Since the premiere of Iron Man back in 2008, Marvel Studios has done an amazing job building a cinematic universe full of formerly B-list superheroes. It’s a vast world in which characters such as Iron Man, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Daisy “Quake” Johnson, Daredevil, and Luke Cage exist, something that many comics fans more than likely thought to only be a pipedream once upon a time. And while they’ve done a fantastic job with this universe, crafting something truly special, their biggest achievement to date may just be their Jessica Jones series on Netflix. Prior to the announcement of the deal between Marvel and Netflix back in 2013 to bring The Defenders – consisting of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist – to the small screen, Jones was a relatively unknown character.
Her debut series, Alias, which was written by the character’s creator Brian Michael Bendis, had developed a loyal fanbase but never really became a mainstream title. (Personal commentary time: If you haven’t read Alias, you need to fix that immediately. It’s easily one of the best titles out there.) Fast forward to 2015. The series, which is led by actress Krysten Ritter, who portrays the title character, debuts on Netflix and put Jessica Jones on the map. Not only did the series take off, finding acclaim from both critics and fans alike, while also managing to snag both a Peabody Award and a Hugo Award, but it also proved to be a huge step in the right direction for Marvel and their drive to include more diversity both in front and behind the camera. Still, even with the series proving to be a hit, Jones still lacked a title at Marvel. For Bendis, who recently sat down with the folks over at Vulture, that was partially due to the fact that he wasn’t sure where he wanted to take the character in the comics at first until Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg helped him find his inspiration.
The Netflix series was this huge hit last year, but there wasn’t a new book on shelves until nearly a year later. What took so long?
It was like, Should I do another Jessica series? It’s one of those things where you’re like, Is it going to be [Chinatown’s failed sequel] The Two Jakes? I think about that a lot when things like this are offered, particularly with Jessica. It’s a unique experience to have a show that has the character in one place, but in the comics, she has, over the last 15 years, gone into another place. There’s usually the illusion of change, but Peter Parker is still Spider-Man, you know? Everything’s pretty much, comfortingly, the same. Whereas Jessica is now married with a kid and there’s a lot of other things going on. She was pushing past the Kilgrave stuff.
But at the same time, Melissa and I were having a nice back and forth, and we got together at some conventions to have drinks and talk about where to take the character. Any time two writers are sitting there, talking about the character, both writers are formulating a pitch. You can’t help it. It’s the way your brain is trained. After talking about Jessica at WonderCon, I emailed Melissa later in the week and went, “Shit, I think I might have to do this. I’m thinking about doing the comic again, because the last conversation we had made me think of this.” And she went, “Do it!” Once you have a story, boy, you’re done — it’s very hard to come up with reasons not to do things. That’s the bane of any writer’s existence. I told Marvel, “If you guys are ready to go on Jessica, I got something.” Michael needed a few months to finish something he was working on, but that gave me time to do research and get it all polished up.
Interestingly enough, although Rosenberg serves as the showrunner on Jessica Jones, she and Bendis haven’t really interacted that much in person. According to Bendis, Rosenberg did, however, bring him into the writer’s room early on in the process, allowing the writers to ask him any and all questions they had regarding the character and adapting her for live action. It was during this time that Bendis came to realize that Rosenberg was the perfect choice to bring Jones to life as he felt that she asked all the “right” questions.
How often have you met Melissa in person?
Not a ton of times. She had me come to the writers room early, right when it had just been put together. They were allowed to have at me for whatever they wanted to talk about. I remember calling [Marvel television chief] Jeph Loeb afterwards and going, “Well, I gotta say, they were asking the right questions, and that’s a good sign.” Obviously, everyone knows this now, but Melissa’s point of view on the character was exactly what that show needed. I was immediately grateful because it was in the earliest drafts of her scripts. You read them and right away, the stuff that I was worried about, I was relieved.
Given the mature content surrounding the character’s backstory and the brash personality of Jones, adapting her for the series was something that needed to be handled properly. If they softened her edges, they would have lost what made the character who she was, so it was vital that the person heading the show understood that – and Rosenberg did, much to Bendis’ delight.
What kinds of things had you been worried about?
Just softening the edges of things that were important to the character. You’ve seen this happen in television and movies before. This character doesn’t need that and there’s no point to it. As a man writing this character, there’s always that worry that you’re off the mark. And then to find out, in this instance, her experience and my feelings about the experience matched, it was a relief.
Although Bendis wasn’t around on set for much of the filming, Marvel Television head Jeph Loeb has made it a point of keeping him in the fold, including making sure to extend an invite to him for the Peabody Awards.
I’m getting the sense that you weren’t around for much of the actual filming of the show.
Here’s what’s funny: I would get updates all the time that things were going well. They were like, “Come to the set!” And I’m like, “Oh no, I’m not gonna come to the set. People are working on the set, they’re not farting around. There are people trying to get emotionally invested in their moments and trying to work. I’m not gonna bother them.” So, I didn’t.
And then, this spring, Jeph called me up and said, “We’re going to the Peabodys.” And I’m like, “Oh yeah, let me check my calendar.” He goes, “Brian. You’re going to the Peabodys. I don’t care what else you think you’re doing that day. How many times do you think we’re gonna get this call?” So I went upstairs to my wife and said, “I think I have to go to the Peabodys.” [Laughs]. It was actually at the Peabodys where I met [Jessica Jones actress] Krysten [Ritter] for the first time, because I had skipped that New York Comic-Con surprise screening.
A second season of Jessica Jones has previously been confirmed, although a release date is still unknown at this time. Before that, however, Jessica Jones will return in next year’s The Defenders on Netflix. For now, you can enjoy our latest supercut featuring Jones by heading over here.
And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the new Jessica Jones series.