The Variants #1 Review: A Hardboiled and Beautiful Multiversal Triumph

In superhero comics, it's inevitable that readers will meet an alternate version of a character they recognize. Decades upon decades of comic storytelling have explored those possibilities, showcasing doppelgangers from across the multiverse or other timelines whose lives have been radically remixed—for good, for evil, or something in between—by individual circumstance. While that trope has resulted in some cheap or baffling gimmicks, it has also been a source of powerful storytelling, especially when it is used to deconstruct the core of a well-known character. Instead of using that approach on an A-list, household name, this week's The Variants #1 places it on Marvel's fan-favorite private investigator Jessica Jones, and it results in what might be one of the publisher's best stories in recent memory. 

The Variants #1 follows Jessica Jones through her largely-ordinary day-to-day life, affected by a string of mysterious blackouts. As those blackouts increase, and as Jessica's latest investigation reveals an incredibly-personal tie to her past, she must grapple with her own self-destructive tendencies, as well as the sudden arrival of alternate versions of herself.

What makes the mere concept of The Variants so interesting, something that only proves to be true across reading the first issue, is the idea of putting a larger-than-life multiversal story onto Jessica Jones. Across Marvel canon, Jessica has essentially either functioned as a shiny, short-lived superhero or one of the publisher's grittiest and most powerful street-level characters, with previous What If…? or alternate universe scenarios simply leaning further into one aspect or the other. But by the end of this first issue, it's clear The Variants is taking a much more intriguing approach to what's possible for Jessica herself, with alternate interpretations of her that simultaneously feel ingeniously groundbreaking and satisfyingly obvious, given the key qualities she has shown over the years. Putting Jessica at the center of that kind of doppelganger story is brilliant, as it allows for the introspective and incredibly personal storytelling that Jessica's solo stories have become known for, without completely retreading the steps of a hardboiled, slice-of-life PI tale. Along the way, Jessica and her experience with abuse and PTSD proves to be a perfect conduit for something that's at the very center of a lot of doppelganger storylines – the idea of how agency and control, or lack thereof, can shape our circumstances.

That brings me to the central narrative of The Variants, something that (without diving into spoilers) manages to excel as both a multiversal odyssey and a mystery. Oddly enough, the "twist" that is seeded in this first issue works on two separate levels, as fans who are well aware of the multiversal elements will still be met with surprises, while those who are just drawn to the idea of a new Jessica Jones book will be blown away by the escalating events. Along the way, nothing ever remotely comes close to being cliched or unsatisfying, in part thanks to the earnest and authentic way that writer Gail Simone brings Earth-616 Jessica to life. Even as the first issue rehashes some of Jessica's dark history, it does so in a way that is electrifying to read for even the most die-hard of established fans, with lines of dialogue or narration that are genuinely stunning. In a way, it's unsurprising given how dynamically Simone has previously written female characters like the Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and Red Sonja, but it's still a breath of fresh air to see Jessica be given that treatment.

That breath of fresh air continues with Phil Noto's art and color work, which elevates every single image presented in a truly wonderful way. For an issue that largely consists of dialogue scenes, Noto's approach to composition and facial expressions make each individual component stand out, especially when coupled with his compelling use of blue, pink, and tan in the coloring. (A particular double-page spread, featuring what could arguably be the issue's most mundane sequence, is such a brilliant example of this, that I want a poster-sized version of it framed on my wall.) The end result not only honors the moody aesthetic of Jessica's previous solo runs, but feels like an aesthetic send-up to the Bronze Age comics that made multiversal stories what they are today. Cory Petit's lettering ties it all together effortlessly, with a tone that simultaneously balances the gravity of Jessica's hard-boiled status quo with the whimsy of the multiversal adventure that's ahead.

The Variants #1 is not only a beautifully-constructed new look at the Marvel multiverse that fans know and love, it's a truly stunning and revolutionary new chapter in the ongoing story of Jessica Jones. Gail Simone's script brings the heartfelt, but world-weary tone that Jessica uniquely embodies, while laying the groundwork for a fascinating new twist on doppelgangers from another universe. When coupled with Phil Noto's effortlessly cool and timeless art, The Variants is an absolute knockout for Marvel Comics, and I could not be more excited to see what else it has in store.

Published by Marvel Comics

On June 29, 2022

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Phil Noto

Colors by Phil Noto

Letters by Cory Petit

Cover by Phil Noto