Jessica Jones: It’s Time to Learn Her Name

The_Pulse_Vol_1_11_page_00_Jessica_Jones_(Earth-616)

When Marvel announced that it would be putting out several series on Netflix about street-level heroes, they told us who we’d be getting: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones. And as I tried to force everyone I know to be just as excited as I was, whenever I reached the name Jessica Jones (to be played by Krysten Ritter), I was given a single overwhelming response:

“Who?”

With her thirteen-episode Netflix series by showrunner Melissa Rosenberg coming out in November, and my moral compulsion to tell people about good comics, I’ve decided, fine—I’ll tell you who Jessica Jones is.

In her short history of publication, a lot has happened to Jessica Jones. She gets married to Luke Cage (to be played by Mike Colter), they have a baby (who practically all the Avengers babysit), she and Luke run an Avengers team, and they fight off an alien invasion! But for this article, and keeping in mind what the show will be about, I’ll focus on the early days of Jessica Jones.

It makes sense that so few people know about Jessica. She is not of the Stan Lee golden-era of classic heroes. She’s just over a decade old, and debuted in a less than mainstream series.

In 2001, writer Brian Michael Bendis (of Ultimate Spider-Man fame) pitched a new series: a gritty, down-to-earth private detective comic, starring a former superhero who walked away from the life in tights. At first it was going to be an out-of-continuity miniseries, starring Spider-Woman Jessica Drew (who would indeed appear in a later Alias arc).

But, deciding he wanted to create something all his own, Bendis promptly changed the last name in his scripts. The wonderful watercolours of David Mack made up the covers and artist Michael Gaydos filled the interiors of Jessica’s world.

Thus, Jessica Jones was born!

Jessica begins as a normal kid, attending Midtown High alongside Peter Parker, who she has a crush on but never works up the nerve to speak to. Then, she is in a car accident—her family hits a truck carrying the trademarked radioactive waste that always activates superpowers in comics. Her family is killed. After a year-long coma, Jessica survives. Gifted with flight, durability, and super strength, Jessica briefly tries her hand as a costumed superhero called Jewel. But after a scarring event, she gives it all up.

As a private detective, Jessica takes on clients who often hire her to find a loved one or to spy on a spouse. She makes a living. She smokes, she swears, and sometimes she drinks too much. She is disillusioned with both the system and the world she lives in. Police resent her for her former superhero lifestyle; heroes hate her for giving it up. Jessica hates most of them because she thinks they’re awful.

This is how we first meet Jessica Jones. She’s angry, she’s unhappy, and she’s carrying a lot of baggage that she doesn’t like to face. She’s self-destructive, and has a bit of self-hatred. She’s not a superhero. She doesn’t throw herself at muggers or race into burning buildings.

But she does her job. Each time Jessica is given a case, she is thrown into a world of dangerous people and people in danger. But underneath all her pathos, her messed-up sense of self, her cynicism, and her bad language, Jessica can’t help but get sucked into other people’s problems. Ultimately, she is an empathetic, moral person—and a hero.

In a great crossover moment, she’s hired to be Matt Murdock’s bodyguard when he is publicly outed as Daredevil (the comic Daredevil was also written by Bendis at the time). There’s also a time when J. Jonah Jameson hires her to find out who Spider-Man is, and she spends weeks billing him while she feeds the homeless and doesn’t bother to investigate… because Jessica Jones is amazing.

Far away from the fantastical epics of the Avengers or the X-Men, Jessica’s world is that of a noir detective drama, infused with superpowers and a heavy dose of humanity. I think the story that truly best illustrates what made Alias such a special book also happens to be the only case that takes Jessica outside of New York.

Alias issues eleven through fourteen tell the four-part story, “ReBeCCa, PLeaSe CoMe HoMe”. Jessica is hired by single mother in small-town New York to find her missing child.

