The Jessica Jones Netflix series is set to start on November 20. While Daredevil has shown us that you don’t need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy the show, it’s sometimes nice to get some background on a character. I guess it should be said, if you haven’t already read the comics, and you want to go into the show completely fresh, you may want to skip this post. But I am trying to keep things higher level so as not to unwittingly spoil.
Jessica Jones is a Marvel character who appears primarily in 2 comic series, Alias, and The Pulse. I read them both and hooo boy are they different.
Alias was a 28 issue series back in the early 2000’s. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Alias was the title that launched Marvel’s Max comic line. The Max books are R-rated, darker, rougher, NOT ALL AGES and Alias jumps into that headfirst. Jessica Jones was a new character, created explicitly for this series. When we are introduced to her, right away we realize she’s far step away from other female characters we have seen in the comic world. Jessica is a super-powered human, but she’s is not a superhero. As the owner and only employee of PI firm Alias Investigations, Jessica is a hard drinker, a chain smoker, who curses like a sailor raised by a truck driver. She’s angry, and paranoid, and doesn’t suffer fools for a moment. You want to talk damaged characters? Jessica is a human train wreck. And that’s what’s so great about her. She’s not one of the bright eyed, impossibly coiffed, female characters who were (still are?) prevalent in comics. She’s how you feel on your darkest days when you have completely lost your way so badly that you can’t determine what’s good from what’s not.
So I debated talking about “that scene.” I will, but I am going to keep it very brief. Yes, in the first few pages there is a sex scene that implies Jessica is well, adventurous. Less than being character building, I took it as a way to show “hey, these aren’t comics code comics.” To my read it’s consensual so that’s all I’m going to say about it. We are all grown ups here.
Consent is actually a big theme in Jessica’s story. The big deal is less what she consents to, but rather how she loses free will and the effect it has on her. This is the real crux of her story. When we meet Jessica she is working as a private investigator in the superhero world, have firmly retired from costumed hero-ing. The first 4 story arc in the series have Jessica using what she learned in her hero days to work on cases that don’t necessitate Avengers-level attention, but do take someone with the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities that Jessica has. We don’t learn the specifics of why Jessica has retired until the last story arc where both her origin and why she got out of the superhero game is revealed.
The story line, “Purple,”give us a look at Jessica’s main foe, Zebediah Killgrave, The Purple Man. Admittedly, naming a villain The Purple Man is kinda doofy. But his powers of pheromone-based mind control make him one of the more frightening characters in the Marvel universe. Mind control powers are not new, but there is something particularly insidious about Killgrave, and how his powers work, that make him particularly damaging.
The Pulse is less about Jessica and more about The Daily Bugle newspaper. It’s the shiny, slick, and frankly, antiseptic follow-up to Alias that continues to follow Jessica’s story among other happenings at the Bugle. The Pulse is not a Max series and therefore the tone is completely different from Alias. Or at least that’s what I am going to blame it on since the writer is the same. Jessica is no longer a private eye, she’s sort of a roving lifestyle reporter for “The Pulse,” the superhero section of the Bugle. Also, Jessica is pregnant.
Yup, she’s pregnant. Did I mention she’s pregnant? Don’t worry, she mentions it on almost every page, so you know, you’ll figure it out eventually. Pregnancy has apparently changed Jessica from a well-developed character with nuances, into a woman with super abilities who is pregnant. And that seems to be about it, there is very little left of the Jessica we saw in Alias. I really really like damaged, paranoid, angry Jessica. She was real. This new version is so generic that I swear, when I picked up the book after a week-long reading break, I didn’t even realize the character on the page was supposed to be her (which is commentary on the art and the story)! Yeah, The Pulse is pretty disappointing.
So, if you feel like reading, I recommend you spend some time with Alias, and skip The Pulse. From the previews it looks like the Netflix series is going more along the Alias route anyway. Which is great since my hope for the show is that was get a nuanced female character who tries to battles her demons and maybe finds her way to the other side without losing everything she was.