After reading Jinx, I was considering beginning with a joke about the style of dialogue that is often present in the comics written by Brian Michael Bendis. I ended up scrapping it as I felt that it was an overplayed joke and that it wouldn’t work as a good introduction, but it did allow me to reflect on some things.
The trajectory of Brian Michael Bendis from someone who wrote independent crime comics to one of Marvel’s top writers in the 2000s is interesting. Him being considered for a title like Ultimate Spider-Man after writing titles like Jinx (the subject of this review) and Sam & Twitch does feel like an out-of-the-box choice, but one that did work. It wasn’t long before he had popular runs on titles like Daredevil and The Avengers. And I think a lot of it boils down to his use of dialogue, which probably must have felt different because of how it sounded.
Known as “Bendisspeak,” Bendis writes dialogue in a manner that’s said to be influenced by writers like David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin. There is a lot of back-and-forth. Characters interrupt each other. Words and phrases are repeated in a humorous manner. Such elements are meant to make the dialogue in the comics sound like the conversations you have in real life.
While it has been praised for its naturalistic use of dialogue, Bendisspeak has also been criticized. There have been criticisms about the dialogue being a waste of space and sometimes overriding the artwork of his collaborators. Some readers have felt that the writing has become a parody of itself in that the characters tend to sound the same, which strips them of their uniqueness. I am pretty sure I have heard some variant of the “Bendis? Brian Michael Bendis? The writer Bendis?” joke numerous times on the Internet.
All of this made me curious about reading Jinx, as I wanted to see him develop his writing voice, especially since it was one of his earliest comics and an indie one at that. I am pretty sure that the other indie comic I have read that was written by the man was United States of Murder Inc., which I enjoyed as I tend to be a sucker for his crime stories. Jinx is an interesting comic. There’s something fascinating about seeing writers develop their style, especially as someone who’s read their works after they have established themselves. The story is about two grifters named Goldfish and Columbia who are looking for a hidden stash of cash. Jinx, the titular character of the story, is a bounty hunter who gets involved after talking to Goldfish. It’s certainly a good premise for a crime story.
While some scenes have aged rather poorly, the Bendisspeak does work in Jinx. There’s a continuous flow to the dialogue; I found myself seamlessly moving from one scene to another as if I was watching a film. And it doesn’t feel like a waste of space, which, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is a common criticism with Bendisspeak. So why does it work here for me?
I think I figured out why. As much as I do find the premise for Jinx to be interesting, it wasn’t the plot that got me reading but the characters. And that’s why the Bendisspeak worked.
Throughout the story, I was more invested in the conversations the characters have, especially the ones between Goldfish and Jinx. These conversations fill in the time between the scenes of violence, and provide an insight into who these people are in a very direct manner. When I go back to the aforementioned conversations between Goldfish and Jinx, it’s clear that these are two people who got swept up in a life that they now wish they could leave. The money gives them the opportunity that they never considered ever since they entered their line of work; a new beginning.
Outside of the writing, the artwork, which is also by Bendis, with a little help from David Mack and Galen Showman in the inking department, works well with the black-and-white aesthetic, enhancing the gritty atmosphere of the story in that it brings the aesthetic of film noir to a contemporary setting. There’s a scene that serves as an homage to the artwork of Sal Buscema, which is an impressive throwback to an older style and look of superhero comics. And there’s a scene in a fantasy setting drawn by Michael Gaydos, which works in-tandem with Bendis’ artwork.
The Buscema homage and the fantasy scenes aren’t particularly “important”. Considering Bendis’ love for superhero comics and his desire to write one at a time, they could be considered self-indulgent. But for what it’s worth, I can appreciate it because, for me, it is a creator showing me something he likes. And these two scenes do show that Bendis is capable of going outside of his comfort zone as they don’t feature his usual brand of Bendisspeak, and they don’t have the noir-esque artwork of the main story. Even if they are meant to be homages in their use of dialogue and design, I can see why he was one of Marvel’s top creators after he got the assignment for Ultimate Spider-Man and other superhero comics.
The presence of speech bubbles has been a mixed bag. On some pages, they’re a natural fit, but on other pages, they feel like they’re thrown on the page without any attention, which can be frustrating as there are moments where I am not able to tell who is talking. And some scenes consist of a wall of text, or in this case, a wall of dialogue. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in a scene where two characters may be talking, it can sometimes be hard to keep track of the conversation. As much as I am critical of the prior element, however, I did enjoy the lettering by Roxanne Star and Jared Bendis, as well as the typography by Mark Ricketts. They make the lettering very legible and easy to read.
Published in the 90s, Jinx is an early work from a creator who would go on to become one of the industry’s biggest writers after the turn of the millennium. It’s hard not to see the things that made Brian Michael Bendis an appealing writer. It’s a worthwhile read for those who are fans of his Big Two comics and would like to read something from him that’s not very mainstream. And for readers interested in more crime stories from the world of comics, it’s an excellent choice.