In the lead up to the Netflix series ‘Jessica Jones’ premiering on November 20th, I wanted to look at the comics that are the source for the new show for the first time. I plan on looking at these comics with an eye as to their quality within the medium but also as to how they could be adapted for television.
Jumping into Jessica Jones’ story is easier than Daredevil’s as she only stars in 42 issues of ‘Alias’ & ‘The Pulse’, both of which are collected in their (almost) entirety by Marvel and are readily available.
‘Alias’ was a comic I never got in to during it’s original run for two reasons; Firstly, I assumed it was a comic tie-in for the JJ Abrams/Jennifer Garner TV Series ‘Alias’, as they came out the same year within months of one another. Secondly, when I learned that it wasn’t, I was mistaken again when I thought it was about former Spider-Woman Jessica Drew as a private eye in a more adult themed story, not original character Jessica Jones. While I love Spider-Woman due to the original cartoon series, that wasn’t a story I was interested in reading.
When I finally got all this sorted out, I figured I’d get around to reading it at some point. “At some point” is now.
‘Alias’, created by writer Brian Michael Bendis & artist Michael Gaydos, with covers by David Mack, was the first comic Marvel published under it’s Max imprint starting in 2001. Arguably the most popular comic to come out of the more adult oriented line was Garth Ennis’ ‘Punisher’ series two years later, but it’s further arguable that if ‘Alias’ hadn’t been as great as it was, that celebrated ‘Punisher’ run wouldn’t exist.
The entirety of the ‘Alias’ run has been collected in one Omnibus edition with supplementary material. It’s recently been reprinted, so is easy to track down.
While the Max imprint was meant to be somewhat separated from the Marvel Universe proper, Jessica Jones is clearly a citizen of the Marvel universe proper, she just swears more, drinks harder and has her nocturnal activities more on display than her mainstream counterparts. Even then, the majority of mainline Marvel characters who appear in the pages of ‘Alias’ easily belong there.
The series contains six storylines:
- “Alias” (Issues 1-5)
- an untitled storyline I’ll call “The Peasants Want the Kings to Come Down and Play” (Issues 6-9)
- “Come Home” (Issues 11-15)
- “The Underneath” (Issues 10, 16-21)
- “The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones” (Issues 22-23)
- “Purple” (Issues 24-28)
We’ll look at the entirety of the ‘Alias’ run in this article. Pour yourself a drink, this is going to be a while…
We’re dropped in Jessica Jones’ world fairly quickly as she delivers a client of her Private Investigations firm the bad news that his wife has been cheating on him. He gets mad, and tries to take it out on Jessica.
One plate glass window breakage later and the police are called, who upon realising that Jessica Jones is a former superhero with ties to the Avengers, dress her down for being so rough with a civilian.
After a night of drinking away her regrets then stacks on a bunch more by sleeping with her friend Luke Cage. Yeah, that Luke Cage. The only man to shake down Doctor Doom for money…
The next day, Jessica gets a job from a woman to track down her missing sister. Jessica finds the sister easily enough, but during the course of her stakeout she videotapes footage showing that the sister’s lover is the secret identity of Captain America…
The first issue itself is a masterclass in noir storytelling, with a down on their luck detective taking what looks like an easy job and finding themselves up to their neck in a dangerous conspiracy they want no part of. The rest of the story in the remaining four issues unfolds from there, leading to Jessica Jones embroiled in a plot to bring down the US President whilst getting help from Matt Murdock to keep her out of jail and Carol Danvers for her S.H.I.E.L.D. contacts.
While the amount of cameos seem a little higher than would’ve though possible given the differences between mainline Marvel and Max, Murdock is an unsurprisingly good fit, and this version of Carol Danvers works well. It’s not the most flattering take on the then Ms Marvel, but it’s not inconsistent with what the later Captain Marvel stories gave us. Gaydos’ art and Bendis’ writing almost make this feel like an early companion piece to Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on ‘Hawkeye’, particularly grittier stories like “The Tape”.
The first story has a surprisingly bloody conclusion thanks to S.H.I.E.L.D. (you can almost see Maria Hill rubbing her hands together) and a promise of a favour from one of the Avengers’ heavy hitters.
