The Defenders continue to build their roster, as Netflix releases its second Marvel series, Jessica Jones, and wow! When Marvel say they’re taking a darker turn for their band of street-level heroes they were not kidding. Jessica Jones has never really been a family-friendly comic character, even in her guise as Jewel. What Netflix have aired is some glorious hybrid of televisual thrill and tension by applying a layer of superhero paint to Breaking Bad.
This is every bit the versus story that Daredevil was, so I shall begin here as I did there:
In the morally grey corner – Jessica “Not a Hero” Jones
Our story begins once Jones has already dropped all pretence of heroism and instead uses her super-strength, durability and “guided falling” to help people for cash as a private investigator, as far as possible without letting on that she’s using powers to do so. She’s already suffered at the hands of our villain Killgrave, and she’s not about to let him hurt anyone else the way he hurt her.
Unlike Daredevil, Jessica is incredibly resilient, even in the face of other super-powered individuals, but her vulnerability comes elsewhere. Where Matt Murdock stays on task when life beats him down to a bloody mess, Jessica has taken her beating and crawled into a bottle of cheap whiskey, still suffering flashbacks to her time suffering Kilgrave’s abuse (more on that below). She drives people away, almost fearful of the love of others, clinging to one or two relationships that she feels she can truly depend on.
Huge kudos to Krysten Ritter for her strong but nuanced delivery, and for breathing life into a character who has previously not seen a great deal of attention, even within the Marvel comic universe, even less so in TV and film adaptions.
In the purple corner – Kevin “The Purple Man” Kilgrave
If you’re going to go dark, you can’t do better than purple.
Mind control is a terrifying power, especially once the master manipulator has lost all concept of having to ask for things, simply walking through life demanding and receiving. David Tennant is chilling as the slightly modified version of Marvel’s Zebediah Killgrave, Tennant is British rather than Croatian, and is not purple head to toe, toned down to keep with the gritty realism of the street-level series, but dressing in purple and keeping it as a general colour scheme whenever he’s close, or using his abilities.
He is also a far more horrifying threat than any other Marvel villain, not on a global scale, but each and every victim he leaves in his wake is scarred permanently, who have to make themselves believe that they were acting against their own will, because Kilgrave makes your will his own. He has been in control for so long that he no longer recognises the will of others, viewing people as a means to an end, to the extent that the world seems to change around him.
There are glorious moments in which Kilgrave creates tableaus of people on the brink of self or mutual destruction, and the stillness of those scenes counterposed by his bodily and facial animation highlights his egocentric world-view, because how could he know different any more?
Cameos And Cast
Stan Lee isn’t the only subtle face to pop-up in a Marvel project. Comic fans, or at least savvy Googlers will be quick to pick out a few other characters that are woven into the mix:
It’s impossible to miss Luke Cage, as he plays a major role in Jessica Jones’ story, the characters are one of the most enduring marriages in comic history – or at least the most durable. The gentle giant with the unbreakable skin is played by Mike Colter and will be returning next year in his own Netflix series, the wait for which I will find even more unbearable now that a pattern is emerging.
More Marvel minor-players show their faces: Patricia “Hellcat” Walker is best friend and adopted sister to Jones, already training in Krav Maga out of fear of a city that’s filled with increasingly dangerous lunatics; try and spot the serum enhanced pill-popper Nuke too, a really subtle addition unless you know what you’re looking for; Jones’ old alter-egos pop up too, her old comic title “Alias” remains the title of her P.I. firm, and Jewel gets a rather obvious allusion in the form of a slightly mocking flashback scene.
Carrie-Anne Moss (she’s Trinity from The Matrix for those of you clicking your fingers going “Oh damn, it’s… her!”) makes for one of the most memorable cast members. The powerhouse lawyer Jeri Hogarth is both a valuable ally and a serious thorn in Jones’ side, and her presence in the series alters everything in some of the most dramatic ways.
The Obvious Supergirl Comparison
CBS’s latest DC series Supergirl adds to their collection of DC’s B-List heroes. Everyone knows Superman and Batman, but those of us with a merely casual knowledge of comic history will hesitate after those two. I’m a fan of Arrow and Flash, I truly am, so don’t think I’m insulting them at all, but here’s another platform in which they’re losing. In my article “DC Playing Catch-Up” I mentioned fears that Supergirl might end up as a bad combo of Ugly Betty and super powers, and I’m really trying to stay optimistic, I really am.
Here is one of the biggest failings: DC has a lot of unique female characters other than Wonder Woman. Raven, Starfire, Zatanna, or Fire for examples, and rather than raise any of these into the spotlight they instead televise a character who was (my apologies) a feminised version of Superman. She has her own unique personality, a different means of using her powers, sure, but the core of the character is that she is female Superman.
Marvel do the same, we can defend Spider-Woman and She-Hulk all we like by highlighting their differences, but the core concept remains the same (American Dream guys, really?). And yet here’s Jessica Jones, one of many heroines in comic-book history who are not inextricably connected to a male hero counterpart, and she is – in this, and the comic series – uniquely interesting, compelling, and memorable.
Feminism is an increasingly hot-button topic these days so I am going to examine the matter no further, but Jessica Jones really hits that hot-button with a big hammer, and a bunch of others besides, so I look forward to the kind of discussion this series will raise.
I’m a huge fan of anything that falls into the Neo-Noir category, and Ritter’s voice-over narrative, hard-bitten whiskey-chugging performance certainly takes that tone. Pitched against a villain who throws everyone and every action into question, forcing you to live at a distance from everyone for fear that you might hurt them or vice-versa, this series takes “gritty” to new extremes.
If you’re looking for a flaw, or a criticism, I have one. One! Keep an eye on the button that says “Hold To Talk” and know that it has been hideously mislabelled.
This series is filled with jaw-dropping moments that will likely have you screaming at your screen in the hopes of altering pre-scripted and entirely fictional events in the hopes that you won’t have to hurt inside any more. Too bad everybody, there are two more of these coming our way and a team-up besides. And we still have more Game of Thrones to get through in the mean time.