By James Hancock September 27th, 2015
I know it is a colossal mistake to judge an entire television series by a mere teaser, but Jessica Jones officially has my undivided attention. I’ve been biding my time before chiming in on this, but now that I’ve been given a small taste of the tone of the show, my Marvel fanboy side can take over, the emotional equivalent for me of hearing Liam Neeson roar, ‘Release the Kraken!’ For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, Jessica Jones is the second collaboration between Marvel Studios and Netflix, the first of which was the very well-received Daredevil. As much as I enjoyed Daredevil, Jessica Jones in my opinion is a much better fit for these hybrid productions. This new series is based on the comic book Alias (2001-2004), written by Brian Michael Bendis, a man who has played a large role in reinventing the comic book industry in the 21st century. Alias was the series that launched Marvel’s Max Comics, an imprint created expressly for telling stories set in the Marvel Universe without any censorship. For decades the Comics Code Authority had been strangling creativity in the comic book industry, but with the creation of Max, suddenly writers like Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Azzarello, Garth Ennis, & J. Michael Straczynski could tell stories with an adult sensibility while remaining true to the continuity of the rest of the Marvel Universe. I had abandoned reading Marvel comics altogether during the late Nineties but the Max imprint was part of a larger creative revolution that jumpstarted Marvel in the early 2000s and brought me back into the fold. It is difficult to put into words just how fresh Alias felt at that time. Alias is the story of Jessica Jones, a retired superhero/chain-smoking alcoholic struggling to get by as a private detective. With its liberal use of profanity, late night booty calls with Luke Cage, adult humor, and fascinating whodunits worthy of the best in film noir, Alias completely abandoned the primary colored spandex of traditional comics and gave us something quite new. If this Netflix series even scratches the surface of what was accomplished in the comic, we are in for a special treat on November 20th when the show goes online.
When it comes to criticisms of superhero movies and shows, there are two types of click bait stories a lot of writers indulge in these days, often written by people who are not remotely fans of this kind of material but want to use the popularity of superheroes to further their own agenda. My theory is that Jessica Jones will torpedo both notions. The first is ‘superhero fatigue’. Whenever a superhero show or movie flops, rather than blame a movie like Fantastic Four for being a terrible moviegoing experience, everyone immediately starts predicting the demise of the superhero genre altogether. I totally understand that some people despise superhero movies but nobody is holding their feet to the flames making them watch the flicks. The genre will die if and when the movies don’t deliver stories that people enjoy and not a day sooner no matter how many ‘superhero fatigue’ stories bloggers choose to rant and rave about. The other type of criticism, one with far more validity, is the lack of compelling roles for women in the genre, particularly on Marvel productions. I suspect that Hayley Atwell, Scarlet Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Chloe Bennet, Rosario Dawson, Cobie Smulders, Deborah Ann Woll, and many more actresses might disagree with that premise (facts can be inconvenient for SJWs and their narratives) not to mention Marvel is moving full speed ahead on a Captain Marvel film starring one of my all-time favorite female Marvel characters, Carol Danvers. But the reality is that there are very few superhero franchises where women are showcased front and center as the main draw of the show. Jessica Jones is a perfect first step toward addressing this problem. In the best tradition of flawed, insecure, highly relatable Marvel heroes, Jessica Jones is a character whose life is a complete mess emotionally, sexually, chemically and professionally. She rarely exhibits her enhanced strength and has so little confidence in her ability to fly, she chooses never to use it. I’ve had a massive crush on Krysten Ritter ever since I first saw her in Breaking Bad and I hope she knocks this role right out of the park. As far as other female roles are concerned that I’d love to see in the future, check out my post ‘Anyone Who Says You Hit Like a Girl, Better Mean It as a Compliment’.
If you’re interested in watching Jessica Jones, but have never read Alias or any comic at all for that matter, I highly urge everyone to do so, all 28 issues. It is the kind of self-contained storyline that shatters every negative stereotype people may rightly or wrongly believe about comic books. As many Marvel readers have known for decades and as many people learned from watching Daredevil, one of the most interesting corners of the Marvel Universe is Manhattan, in particular Hell’s Kitchen, and the insane events that take place after dark when vigilantes with few powers, in some cases none, prowl the rooftops fighting crime. Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Spider-Man, The Punisher and Jessica Jones are part of this world and one of the joys of reading Marvel comics is the interconnected narrative that ties all of these characters together. The show runners of Jessica Jones appear to understand this and wisely cast Mike Colter as Luke Cage in the show paving the way for his own Netflix show next year. If Charlie Cox also shows up as Matt Murdock to offer legal assistance to Jessica as he does in the comics, I will be doing cartwheels around my apartment. While Bendis invented Jessica Jones in 2001, he retroactively tied her into the history of Marvel, leaving her time as a superhero and why she retired a dark secret for the bulk of the series. In that the show might tackle this storyline at some point, I don’t want to spoil anything but I’ll simply say that the final story arc of the book dealing with this mystery (Alias #24-28) is one of the best stories ever published by Marvel. The character and her relationship with Luke Cage sadly lost a bit of its edge once Alias ended and Jessica Jones was incorporated into the pages of The Avengers (not at all part of the Max imprint), but I am officially a fan of the character for life. I’m crossing my fingers that Marvel and Netflix won’t let me down with this show. We don’t have much to go on, but in just a few seconds of footage, the style of the teaser linked above is a very strong indicator that they cracked the code of this remarkable character. On November 20th I will greedily be ripping through this show as fast as I can. Make mine Marvel.
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Pages 11 & 13 from Alias #1 (2001), written by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Michaek Gaydos