I wouldn’t read.
Ma will be the first to tell you that. She’d asked me to read aloud signs, billboards, the headlines in the paper. I refused to.
I told her as long as I could figure it out from the pictures, with my 9-year-old’s skills of deduction, I’d be fine. I was convinced I didn’t need to read.
Anything as hard as learning to read couldn’t possibly be needed in a world that made so much sense to a third grader.
And I remained convinced that I didn’t need to read right up until the day my father dropped an Iron Man comic book in front me. Not one of the comics with the rich white guy with alcoholism on the cover. It was the one with the dashing, broad-shouldered Lt. Col. James Rhodes on the cover.
It was the first superhero I’d ever seen who looked like me.
So I opened it. And when I made it to the end, I found I couldn’t quite make out all of the details. I had the basic story down. But I wanted to know more.
I took it to Ma in the kitchen and asked her to read it for me. She said no. I needed to read it myself.
She helped sound out the words, look them up in a dictionary if I didn’t know their meanings, and then read the sentence aloud without stopping.
I have rinsed and repeated for almost 20 years now. I owe my love for reading, writing and telling stories to comic books, novels and Ma—who wouldn’t just read the goddamn thing to me. As I grew up, I was fortunate enough to find that comic books grew up with me.
That’s how I came upon the one I’m going to ask you to go read now. It’s Marvel Comics’ “Alias Vol. I,” by Brian Michael Bendis. And if you read it today, you’ll have a leg up on all of the folks who will discover Jessica Jones through a forthcoming Netflix TV series.
Anyway, there’s a disclaimer in this book about how prevalent profanity and mature subjects are in it, and you should be warned about those things before you open it.
As if to make its point, the first word seen after the title page is “fuck.”
The introduction tells you all about how this book earned its explicit content stamp. And if you’re not on board with that—or letting your kid read something like that—no harm, no foul.
Put the book down, and let someone else discover this brilliantly flawed superhero who chose not to be a superhero.
“Alias Vol. 1” is a collection of nine issues that tell the story of former heroine Jessica Jones. Jones, who used to be a member of Marvel’s Avengers, has quit being the superhero known as Jewel to open a private investigation firm called Alias Investigations.
She’s frank, she’s crude, and she’s just the kind of strong female protagonist I live for —and not just because the situations she finds herself in don’t lend themselves to any superhuman skill set.
Yet her work keeps forcing her to encounter other superheroes, when all she’d really like is to hide from the life she used to lead and never again see these people, with whom she couldn’t hack it.
While following Jones around and watching her solve mysteries like a really pissed off V.I. Warshawksi, I fell in love with the mix of brash dialogue and make-grown-men-cry-uncle action.
Now, this is the part of the book review where I’m supposed to supply you with a money quote. Where I’m supposed to pick a few flowers from this beautiful garden, place them in a vase and say, “Wouldn’t you like to see more like these?”
Fine, I’ll play along.
There’s a scene near the end of issue No. 9 when Jones confronts a philandering husband she’s been investigating on behalf of his suspicious wife. She meets the husband at a coffee shop, and he conveniently slides up beside her.
“Go home to your wife,” Jones says, “and come out of the closet. She loves you, and you’re hurting her. She deserves better than what you’re doing to her.”
That’s the one that sticks out for obvious reasons. You get to see a cheating, lying husband get told off by the hero. We all feel good about it and want to high-five Jones for doing her job.
But the quote that stuck with me, the one I’d wear on a T-shirt, comes just a few panels later when Jones is all alone staring at a hot cup of coffee.
“They believe because they want to believe,” she says.
I love that quote for a couple of reasons. I love it because Jones is the character who said it, and I got to follow her on the journey that led her to spout this particular koan.
But I love it most because it is the answer to many of the questions I have asked of others, that I have asked of myself.
Why do I believe my wife is a saint?
Why do I still believe in superheroes?
Why do they believe in a higher power?
Why do we believe in fearless investigative journalism?
“They believe because they want to believe.”
RJ Young is freelance journalist and novelist. He is author of “It Only Got Worse” and “Coweta Chronicles: Reckoning.” He also hosts The Frontier’s weekly podcast, “Listen Frontier.” His favorite book is “The Hot Kid” by Elmore Leonard.