As a five issue mini, this would’ve been a great short story. As the start of something greater, it’s a fantastic introduction. It also feels like a lock for adapting to television, but the differences between Marvel Comics and the MCU will make that difficult. Matt Murdock and Luke Cage are shoe ins for cameos in ‘Jessica Jones’ (though only Mike Colter as Cage is confirmed). Carol Danvers hasn’t been cast yet as far as we know. But even if she had, it’s unlikely such an anticipated character will turn up in a TV series rather than a film. While the plot involving a scandal with Captain America would work great, I rather doubt they’ll be getting Chris Evans for a cameo given the troubles they’ve had in the past getting film actors onto the TV schedule.
Fitting Jessica’s superhero past into the MCU might be easier than it first seems. Ant-Man established there were costumed heroes working all throughout the Cold War. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think Jessica Jones could’ve been operating in the late ’90s/early 2000s as Jewel/Knightress. It will be interesting to see how the MCU covers that, if at all. Though I assume S.H.I.E.L.D. will take an even bigger role in that transition.
The Peasants Want the Kings to Come Down and Play
There’s a reason for the verbosity with that chosen title, trust me.
The second story arc starts with a breather issuer, constructed as a “Day In The Life”. Jessica has lunch with Carol Danvers before putting in some time to an online infidelity case then meeting hipster superhero fan Malcolm Powder who wants to work for Jessica before a distraught wife comes through the Alias Investigations door, wanting Jessica to find her missing husband, Rick Jones.
Yeah, that Rick Jones. The guy who is the reason why Doctor Bruce Banner became The Hulk…
The investigation takes Jessica even further into the seedy side of the Marvel universe, with the story of Rick Jones demonstrating how even those on the periphery of the superhero community can get chewed up and spit out by the lifestyle. Jessica finds she’s investigating someone who was her, or is her, or could’ve been her.
At least, until the final scene of the story is played. To say anymore would be unfair I think, and while some could see how the story ultimately resolves itself as a cop out, I think it fits in with what the Max Imprint was trying to achieve.
The title comes from the lead up to the final scene, where Jessica strikes up a conversation with a random stranger to discuss the weird reactions to the Cult of Celebrity, be it superheroes or otherwise. The peasants want the kings to come down and play, after all.
This is a fantastic follow up to the first story arc, delving deeper into the universe and telling another great noir story. These four issues would form the basis for a great episode or two of the television series with minimal changes. Rick Jones doesn’t play a part in the onscreen creation of the MCU Hulk, but since continuity with the Hulk films are fairly fluid, there’s no reason why he couldn’t be be introduced.
The other major MCU introduction this story arc gives us is Scott Lang, as “one of the Ant-Men”. Given Paul Rudd just played the character in the last Phase 2 Marvel Film, and just did ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’ for Netflix, maybe they could get him to cameo in ‘Jessica Jones’? Stranger things have happened.
A much more simple story, with Jessica investigating the high profile disappearance of a teenage girl in a small town in New York State. The usual cliched small town stupidities and bigotries are on display as this becomes a story about a girl who might have been a Mutant.
Again, the Max Imprint is necessary for this story to be able to be told the way it is, as the standard Mutant Bigotry stories of the Marvel Universe can only skirt at the edges of what’s on display here in a much more grounded way. In typical noir fashion, but with a touch of exploitation film in the mix, this one ends as badly as you’d expect, but not quite in the way you’d envision. Oddly, this story reminded me of ‘Hellblazer’ #5 for some reason, with Constantine being a helpless observer as a small town goes to Hell. Though not literally. Which can happen in ‘Hellblazer’…
Again, this story would make a great one or two episodes of television for ‘Jessica Jones’, the big sticking point is the usage of Mutants in the MCU. They don’t have the rights to that concept, and so far the Inhumans have slotted into that rather huge gap. However, I’m behind on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, so I’ve no idea if Inhumans have the same sort of presence in the MCU that Mutants have in the mainline comics. It could still work, it just might be a little premature for what is intended to happen in the MCU.
The story arcs get incrementally darker as the series progresses, and the truly horrifying thing about the seven issues of “The Underneath” is that we aren’t even at how bad it can get yet.
The prologue is a light affair, done in a style reminiscent of ‘Marvels’ and tucked between “The Peasants Want the Kings to Come Down and Play” and “Come Home”. After the tabloid unmasking of Matt Murdock as Daredevil, J. Jonah Jameson hires Jessica Jones to find out who Spider-Man is, with Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich tagging along to cover the whole story.
What follows is Jessica plays JJ for a chump in truly brilliant and hilarious fashion. Which will unfortunately make things difficult for her later on.
