I recently wrote an article explaining why Jessica Jones was important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this article is essentially Part Two of that piece.
While Marvel Studios has managed to deliver a massive cinematic universe over the past seven years, one thing they haven’t really done is give a headlining property to one of their female heroes. Now, this isn’t to say they haven’t introduced a fair amount of excellent female characters, they have. But it’s hard to deny that, during the course of the twelve films they’ve released thus far, not a single film has been led by a female hero, something that has been a bit frustrating for fans. Of course, 2018’s Ant-Man & the Wasp and 2019’s Captain Marvel will finally see that change.
But while Marvel Studios has been slow to make progress on the diversity front on the big screen, Marvel Television has been doing a pretty stellar job. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has Chloe Bennet in a co-lead position as Agent Daisy “Quake” Johnson – along with three other fantastic female characters in Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) – and Agent Carter has the honor of being the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female led property. And over on the Netflix front, things are even more impressive with the addition of shows like Jessica Jones and the upcoming Luke Cage. Still, as I’ve said before, there is still plenty of progress to be made.
Going back to the women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe overall… I love the ladies of the MCU, they’re all wonderful, but as I said in my Why Jessica Jones Is Important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe piece, on the film side, there’s still plenty left to be desired when it comes to character development. Of course, that’s somewhat understandable considering the films have to cater to a large group of characters, making it difficult to fully give them the amount of attention needed. Still, with most of these characters – namely Black Widow and Maria Hill – having appeared in enough projects at this point, we should’ve seen a good amount of character development over time. That hasn’t been the case, however. In this past summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, we finally got a glimpse at Natasha’s back story on the big screen, but it was just that – a glimpse. And as for Maria, she’s a kick-ass character, sure, but there’s not much to her… and she’s managed to appear in both the films and few episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D., surely there should’ve been some sort of character exploration here, no? Thankfully, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been better at developing it’s characters over the course of the seasons, and Agent Carter has definitely helped us to see another side to Peggy Carter than just a love-interest to Captain America. Still, it’s hard to deny that the focus on these characters has been making them bad-ass rather than fully realized complex characters that just so happen to kick-ass. With the addition of a show like Jessica Jones, I’m hoping we get to see that change.
For many fans, when it was announced that Jessica Jones would be the second Marvel Netflix series, there was a good amount of confusion. Either they weren’t that familiar with the character, or they were, and couldn’t envision a character like her joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, these were valid concerns. After all, Jones wasn’t a household name, and her story is a hell of a lot darker than anything we’ve seen within the MCU to date. And then Daredevil‘s first season hit Netflix, and we were treated to a much darker installment of the MCU – with folks willingly bashing their heads onto spiked posts and people being decapitated by car doors. It was a new level of violence, one that made it clear there’d be no side-stepping Jessica’s past when it came to her own series.
This was both a satisfying and yet troubling realization for many fans. After all, while Vincent D’Onofrio did an utterly fantastic job as Wilson Fisk, Fisk is nothing compared to Zebediah Kilgrave (David Tennant), a.k.a The Purple Man. For those unfamiliar with the series – you can read a breakdown of Alias over here! – Killgrave* is beyond terrifying. This is a man that can break even the strongest of people; a man that lives for chaos and destruction. He’s also a sick bastard. (That is actually putting it nicely.) Case in point? The below scene from Alias.
Now, while the trailers for the show have so far referred to Killgrave’s powers as mind control, in the comics, it’s the pheromones in his skin that essentially erase freewill in a person, allowing him to order them to do as he pleases. While not in his presence, the pheromones slowly wear off, allowing his victims to regain both their freewill as well as the knowledge of what he made them do. This is something we see Jessica deal with over the course of Alias.
Not only does Killgrave hold her hostage for months, using her to do his dirty work, but he also abuses her in other ways. As the above comic strip showcases, we see Killgrave order Jessica to remove her clothing, which leads us to believe that he raped her, but later on, we learn that wasn’t the case at all, although what he did do was just as sick and appalling.
When she finally manages to break free of Killgrave’s hold, only after he’s sent her to go kill Daredevil, Jessica finds herself struggling to come to terms with the things that he made her do. Things that she had absolutely no control over, but can fully remember doing. Seeing her come to terms with not only the abuse she endured, but also the post traumatic stress disorder that she’s left to battle afterwards makes her one of the most complex characters we’ve seen introduced into the MCU. And perhaps more importantly, this is a character that offers a true look at the world around us – at a world capable of destroying people without the help of envious Gods or power hungry beings. Sure, Killgrave has abilities, but it isn’t just what he did to her that leaves her broken. It’s also having experienced what it felt like to lose herself, to become the exact opposite of what she’d set out to be when she became Jewel.
Seeing someone with superpowers, who is battling PTSD and just trying to survive, become the hero when needed even when it’s the last thing they want to do? That’s what makes Jessica Jones so fascinating. She takes back control of what she lost in the end. It’s not something we typically see in superhero stories. It’s one of the things that makes her such a compelling character. But it’s not the only thing.
As I mentioned above, Luke Cage will be the third Marvel Netflix series when it hits the streaming service in 2016, but he’ll first be introduced in Jessica Jones. Why does this matter? Because Luke Cage plays a big part in her story. In a recent interview with Mike Colter, the actor that portrays Luke Cage, he refers to the two characters as “broken souls” that are opposite in nearly every way, but yet have this pull that brings them together. And that’s a pretty spot on description for these two characters. We’ve had plenty of relationships within the MCU so far – Steve & Peggy, Tony & Pepper, Bobbi & Lance, etc – but this relationship is different for plenty of reasons. While they’re equals, they don’t necessarily make sense upon first glance. Jessica Jones is a mess, or more accurately, as Colter’s Cage describes her in the most recent Jessica Jones trailer, she is “a hard drinking, short-fused, mess of a woman.” Not to say he doesn’t have his own problems, but he’s far more together than she is. Watching their relationship develop over the course of Alias is fascinating, because realistically, they shouldn’t work with mis-matched of a pair they are, and yet they do.
Which leads to me to wonder just how closely the show will follow the source material when it comes to their relationship. Will the season end with Jessica finding out she’s pregnant like in Alias? It’s hard to know. As it stands, the press has done a rather fantastic job at preventing any spoilers from being revealed in their reviews, so other than what is shown in the trailers, there’s still plenty we don’t know. However, I hope that the season does. Family played a rather large part in both of the films Marvel Studios released this summer – Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man – adding a more personal element to both films. Should Jessica Jones follow suit, it’d be a nice continuation of something we’ve already seen established near the end of Phase Two: the importance of family. Plus, it’d give us our first super heroine with a family. That’s something I can fully get behind.
Jessica Jones isn’t just the hero that we want, she’s the hero that we need. A complex super heroine. A character that knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it. A character that is capable of holding her own in a genre that usually wouldn’t allow someone like her to truly shine.
Note: While The Purple Man’s name is spelled Killgrave in the comics, the show has changed up the spelling – so as far as the series is concerned, it’s Kilgrave.