, David Mack on covers, and Hollingsworth on colors. And that’s really important because some people mistakenly overlook the color artist’s role in the process, but Matt is one of those people whose art just sets such a gold standard that it’s hard to ignore what a colorist brings to the page in modern comics. He’s helping tell the story!
But that’ll be one of the startling things people will notice is how we’ve brought everyone back together without missing a step. But we also wanted to avoid making one of the biggest mistakes, and that’s just re-fashioning the old stories into something new. No, we wanted to tell some stories that only Jessica could star in and would move her story forward. We’ll look through the cracks of [events] and see what people were dealing with—and this is where Jessica will be found.
Marvel.com: How exactly does Jessica Jones fits into the notion of Marvel NOW!?
Brian Michael Bendis: As I’ve said before, the real reason was that the Marvel Universe changed so much and there were so many opportunities for us to explore. It’s one of the cool things about having a shared universe, you know? It’s like POWERS—it’s all one universe and it gives that opportunity with Jessica. I wanted her to live in a part of the Marvel U that the rest of us don’t see every day. And these cases are inspired by many of the stories that we’ve all read, but perhaps we didn’t see the whole picture. If I’ve done my job right, I’m speaking to people who don’t read any other comics, but they can pick up all they need to know and enjoy a good crime story. Then there will be those people who’ve ready every book, and they can pick it up and say “Oh! They’re talking about Atlantis Attacks! I read that and now I can see it a little differently!” But no. We’re not actually doing Atlantis Attacks.
And not surprisingly, the sales for the first series—via trade paperback—have gone through the roof with fans of the show looking to jump on board as well. So, I’m really excited to be able to help give them more of Jessica within the Marvel NOW! push.
Marvel.com: When it comes to your more mature reader comics, you’ve not been shy when it comes to pushing the envelope. What elements to JESSICA JONES do you think you and Michael will get the biggest reactions from readers this time around?
Brian Michael Bendis: I really don’t know. I’m not the best judge of that. It’s really hard to tell what exactly will push people’s buttons, you know? People forget that the first issue [of ALIAS] was rejected by the printer and Marvel had to go find a new printer. This made no sense because there was no actual nudity in that issue; it’s all suggested. Then we found out later that the printer was down south and there were interracial prejudices filtering into their business decisions, which is equally interesting given the fact they were simultaneously printing some weird porn magazines—but they had a problem with our book. It was very strange for me. [Laughs]
Then there were stores that had difficulty selling the book. I was down in Florida visiting my grandparents, because I’m Jewish and that’s what you do, and I’d stop by stores where a few owners told me they wanted to sell the book so badly but there were certain religious organizations that would shut them down if they did. And I truly didn’t understand that as it’s not porn! Adults dealing with sexuality was—scary, I guess? Who knows, as I live in the “free-wheeling world” of Portland.
But most people forget the original series wasn’t even “R” rated most of the time, but they want it to be now! Yes, Jessica dropped an “F-bomb” like it was her job, but the stories were mature. They were stories for adults about adults, and yes, she’ll be looking at things from a mature lens. But it’s funny because we were at the Peabody dinner, it was the first time I was with Krysten Ritter. Someone mentioned that Krysten never actually said the “F word” on the show, and I couldn’t believe it. But she didn’t and I watched the show! But it’s all in the eyebrows and her facial expressions—she just oozes it.
Marvel.com: So we can expect this series to retain its edge?
Brian Michael Bendis: I’ll just say it is mature and we won’t be skirting issues.
JESSICA JONES from Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, and company hits the streets on October 5!
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