[7 July 2009]
Quite a few Marvel superheroes have anger management issues; Hulk’s rage often ruins otherwise sound plans, and Wolverine’s rampaging has to be calculated into any team strategy. Depression, however, is rarely a vulnerability that dominates a super-powered protagonist’s series of bad decision-making. It’s almost like Marvel mutants evolved in a way that made them insusceptible to depression. They just skip the listless mornings of lying in bed for hours and go straight for the chaos and lashing out.
Alias tells the story of Jessica Jones, a minor superhero who experienced a traumatizing event in which she was mostly forgotten by her team and left to the torments of her abductor. Instead of becoming unrealistically enraged, she retired her costume and became a private investigator. On top of never really resolving her trauma, Jessica made a career of dealing with people who were being betrayed by someone they trusted, or were trying to dig up dirt on the people who trusted them. After having slept with Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man, she finds she has been set up by a client, who plays upon her emotional distance to frame her for a murder. In this panel, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos have placed Jessica in the graffiti-adorned hallway of Luke Cage’s apartment building. The door has just been slammed in her face, and she is, once again, alone.
That she is closed in by graffiti adds another level of loneliness to her inability to cope with her problems. In a sense, graffiti is a signifier of alienation. Surrounded by a dense population, writers throw up their tag names unnoticed or ignored. The kids write because they are surrounded by a signifying system that has excluded them. They write their tags over and over again to make a place for their names. The hallway is full of little messages for other writers, and the tags remind us that at some point, probably late some night before, there was foot traffic through this apartment building. Jessica is surrounded by the names of people who are no longer there and is forced to face the realization that out of desperation, she’s made another bad choice.