Who is Jessica Jones? Well, she’s not exactly a household name. Outside of Marvel’s comic book faithful, many have never heard of the hero who once starred in Marvel’s first mature readers’ title- Alias. Despite her status as a lesser known Marvel protagonist, Jessica Jones, who will soon be played by Breaking Bad’s Krysten Ritter, is on her way to Netflix. With her unique character background and twisted back story, Jessica Jones is sure to be a hit with fans that have been waiting since the first season of Daredevil for their next Marvel Netflix fix. But who is Jessica Jones and why did Marvel turn to this relatively unknown character for its second Netflix series? To answer that burning question, one must travel back to the bygone era of 2001 and to the first F-word in the history of Marvel Comics.
With Alias, Marvel launched its MAX line of books, a mature reader imprint that allowed Marvel to tell edgy crime and horror stories. Like DC’s Vertigo imprint, MAX was a boundary pushing imprint that was not afraid to go to some truly dark places. Case in point, the very first word of the very first issue of Alias was the F-bomb…and so was the second. With that opening salvo of profanity, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos introduced the word to their erstwhile hero and private detective, the head of Alias Investigations, Jessica Jones.
Jessica Jones was a very different kind of Marvel lead. She was a foul mouthed, chain smoking alcoholic who hid her constant mental agony underneath a tough exterior and a constant stream of booze. She was a kickass hero with a streak of altruism but she had a
self destructive streak a mile long. In other words, she was as far from the Wasp and the Invisible Woman as one could get, but there was still something truly intriguing about this very new and broken character.
When Jessica was introduced in Alias #1, it was very clear that she suffered a truly tragic past. She had tremendous powers, limited flight, limited invulnerability, and great strength, but she was reluctant to use them. She seemed like she wanted to protect those that could not protect themselves, but it was also apparent that she had a self destructive streak a mile long. The first issue of Alias also reintroduced Luke Cage, a long time Marvel mainstay whose future character arcs would entwine with Jones. Luke Cage and Jones had a romantic tryst in Alias #1 and it was like nothing anyone had ever seen in mainstream comics before.
In the first issue of Marvel’s first MAX title, Jones and Cage were featured in a very gritty and lurid sex scene. Daringly, especially for the era, Bendis and Gaydos did not pull the camera away or imply anything. Everything was front and center, not anatomically but emotionally. When the encounter ended, Gaydos composed a masterpiece of adult art with Jessica and Luke back to back, not speaking, and Jessica’s thought caption reading “I just want to feel something different.” Right there, Bendis found the theme of the title- Jones searching for something, anything, that could make her feel again.
That was Jessica Jones, a woman who wanted to help others but couldn’t help herself, a woman searching for something that would make her forget her pitch black past. As Bendis and Gaydos’ series unfolded, Jessica’s back story was slowly laid bare to readers. Instantly, Bendis just nailed Jessica’s voice while Gaydos established the visual language of the series. Gaydos portrayed Jones as a brave and strong woman who wore her pain the way other super beings wore capes.
With all those heavy and mature story elements one might be surprised to hear that Jessica Jones was still firmly established in the Marvel Universe. Her realistic, sometimes almost X-rated adventures would crossover with characters that appeared on Saturday morning cartoons and on kids ‘pajamas. Jessica Jones’ adventures took place in the underbelly of the Marvel Universe, an underbelly that echoed but did not copy from the underworld established in Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil. Many writers entered and played in Miller’s world but Bendis and Gaydos were additive as Jessica quickly became a part of the firmament of the Marvel Universe.
In her first few adventures, Bendis and Gaydos included Daredevil, Rick Jones, Captain America, Spider-Man and some obscure but established Marvel Comics villains like Man Mountain Marko and the Owl. One has to wonder what elements the Jessica Jones Netflix show will borrow from the rest of the cinematic Marvel Universe. We know that Luke Cage with make his TV debut on Jones’ new series but could Daredevil and company be stopping by?
Whatever the case, the creators of Alias were never afraid to have mainstream Marvel heroes involved in Jessica’s very mature and gritty adventures. In fact, when Bendis revealed Jessica’s origin, fans were surprised to see that her tale tied in with Marvel’s most famous origin story – the origin of Spider-Man. Now, the TV series will probably have to change the comic origin (but with Peter Parker coming to the Cinematic Marvel Universe, who knows), but Jessica’s story began at the very same science demonstration where Parker was bitten by the fateful spider. Later, Jessica, then known as Jessica Campbell, went on a road trip with her parents. This seemingly innocent trip tied in with another almost immortal Marvel moment- the Coming of Galactus! Now, of course this is another element the new show will definitely have to skip, but in the comic, Galactus played an important role in Jessica’s transformation into a hero.
And so did Tony Stark, as Jessica’s father worked for the future Iron Man. Stark gave Mr. Campbell tickets to Disney World and on their way to their dream vacation, the Campbell’s car tragically collided with a military vehicle hauling radioactive materials. Jessica’s parents were killed instantly. Jessica herself fell into a coma and was awoken by Galactus’ arrival in New York City. She awoke to find that she had tremendous powers but she also fell into a deep depression because of her parents’ deaths. When she went back to school, classic bully Flash Thompson went right to work on the mourning Jessica which caused her to lash out at her former crush Peter Parker. This established that Jessica had a brutal temper but also established Jessica’s battle with depression. When she witnessed a battle between Spider-Man and the Sandman, Jessica decided to become New York’s newest hero-Jewel.
