Alias Jessica Jones: who is Marvel's new TV heroine?

Feature Seb Patrick 14 Nov 2013 - 06:37

Seb introduces us to Jessica Jones, one of the four Marvel characters to appear in their own live-action Netflix TV series...

It's been eight years since the last time a live-action superhero property starring a solo female lead character was released – 2005's Elektra, the Jennifer Garner-starring Daredevil spinoff that rather sank without trace. Whether the failures of that film and the previous year's Catwoman were a contributing factor in studios' reluctance to make movies or TV shows about superheroines is unclear – but what is clear is that there's a balance that needs redressing.

Marvel Studios have made excellent strides with the representation of their female characters – with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow about to make her third movie appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, supporting characters like Pepper Potts and Jane Foster being turned into arguably more interesting and capable figures than they ever were in the comics, and original creations such as Thor's Darcy Lewis. But the fact remains that still, none of them have yet headlined a solo movie or TV show.

This means that the news that one of the newly-commissioned Netflix miniseries – under the loose banner of The Defenders – is to star the character of Jessica Jones is a pretty big deal. But even those who would generally consider themselves pretty clued-up about Marvel's roster of characters could be forgiven for being confused by the announcement. Certainly, when set aside the other three names – Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist – Jessica is conspicuously a less well-known character. So what is it about her that makes her worthy of top-lining her own TV series?

If you summarise Jessica's biography chronologically, she doesn't necessarily sound like the most fascinating character. Orphaned in the car crash that gives her super powers – a relatively mundane (by Marvel Comics standards) set of enhanced strength, toughness, and flight that she can't really control – she eventually becomes a mid-tier superheroine named Jewel, briefly allying with several of the Avengers.

An unpleasant encounter with the mind-controlling villain The Purple Man leads to her retirement from heroism – and, after a brief attempt to return to the game in the new guise of Knightress, she becomes a private investigator, often taking on cases that specifically relate to superpowered individuals. Eventually, she falls in love with her long-time friend Luke Cage, and the pair have a daughter – Danielle – and marry, with Jessica joining Luke as he serves with the New Avengers, occasionally pulling the costume back on to fight as both Jewel and, later, Power Woman.

It's not Jessica's history, however, that makes her interesting. In fact, while you could be forgiven for thinking that all of the above played out in chronological order over decades' worth of Marvel comics, she's actually only been around for a little over ten years. She debuted in writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos' series Alias in 2001 – and as you might have guessed from the title, the series was about her post-superhero, private-investigation days.

The series was one of the launch titles for Marvel's "Mature Readers" imprint MAX, and immediately attracted controversy for both its language – the word "fuck" is said three times on the series' very first page – and for a (deliberately non-titillating) sex scene featuring Jessica and Luke Cage. Beyond this apparent shock value, however, it was clear that this was a dialogue-heavy, character-driven series filled with intrigue and complexity. The first issue ends on a huge cliffhanger as Jessica – on a seemingly innocuous missing-persons case – accidentally discovers Captain America's secret identity, drawing her into a web of government-level conspiracy.

Jessica is quickly established as a great character – one of the best new characters, in fact, to debut either at Marvel or in comics in general for quite some time. She's tough – and tough-talking – but also a deliberately flawed character, with a vulnerability that is largely manifested in self-deprecation and doubt. What's especially notable, however, is that she has a dedication towards doing right by people, even while not actively serving as a superhero. The cleaner-cut heroes might not agree with her chosen path in life or her methods, but when it comes to unflinching morality she can mix it with the best of them – as evidenced by a cracking one-shot story in which J. Jonah Jameson attempts to hire her to find out Spider-Man's secret identity.

Over the course of Alias' criminally-short 28-issue run, Jessica's backstory was peeled away, as Bendis sought to retrospectively plant her in the Marvel universe. Friendships with characters such as Carol "Ms Marvel" Danvers, SHIELD agent Clay Quartermain and one-time Ant-Man Scott Lang were established – and when finally telling her origin story towards the end of the series, Bendis and Gaydos even cleverly placed her in the background of Spider-Man's debut in Amazing Fantasy #15, setting her up as a high-school contemporary of Peter Parker's (with an unrequited crush on him, to boot).

Once Alias finished, Jessica was moved more directly into the "mainstream" Marvel universe, first appearing in the even shorter-lived Daily Bugle-based series The Pulse before making regular appearances with Luke in New Avengers. Since becoming a mother she's mellowed to some extent – and, not being in a MAX book, isn't allowed to swear quite so much any more – but she still has an edge to her that marks her out, and her relationship with Luke has been one of the most engaging and rewarding longer-term storylines in the Marvel books.