Some claim her alcoholic father kidnapped her; others don’t know what to think. But as Jessica continues her investigations, a single uniform rumour about the missing Rebecca begins to emerge: Rebecca has run away from home because she is a mutant.

This is a story in which Jessica tackles the horrible reality of how bigotry still holds its place in the modern world. Its greatest moment is when Jessica confronts a priest as he gives a sermon filled with hate speech against mutants. It really says something about the nature of this book and its character that it tackles the mutant metaphor of oppression and persecution better than most X-Men books.

But Jessica is by no means a perfect character. In a way, Alias is a book about someone suffering from depression and PTSD, caused by her short time as a costumed hero and the abuse she suffered at the hands of the mind-controlling villain, The Purple Man (to be played by David Tennant). In the end, however, Jessica manages to beat The Purple Man and begins to make an effort to fight her inner demons as well.

Alias starts with Jessica punching a man through her front door and getting far too drunk, but ends with her beating the bad guy and making a stab at happiness.

Hers is a crass, brutal, and blunt story. It is about the importance of having friends, standing up for what one believes in, and how to love oneself. It is a great story. So, if you have any time between now and November, I’d suggest picking it up and reading it. Then on November 20, please join me in binge-watching all thirteen episodes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix! (Viewer discretion is advised.)

Contributed by Ben Ghan

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Reimagined Race: Superheroes for a More Enlightened Age

MSMARVEL001Last November, news broke of Marvel relaunching their Ms. Marvel title with a new protagonist: Kamala Khan, a young Muslim teen from New Jersey. Kamala inherits her persona from the original (white) Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers. This is a pretty hefty departure for the series; Carol debuted as Ms. Marvel in 1977, and only in the last year took on the mantle of the original (male) Captain Marvel, leaving a vacant post for the introduction of Kamala.

In the comic, Kamala discovers she has the powers of a polymorph (a being who can change their size and appearance), which she naturally uses to fight crime and intergallactic evil. Much like other teen superheroes, however, she has to balance her newfound powers with the responsibilities of being a teen. In this case, her teen life is a balancing act between her conservative Muslim family, her American school friends, and her desire to keep her superhero identity a secret from both her parents and her peers.

Marvel’s investment in the franchise has been impressive; they’ve hired an all-star team and dropped a fair amount of marketing moolah. As a result Ms. Marvel #1 has been performing very well both financially and critically. Suffice to say, Ms. Marvel’s new identity has been quite a success.

CUltimateComicsSpiderMan_1_MilesVariantoincidentally, in the lead up to Ms. Marvel #1’s release, Marvel’s Editor in Chief was quoted as saying, “Kamala is not unlike Peter Parker,” in reference to her dual life as both teen and super hero. Kamala, however, could more easily be compared to Miles Morales, the half-Hispanic, half-African-American teen who replaced the original (white) Spider-Man, Peter Parker in 2012. While Morales only exists in Ultimate Spider-Man (an offshoot from the primary Marvel universe), he is another recent example of Marvel moving (or killing off) an established classic (white) character to allow the entry of a character that better represents the diversity of their market share.

Marvel has not been alone in doing this, nor is it a recent strategy. For instance, DC Comics, Marvel’s largest competitor, did the same with their original (white) Green Lantern character, Hal Jordan, when they introduced John Stewart as the Green Lantern’s “back-up” in 1971.  In recent years, however, this movement has created a number of divisions within the fanbase. Some believe that these decisions have led to long-needed diversity within the Marvel and DC comic canons. Others believe that while more diversity within the two universes is needed, the steps taken thus far have not been large or radical enough. And unfortunately, there are  retrogrades who think that comics canon should be left sacrosanct in all its white, pasty glory.

The financial success of these titles is an indicator that we’ll likely be seeing more franchises reimagined with more diverse casts in the near future. Judging by the reaction to this year’s Superbowl Coca Cola ad, there eventually may be some outcry if a popular hero like Captain America is replaced, but such a change certainly would make a great deal of sense, all things considered.

-Contributed by Dan Seljak