The origin of Jessica Jones tied into Spider-Man, Galactus, and Iron Man. Of course, Jessica Jones and Jewel were retconned into the Marvel Universe. She did not have a past in the Marvel tapestry but she did have a future because after her debut Jessica would be an indelible part of the tapestry of the MU- but first fans would have to learn the tragic fate of Jewel and experience the horrific events that made her the embittered, PTSD riddled private detective that was desperate just to feel.
To fully understood Jessica’s life changing ordeal, one must be knowledgeable of a villain who, before he stepped onto the pages of Alias, was a rather obscure member of Daredevil’s rouges gallery. Zebediah Killgrave, the Purple Man, first appeared in Daredevil #4 (October 1964) and was created by Stan Lee and Joe Orlando. Killgrave had the power to control others though verbal suggestion via pheromone control. He was a rather obscure and classic Daredevil foe who popped up from time to time in the pages of the Man Without Fear’s book and usually received a beat down before being carted off to prison. After the Frank Miller days, Killgrave was relegated to the status of obscure Daredevil trivia until Bendis and Gaydos got a hold of him. In the pages of Alias, the Purple Man was transformed into Marvel’s version of Hannibal Lecter, a sociopathic, brutal puppet master who systemically and gleefully destroyed the lives of his victims. Sadly, Jessica Jones was one of those victims.
Killgrave captured Jewel and used his vile powers to force her to commit violent crimes. Eventually, Jones developed a sort of Stockholm Syndrome and could not tell the difference between her own will and the Purple Man’s mind control. For months, Jones was a victim to Killgrave’s cruel machinations until Daredevil foiled one of Killgrave’s crime, beating the villain to a pulp. Enraged, Killgrave sent Jessica to kill Daredevil. As Jewel, Jessica attacked the first hero in red she saw, the Scarlet Witch, and was severely injured in the ensuing melee against the Avengers. It will be absolutely fascinating to see if Daredevil or the Avengers role in Jessica’s story plays out on Netflix.
While Jones physically mended, The Avengers brought in Jean Grey of the X-Men to help Jessica psychically heal and she was able to return to a semi-normal life. So that morphs both the Avengers and the X-Men into Jessica’s origin tale in addition to all the other classic heroes we already mentioned. Grey succeeded in restoring Jones’ freewill but Jessica’s abuse at the hands of Killgrave and the fact that no one knew she was missing when she was in the Purple Man’s thrall forced Jessica to sadly retire the Jewel identity.
Healed but still broken in many ways, Jessica still wanted to help people; Jessica opened the Alias Detective Agency and that is where fans first met the foul mouthed detective, at her lowest emotional ebb, still reeling from her experience with the Purple Man. As the series progressed Jessica was able to start crawling out of her pained shell, even forging a romantic relationship with Scott Lang (that’s right, Scott Lang, the hero known as Ant-Man who starred in a little blockbuster film this past summer). Jessica Jones’ life was moving in the right direction until the Purple Man escaped and the hero once known as Jewel had to face her greatest fears and her greatest failure.
Of course, the Purple Man will be the antagonist in the coming Jessica Jones Netflix series. Played by David Tennant of Dr. Who fame, the Purple Man is sure to be terrifyingly memorable, but it was in the pages of Alias that this almost forgotten Daredevil foe became a true and potent evil in the Marvel Universe. But there were plenty of heroes that were spotlighted in Alias that rose to a new prominence after they were featured in Bendis and Gaydos’ noir opus. After his initially shocking appearance in Jessica’s bedroom, Luke Cage became a regular supporting character in the book. Soon, the bond between Jessica and Luke deepened and Luke Cage was on his path to becoming a major player in the Marvel Universe. From Alias, Bendis had Luke Cage join the New Avengers where the character enjoyed a degree of success that he had not enjoyed since the 70s and 80s. Another Jessica, Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman, returned in the pages of Alias where she was reintroduced as one of Jones’ best friends and confidants. From Alias, Jessica Drew also joined the New Avengers and from there, stayed a prominent character. Right now, Drew is enjoying success in her own solo comic but she might have stayed a Marvel footnote if she was not included in Alias.
Jessica Jones and her world became a place where characters came to find new life. Even Scott Lang was wallowing in a bit of obscurity before he began dating Jones and now look where he is – a bona fide movie star. That’s just how great a book Alias was. Through the title, Bendis and Gaydos established a street level sensibility that defined the underbelly of the Marvel Universe until the present day. Through Jessica Jones, the two creators gifted Marvel fans with a nuanced, complex protagonist who was her own worst enemy. Jessica was certainly put through the ringer but she emerged triumphant and eventually went on the have a child with and marry Luke Cage. Because at the end of a very long and dark day, like so many other characters in the Marvel Universe, Jessica Jones truly exemplified what it means to be a hero.
How many of these story beats will be utilized in the coming Netflix Jessica Jones series is unknown, but what is known is that when Jessica and her unique brand of dignified inner strength arrived in the Marvel comic book universe, nothing would ever be the same again.
The same thing could happen to the world of super hero TV when Jessica Jones hits Netflix, because it’s about time the world knew her name.