This weekend Marvel Comics’ ‘Jessica Jones’ was released on Netflix and geeks everywhere gleefully squirreled themselves away to binge on the series. While the character is fast becoming a household name this week many who fired up Netflix over the weekend for some good ol’R&R can be forgiven for not knowing much, if anything, about the Marvel heroine. If you’re one of those people asking yourself “who is Jessica Jones?” you’re in luck because I’m about to give you a crash course on who she is and where she comes from in the Marvel Universe.
The first thing you should know before going any further is that it’s nearly impossible to give a summary of who Jessica Jones is without giving away a few story beats of the show. That being said, I’m going to focus on the character’s comic book background and while the broad strokes of who the character is are the same as those included in the show, it’s also true that knowing her history going in to it spoils nothing about show as a whole. Like they did with ‘Daredevil’, ‘Jessica Jones’ remains faithful to the character’s origin while crafting an entirely new story that you can’t find in her 28 issue comic book. So, you can know who she is without spoiling the show.
With your fair warning in place this is where you have to decide whether you want to boldly charge ahead and read the rest of this article or say “eff it” and just hit play on Netflix.
Where Does Jessica Jones Come From?
Jessica Jones was created by Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis and first appeared in the Marvel Universe as the lead character in the comic book titled Alias. The book was the first foray Marvel made into mature reader content and while it is grounded in the mainstream Marvel universe it is a decidedly grittier, street level tale with a lot of adult language. Like A LOT, a lot. The book is short on superheroes although there are a few that make appearances including Captain America, Ms. Marvel, Luke Cage, Ant Man, Spider Woman, and cameo appearances by the Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm, Spiderman, and Doc Oc. By and large though this is a story centered on a character that uses her powers and those of the supporting cast sparingly. In that vain the book is very similar in both tone and perspective to DC Comics’ Gotham Central which was released a little better then a year after Alias began its run.
At the time of its publication Alias became a critical success although it never ranked especially high in monthly sales. The book’s best month was its first placing twenty-seventh of three hundred books released in September 2001. The title’s trend line for sales by volume slipped pretty much every month thereafter until it found its place in the market somewhere between 60th and 80th place for the majority of its publication run. Those that have been collecting for a long time and those who work directly in the industry know that you can’t always judge a book by its sales volume. Comic book fans like books that are challenging and thoughtful, but not as much as they like books that feature superheroes beating up on one another. Alias is a book chalk full of dialogue and in that regard it was truly a book for mature audiences. It was an excellent book and something entirely unique for Marvel.
If you’re interested in hitting the back issue bins looking to add this series to your collection you’d be well served in doing so. The whole series is worth getting for your long boxes and it will definitely add to the quality of any one’s collection. However, speculators have had their way with issue one already. The issue is selling for $150.00 bucks today on the secondary market driven by a very small original print run coupled with the anticipation and strength of the show. I need to give a shout out to Jeff Smith owner and operator of my favorite comic book shop The Comic Hunter for keeping me up to date on my market values. While the whole series is great the first season of ‘Jessica Jones’ really only focused on a handful of issues from it; mostly the first and then the final four issues of the series. Those issues combined with a two part origin story in issues twenty two and twenty three might see spikes in price, but so far they haven’t spiked like the first issue, and they might not given the stubborn insistence from both speculators, collectors, and tourists to focus on first issues.
The show picks up and remains faithful to the character’s comic book roots teasing a painful past and an unsuccessful career as a superhero known as Jewel. As is the case in the show this narrative unfolds over 28 issues with only hints here and there at what is really driving Jessica before all is revealed in the end of the series. Viewers and readers of the book are introduced to a character with a chip on her shoulder, a hard drinker, and a woman that is clearly struggling to repress a traumatic past. This is the central driving force behind the character, the book, and now the show.
The art by Michael Gaydos and the colors from Matt Hollingsworth combine to set a dark gritty feel to her world. The artwork and cover art evokes an indie comic book aesthetic which matches the tone of Bendis’ dialogue nicely. This is a series where the creative team clearly had a vision and executed it faithfully throughout.
Who Is Jessica Jones?
While Jessica Jones has become a regular character in the Marvel Universe taking on all threats to the Earth and Universe with the New Avengers, her story – and really everything you need to know about her to launch yourself into the show – is covered in the pages of Alias.
