I have to say “Jessica Jones” is unlike any comic book movie or TV show I have ever seen. It’s also unlike any comic book or graphic novel I have ever read.
It is a dark, gritty show — much like its Netflix predecessor “Daredevil.” However, it makes the earlier show seem like a light-hearted romp by comparison.
While a lot of comic book properties are playful or include moments of levity to offset its darkness, “Jessica Jones” goes the opposite direction. It isn’t afraid to take on hard issues and push them in your face. Alcoholism. Drugs. Sex. Violence. Affairs. Rape. The writers don’t shy away from any of these things, but they’re handled in a way that makes sense most of the time.
The show stars Krysten Ritter in the title role. Ritter has shown she can play a wide variety of roles at this point — a spoiled socialite in “Veronica Mars,” a junkie in “Breaking Bad” and she even had the lead in a comedy, “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23.” But Jessica Jones is probably her darkest yet.
The character originated back in 2001 in the comic book “Alias.” The brainchild of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, Jessica is part superhero, part detective and 100 percent badass.
I haven’t read the comics (yet), so I’m not sure how much differs. But the televised Jessica is dark and almost hard to root for, at times. She’s incredibly strong, a bit invulnerable and can possibly fly a little, if she can get the hang of it.
Jessica’s had a hard life. She had a rough childhood, and it only got worse as she grew older — especially after she encountered Zebediah Kilgrave, a.k.a, the Purple Man. Kilgrave (played by the brilliant David Tennant) has to be one of the most chilling villains out there. He can control minds, and he controls Jessica. She loses her very will, and the line between the two of them is blurred.
Much of their story is told through flashbacks, because a number of key events took place before the series began. It is the foundation upon which the show is built, because Jessica becoming Kilgrave’s puppet is what turned her into who she is.
At least, partially.
My biggest issue with Jessica is that she’s kind of a jackass. Her involvement with Kilgrave left her so scarred and traumatized that she doesn’t know how to let others in. She doesn’t know how to be a decent human being, so she pushes everyone away, whether with physical or mental abuse.
We’re supposed to believe that her rough behavior is due to the emotional and physical raping she endured while under Kilgrave’s control. But honestly, as pre-Kilgrave flashbacks tell us, Jessica was always kind of a jerk.
Ritter is backed up by a talented cast. Tennant (“Doctor Who”) is absolutely terrifying and brilliant as Kilgrave. His portrayal is absolutely chilling. Mike Colter stars as Luke Cage, Jessica’s on-again, off-again love interest. Colter is a fantastic casting choice for Cage, another super-strong, quite indestructible hero who will get his own Netflix series later this year. Rachael Taylor (Trish Walker) and Carrie-Anne Moss (Jeri Hogarth) round out the rest of the main cast.
Everybody does a good job telling this story. At the day’s end, I can’t help but wonder why Netflix chose this material for a show.
However, “Jessica Jones” appears to be resonating with many female critics and viewers, who have heaped mounds of praise upon it. I also find a number of the themes to be powerful, but the show as a whole doesn’t work for me.
Darkness for its own sake isn’t compelling to me. All of it has to build to something, or I lose interest amid the constant depravity and evil. “Jessica Jones” walks a fine line in engaging me on dramatic, emotional and thematic levels while not making me feel overwhelmed by the constant assault on my senses.
In the end, it made me long for more shows about female superheroes. They aren’t a new thing. It’s just taken a really long time for Hollywood and the mainstream to notice their existence.
As an avid fan of this medium, we need more female-centric programming with all types of superheroes. “Jessica Jones” might not work for me, but it appears to be working for a lot of women. We need to see ourselves in characters — the good, the bad and the ugly. We need choices. Just like readers had in the Golden Age.
Female superheroes have actually been around nearly as long as comic books. Women who were not superheroes usually had three roles — career girls, romance-story heroines, or perky teenagers — in those early years. However, it’s astonishing to the modern reader to see the number of competent, strong female characters who were detectives, jungle queens, pilots and spies. Especially when you look at the relatively scant number of female-centric titles available at this moment.
Consider this tidbit: “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” became the first-ever female character to receive her own comic book title in 1937. Female characters became more frequent and well known in subsequent years with two of the most recognizable ones, Catwoman and Wonder Woman, appearing in 1940 and 1941, respectively. Catwoman and Wonder Woman — in addition to Black Canary, Batgirl, Batwoman, Supergirl and many others — appeared in storylines that showed girls they were capable of saving the day, too.
Nearly 80 years after the first female character received her own comic title, Hollywood seems to be interested once again in showcasing superheroes who aren’t white, heterosexual men. “Supergirl” debuted on CBS this past fall to some great numbers, and Wonder Woman is finally making it to the big screen, first in this year’s “Batman vs. Superman” and then again in 2017 in her own standalone movie.
Both Supergirl and WW are DC Comics properties, but Marvel got in on the action as well with “Jessica Jones,” which debuted on Netflix in November.
Let’s hope more are on their way.