by Chelsea Dee, Editor-at-Large
It’s no real surprise to me that Marvel and Netflix chose very specific characters for their special mini-series. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist are all street fighters who prefer to stick to New York and rarely had the big flashy attention the Avengers did. They can film most of these shows in the same location in New York, and since Netflix loves embracing gritty, dark material, it’s tailor made for them. I wrote about Daredevil already, which is slated to come out in April, and decided to take on Jessica Jones next. The rough date for her show to air is probably late this year, they have “2015” as a vague plan. Krysten Ritter has been cast as Jessica, and I was a big supporter of that casting as soon as the rumors came out. For Jess you need someone who can play intelligent, tough, and snarky. Jess isn’t a big name or a big star in Marvel, and that’s intentionally part of her story. Her series was titled Alias and ran for three years, from 2001-2004, and it was a huge hit. Why did Jess work so well for fans, especially fans who preferred indie titles? Let’s take a look. Consider this a Jessica Jones break down for casual Marvel fans.
Jess was an ordinary teenager who went to school with Peter Parker and had a crush on him. She was just about to speak to him from the first time when he got stung by a radioactive spider, so that didn’t work out. Her parents were killed (naturally) in a car accident when it collided with a truck full of radioactive chemicals (of course it did). She was in a coma and woke up later, adopted by the Jones family. Her powers include super strength, limited invulnerability, and some flight. Jess came back to school and was bullied and taunted by the kids to the point she became bitter and apathetic. Peter Parker tried to reach out, but she was having none of it. She attempted to start a superhero career as Jewel, and basically immediately got messed up by one of Daredevil’s villains the Purple Man. He used his mind control to turn her against others, and her first run in with the Avengers was her being forced to attack them. Not the best first impression. She went into a coma again and recovered from the mind control, but when she woke up she took this as another sign she was just destined to have bad things happen to her. Further bitter and disillusioned, she quit.
This was where Jess’ story really started. Instead of trying again, she chose to become a private investigator, hoping to still do some good while keeping away from the superheroes. Unfortunately people sought her out specifically because of her history, so she never really got to escape it. Story of her life. Throughout the Alias series Jess worked cases and sort of came in and out of the other major superhero comics, but most notably grew close to Luke Cage, a fellow street fighter and superhero who didn’t have the best of luck. The comic had a film noir-like quality, with some gritty realism mixed with occasional superhero themes, and Jess has this world weary, ready for the worst type of attitude. She’s tough and sharp, but clearly still has the drive to do the right thing. Like the other street vigilantes, she’s just willing to walk slightly ambiguous lines to get it done. Jess and Luke were on and off for awhile, and then decided to be committed after she got pregnant. Eventually they get married. They’re one of the most solid couples in the Marvel universe, probably because there is a strong foundation of friendship and mutual respect. Jess eventually accepted that she was tied to the superhero community whether she liked it or not, and becoming more active in it led to her healing some of her past feelings of rejection and failure.
There are a lot of qualities about Jess and her story that really resonated with comic book fans. The isolated outcast part of her, for certain. While Jess has a tragic backstory and superpowers, she still managed to never feel like she fit in with the superhero community. She always felt on the outskirts and rarely got directly involved with the big Avenger storylines. It was also a rated R comic, with the freedom to talk openly about sex, drugs, and the dark side of the street, plus a heavy amount of swearing. The very first word of the comic is “fuck.” Jess deals with reality more than her counterparts, because she has to worry about making money and paying the rent. She has an adult and complicated relationship with Luke, sometimes a messed up one, and they dealt with her pregnancy actively in the comic as she considered whether she’d be a good mother, or if it was smart to have one in their community at all. Jess feels more like a real person, and I think that’s why people like her. She is sharp tongued and sassy, and she’s someone you can imagine getting a beer with, rather than look up to. Things never come easily to her, and the audience wants to cheer her on. She’s an underdog, but she’s not pitiful or desperate to win/get attention. She just accepts her lot and keeps on living the best she can.
It’ll be interesting to see who her supporting cast is, if she has a non-superhero supporting cast, because Jess is a character who frequently had well known cameos. We know now that Captain Marvel / Carol Danvers will be getting a new movie, and she regularly showed up as one of Jess’ best friends. However, since they haven’t cast her yet, it’s unlikely she’ll be revealed here. Maybe referred to? They could have Jess refer to her best friend Carol. Luke Cage has a series of his own coming, and they’ve already cast him as Mike Colter, but he will definitely be introduced first in Jess’ show. Another possible surprise guest star could be Paul Rudd, if they found a way to persuade him, since Jess briefly dated Scott Lang. Daredevil will probably pop up, but it’s hard to say who else will be regular in the series. It’ll be fun to see the tongue-in-cheek references to superhero situations. I expect she will comment on other Marvel movies or TV shows, and make snarky remarks about them. Jess lives on the ground floor of the Marvel world, she walks with the ordinary people a lot of the time. The audience will probably enjoy being with this tough-talking detective as she rolls her eyes at the big names and tries to make a living helping people.
Read the Alias comics if you want to learn more. They are excellent and extremely well written. She was also in The Pulse, about the journalistic side of Marvel.
What are you hoping to see in the Jessica Jones Netflix series?