Jessica Jones (or rather, several Jessica Joneses) take on a new case of multiversal proportions in The Variants #1.
In this new limited series by superstar creators Gail Simone and Phil Noto, The Variants teases an intriguing premise: hard-boiled gumshoe Jessica Jones teaming up with variants of herself from alternate universes to solve a case. Given the widespread popularity of the multiverse in fiction right now, it’s a canny move from Marvel editorial, even if they’re not exactly lacking for similar stories in their publishing slate recently. But based on this first issue, it seems like Simone and Noto’s approach is less Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and more Everything Everywhere All at Once, which is absolutely the right call.
The Variants begins like many other Jessica Jones stories do, following her as she’s pulled into a new case involving—you guessed it—the Purple Man. But after suffering the latest in a series of debilitating blackouts, she’s greeted in her apartment by not one but two Jessica Joneses, and it’s clear that something is out of the ordinary this time around.
I will say that The Variants #1 suffers from the greatest foe of modern serialized storytelling, comics or otherwise: decompression. While the bulk of the issue is perfectly enjoyable thanks to Simone’s witty script and Noto’s gorgeous art, the reader isn’t given any real indication of what this series is about until the closing few pages, and even then it’s still left a little vague. Jessica pointedly rejects the notion that she’s facing another Skrull invasion (that’s coming later this year?) while a Captain America-esque variant of herself implies something multiversal, but it’s not really signaled strongly enough for it to be clear to the reader. The title and recap page plainly state the premise in tandem with one another, so I doubt anyone is going into this issue completely cold, but the material itself doesn’t really sell the concept as well as it probably should.
But that being said, I’m totally onboard! I enjoy Simone as a writer, Noto has long been one of my favorite artists since I got into reading comics, and I’m never gonna complain about a Jessica Jones vehicle. So all of that plus a multiversal angle (which I’m always an easy mark for) means I will be following the series as it goes. There’s enough here that makes me think it’ll be worth some leeway to the team to get to the point eventually. The best example of this in the issue is a double-page spread that leans on the concept of multiversity, conveying how even the most inane decisions (i.e. Jessica’s inability to choose a lipstick color at one point in the semi-recent past) can have unique and even crucial consequences. It primes the reader for a story about the infinite number of potential cosmic divergences we make on a daily basis that made the aforementioned Everything Everywhere All at Once such a revelation.
The decision to focus this story on Jessica Jones, of all characters, is also extremely smart given how Jess is one who is almost totally defined by the paths she did or didn’t take in her history. The cover of Issue #1 features her retired superhero aliases Jewel and Knightress, both of whom I expect to see reappear here as variants from alternate universes where she committed to those personas. (By the way, kinda fascinating that Marvel Comics is implicitly adopting the MCU’s “variant” as the official terminology for versions of a character from other universes and timelines with this series?) That definitely feels like an idea Simone pitched herself, as she’s always had a fondness for lower-tier (but no less impactful) female characters like Jess. While this series isn’t off to a perfect start, it still has my full attention, and I expect it to deliver when all is said and done.
(Also, I would love to know who came up with the series’ logo, because it slaps.)