It's pretty early in the day to be speculating about which phase of Jessica's career is likely to be covered by the TV series – but given that it's in the pages of Alias that she interacts most heavily with both Luke Cage and also Daredevil (his alter ego Matt Murdock is her attorney, and she and Luke later work as his bodyguard), this would seem a far more likely bet than trying to make a series about her time as Jewel. It's the kind of setup that's perfect for a TV series – indeed, back in 2010 ABC were said to be working on a pilot, titled AKA Jessica Jones (presumably to avoid confusion with a certain Jennifer Garner-starring spy series), that ultimately came to nothing – and gives the opportunity to tell the kind of stories, about the kind of characters, that the MCU hasn't really covered yet.

Certainly, while many fans' ears have been pricked by the idea of the Daredevil series – and consider this writer hugely excited about that one, too, for the record – for those of us who've read Jessica's comics, hers is arguably the far more intriguing prospect. And it might just show Marvel's movie division that there is an audience out there for well-written female lead characters after all…

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Peggy Carter has her own short film as part of the MCU - 'Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter'

Great article. Was a huge fan of the Alias series (the Pulse not so much). If i recall too, Jessica crossed over with Bendis's Daredevil series - I think she may have been one of Matt's bodyguards when he was outed as Daredevil.
She's a good character, shares a 'world' with Luke, Danny and Matt Murdoch and is also friends with Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel).

"she becomes a private investigator, often taking on cases that specifically relate to superpowered individuals"

That's the basis of an interesting show right there.

I don't know much about Iron Fist. Synopsis please

the earlier attempt at a Jessica Jones tv show was at abc with Melissa Rosenberg attached as head writer, it was to be an adaption of alias, and Rosenberg has just been hired as head writer for the netflix/marvel version so at least the development spent on it abc was not for nothing

I knew literally nothing about this character but, having read this article, I think a TV series sounds like it has real potential. Thanks for the info.

I'd never heard of her. I'm in!

Young boy Danny Rand gets taken to mystical city K'un L'un by parents who die en route. Boy gets taken in by martial arts teacher in said city and trained in several arts. By manhood, he's best of his class and earns the right to face 'Shou Lou the Undying' a fearsome magic dragon which acts as K'un L'un's totem. After besting the animal, he plunges his hands into the heart of the dragon, giving him the power of the 'Iron Fist', basically the ability to push his qi out through his hands and adding super strength and durability to his already formidable skill as a fighter. After this, Danny returns to his birthplace of New York and assumes the role of the superhero Iron Fist. I seriously recommend IMMORTAL IRON FIST #1-16 by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. One of the best comic book series of the last 10 years :)

Awesome! Now Luke Cage! He's in a lot of recent stuff but I don't know his origins or other early stuff other than he and iron fist team up in Heroes for Hire.

and very good it is too.

This is going to be weird, hearing my name all the time.

A former Harlem gang member, Carl Lucas, quit the life of crime when he realised it was hurting the ones he loved. He saved the life of his former gang member, Willis Stryker, but also slept with his girlfriend so Stryker arranged for him to be framed for drug dealing.

While in prison Lucas was approached to be a volunteer in cell regeneration experiments (a variation of the super soldier tests). A disgruntled prison guard, who had been demoted for brutality thanks to Lucas' intervention, flipped a bunch of switches during the testing but, rather than killing him it accelerated the process and left him completely invulnerable and with superhuman strength.

He escaped from prison, went back to New York under a new name to protect his identity and became a super hero for hire.

The character Bruce Willis plays in Unbreakable is probably the closest reference point in terms of abilities.

He sounds more super than Cap! The guy on unbreakable. Good analogy. I hope these origins get a good treatment. Might even be flashbacks. And bald please. No open yellow shirt or upside down tiara either.

He's basically Cap but with a street smart gang mentality instead of the all American do-gooder.

Hence him initially charging for heroic deeds.

Cool. Hopefully it's not Michael Jai white, or we might end up with Tyler perry directing. Seriously, not him or LL or 50 cents. No bad actors or rappers! How bout Shemar Moore? Well he's tied up in Criminal Minds... Brian White? He's in In the Name of The King (one of the last movies I remember renting at the blockbuster in my hometown). I hesitate to say terry crews... I've never seen him be serious. My first choice is of course the rock, but now that it will be on Netflix, I'm sure he crossed it out his wishlist. Hope I'm wrong.

As soon as I read the comic book, and saw a panel with Jessica mulling over a case involving "capes" while sitting on the toilet, I knew that if they ever got around to making this a TV show, it would be a cut above the rest...

Don't forget the beautiful art by David Aja, before he did Hawkguy :)

It'll get weirder if the series gets popular enough for mainstream appeal

*sigh* There so many female character that are far more deserving of getting there own live action show. The only thing Jessica Jones deseveses in to be forgotten.

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