The creators of Jessica Jones return to the heroine after several years and bring her back to her hardscrabble roots in Uncaged.

At the outset, Jessica is close to rock bottom. She’s languishing in a high security jail. She’s had a rupture with husband Luke Cage and has stashed their infant daughter somewhere Luke can’t find her. Jessica’s unexpected release has her back plying her trade as a low rent private investigator. She tackles a case of a woman whose husband claims to be extradimensional. That scenario turns tragic, just as Jessica’s motives in blowing up her life come to a dramatic, and dangerous, head.

Jessica Jones: Uncaged heralds the return of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos to their popular heroine. In the years since fans met Jessica in Alias, she’s come a long way. Indeed, during the New Avengers era, she was at the forefront of some of Marvel’s biggest events. She’s been less prominent the past few years, but the success of the Jessica Jones Netflix series has raised her profile and encouraged Marvel to both spotlight the character and return her to her grittier origins.

This is some of the most engaging work Bendis has done in awhile. No surprise there, Jessica has always brought out the best in the writer and Bendis has a real gift for teasing out the darker corners of the Marvel Universe in compelling, often surprising, ways. Uncaged uses Jessica as the pivot for a tense confluence of characters and story points. Cage and Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers play key roles in the series, while stalwarts like Misty Knight, Jessica Drew, Iron Fist, Sharon Carter and Ben Urich factor into the action, too. Bendis plays with the notion that all of Luke’s friends have been merely humoring his relationship with Jessica all these years and aren’t sad to be rid of her. But the Jessica/Luke relationship remains compelling, even in a badly compromised state, and Bendis makes the Jessica/Carol friendship realistically messy and layered.

Bendis uses Uncaged to follow up on some lingering plot threads from both Civil War II and Secret Wars, making Jessica Jones uniquely steeped in major Marvel events while bringing an outsider’s perspective to them. It’s a neat trick and the Civil War II thread especially is far more compelling here than it was in the original, overheated story. Bendis truly shines in the murkier parts of the MU and enjoys the comparative freedom of this more mature series (the book carries a parental advisory, mostly for language).

Gaydos is equally important in the project of bringing Jessica Jones back to the character’s roots. Later artists indulged the impulse to glam up Jessica and make her more of a traditional comic book female type. Gaydos rewinds all that, bringing Jessica back to the lo-fi, grunge aesthetic that made her stand out in the first place. His Jessica is very expressive, her tangle of complex emotions simmering beneath a surface snarl that occasionally gives way to some moments of genuine pathos. Gaydos doesn’t get tricky with layouts, using a straight-forward approach that serves the narrative. His gritty, lived-in approach creates a tense, constricting atmosphere and goes a long way toward removing Jessica from the shinier environs she’d inhabited for the last several years. Ace colorist Matt Hollingsworth is the perfect choice for this assignment, using a muted palette and careful use of certain color schemes (greens, blues and violets) to suffuse sequences with drama and to create mood and tension.

Jessica Jones: Uncaged is a smart, canny way to push a character forward by going back to basics. It’s a compelling read that both long-time fans and newcomers can appreciate.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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