Jessica Jones is a super powered individual that got her powers from a tragic car accident in which her entire family perished. Returning from a family vacation Jessica’s father is briefly distracted and ends up careening into a military convoy carrying radio-active waste. The event left Jessica in a coma for a number of months and when she awoke she had her powers. Limited though they may be Jessica has super human strength, limited invulnerability, and the ability to fly … sort of.
Both the comic book and the show begin with the same opening sequence and both introduce Luke Cage as a love interest very early on. The opening scenes of the show are lifted directly from the book but that’s where the direct parallels end for the most part. In the show viewers are introduced to her nemesis Zebodiah Killgrave almost immediately through flashbacks, while the book only mentions a trauma Jessica suffered in passing at various points in the series but doesn’t reveal the character until the final four issues.
However, when it is revealed what happened to Jessica that caused her to turn away from a life of super heroics we learn that Killgrave (known as the Purple Man, and who is indeed purple in complexion and dress) is at the center of it all. Killgrave uses his considerable powers to mind control people and when Jessica and he meet Killgrave immediately puts her under his spell. For eight months Killgrave keeps Jessica under his control using her to carry out various criminal acts. His psychological torture extends to all manner of grotesque behaviour spelled out in mature detail within the pages of the book. Her release comes when in a fit of rage he sends Jessica off to look for his arch-nemesis Daredevil so that she can kill him.
Following his commands Jessica flies to Avengers Mansion and attacks the first hero clad in red she sees which happens to be the Scarlet Witch and not Daredevil. This brings her into full conflict with the Avengers who retaliate in kind before she is rescued by Ms. Marvel. In the process Jessica falls into a coma for eight months. In the comic book Ms. Marvel, also known as Carol Danvers in her civilian attire and Jessica are friends. In the show Danvers is replaced by a character known as Trish Walker, herself a more grounded B-list character known also as Hellcat – a signal that much like Daredevil this series may be set in the same world as the Avengers but is distinctly apart from it as well.
Jessica Jones recovers from the altercation with the Avengers and X-Man Jean Grey uses her powers to coax Jessica out of her coma and places a subconscious protection in her mind to prevent Killgrave from taking over her again. In a final confrontation Jessica takes down Killgrave while the Avengers swoop down in time to carry him off to prison.
Jessica’s exploits would continue in a series named The Pulse, and later in the New Avengers, although her gritty tale for mature readers ends with the final issue of Alias.
The Private Investigator
“Jessica Jones” and Alias shares a second common thread in that Jessica is a private investigator in both. Each story arc in the comic book centers around a case that Jessica is working on. These cases are dark and down to Earth tales normally involving someone that has hired her to find out where a missing relative has gone or to confirm if a spouse is cheating. Some involve minor super hero characters like her investigation into the missing adopted child – and costumed vigilante Spider-Woman – of J. Jonah Jamieson, editor in chief of the Daily Bugle, and whom has been kidnapped by a drug lord. Still others are entirely non-superpowered like the missing teenager that felt she didn’t belong in her small rural community which is a hot bed of racist ideology and so ran off to another town to escape it.
This is plot device that will keep the show going for a couple of seasons, although its unlikely that any of the investigations Jessica undertakes in the comic book will make it into the show. It is the foundation of the comic book and of Jessica Jones as she was introduced to readers in 2001. Krysten Ritter is an angrier version of the comic book character but her portrayal feels more realistic. Maybe that’s just the reality of a woman playing a female character as opposed to a man writing a female character: the result is necessarily authentic coming from Ritter and maybe a little bit too much of a stretch for Bendis. That’s not really a knock against Bendis as he is a fantastic writer in the medium, but his point of view can’t be authentically female. The nuances to the character that Ritter brings helps Jessica achieve a level of authenticity that the Jessica Jones of the comic book never quite achieves.
Binge reading Alias in between binge watching “Jessica Jones” re-enforced how different the stories are in their two mediums. Alias is a product of the super hero comic book genre and adheres to the rules of its universe even if it skates along the gritty periphery, while “Jessica Jones” is a gritty portrayal of life as a damaged individual with super powers living in a reality resembling our own. There is a distinction between the two and an important one, but you don’t need to read the book to like or even understand the show and vice versa. They are two different takes on the same character and both are stand on their own merits.
Now that you know her history and backstory jump into the show, I promise, nothing has been spoiled for you. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the book and/or the show in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.