After stopping a man trying to rob a convenience store, Jessica comes home to find a dazed woman in a Spider-Man costume in her apartment. The girl freaks out then dives out the window, using her powers to get away. Thoroughly confused, Jessica investigates and discovers that the girl is Mattie Franklin, the current Spider-Woman and the ward of J. Jonah Jameson.
Jessica goes to Jameson, and if you know anything about the infamous Spider-Man character, it goes about as well as you’d expect, with Jameson flat out accusing Jessica of kidnapping Mattie herself.
Jameson has always been an interesting character. I confess I never quite got him until Uncanny X-Men #346, where he rails against Operation: Zero Tolerance going after the X-Men.
I still didn’t like JJ from that point; still don’t to this day, but at least I understood the character from that point on, as opposed to him just being a shouty, ranty man.
But here, after JJ lives up to his shouty, ranty reputation, Jessica decides that the best thing she can do is track Mattie down herself. With the help of hanger on Malcolm, Jessica gets a lead on mattie and finds she embroiled in an even darker and seedier side of superhero culture than we’d previously seen. Along the way, Jessica digs deeper into the mythology of Spider-Man, encountering Madame Web and the original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew.
While researching for this review, I came across the rumour (much to my amusement) that ‘Alias’ was originally to focus on Jessica Drew rather than original character Jones. This was dismissed by Bendis himself in an article that was reprinted in Powers #11:
“Nope. This is an urban myth that I believe I will never live down. I was at one time toying with doing Jessica Drew because she has the best hair of any superhero in comics, but this book is entirely different than what that idea was to be.”
The two Jessica’s team up to see the case through to the end, which had me rejoicing, fighting exotic drug dealers and dark superhero groupies to save the newest Spider-Woman.
As great as this storyline was, essentially the core of the whole of ‘Alias’, I feel it does get somewhat more confusing that it has to, with Jessica’s actions during a drug induced trip being difficult to track, and the detour to the superhero clinic not exactly paying off. Oddly it seemed to work better in a deleted scene included in this Omnibus which featured the Night Nurse instead.
From an adaptation perspective, this story would be great for ‘Jessica Jones’, even taking into account the inability to use Spider-Woman or the source of the exotic drugs, but the MCU could provide expies for those easily enough The Bugle and J. Jonah Jameson can be used now, but I suspect they’ll be held off for the inevitable Spider-Man film.
The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones
In the tradition of Marvel “Secret Origins”, in these two issues we learn how Jessica got her powers and her current family situation. While I see what they were trying to do here, ultimately this is the only failure of the ‘Alias’ run. Trying to fit Jessica too neatly into the greater Marvel Universe makes it seem too small both for her and the other characters. Adapting the art to a more four colour style works beautifully however, but this is fluff. Nor is it truly the origin of Jessica Jones.
The final story arc sees Jessica hired by a group of citizens who want the deaths of their loved ones attributed to a known criminal responsible for many deaths, but who has only admitted to some. The only problem is, this criminal is Kilgrave, AKA The Purple Man. The man who traumatised Jessica and made her the woman she is today.
As Jessica explains her history with Kilgrave to Luke Cage, the situation is complicated as Kilgrave breaks out of his incarceration, forcing Jessica into a final confrontation with him.
I was surprised and disappointed that this wasn’t a bigger deal throughout the entirety of the ‘Alias’ run. I was under the impression that Kilgrave was the Boogeyman, always lurking just around the corner or in the dark places of Jessica’s life. To have him so compartmentalised away from Jessica until the end in some way makes him less scary. His portrayal in his contemporary interactions with Jessica is also problematic; he’s aware he’s in a comic book. While that works for characters like Deadpool or the Joker, I don’t think it works here, especially as indicia of madness. His initial encounter with Jessica back in her superhero days is much more chilling, depicted in different art by Mark Bagley which reflects a more ’90s style.
That all being said, the idea of the Purple Man is used to horrific full effect in ‘Alias’. A man who can influence anyone to do anything he wants and does is truly terrifying. It is only shown in concept rather than reality, but it works, particularly how it impacts upon Jessica.
As the closing chapter for ‘Alias’, “Purple” works effectively. As adaptation fodder for ‘Jessica Jones’, it is ripe for picking and using. Much has been made of David Tennant being cast in the role of Kilgrave; I feel removed from the fourth wall breaking, he will own the part, and merrily stomp on the love Doctor Who fans hold for him as he does it.
Along with the behind the scenes material and some included letters and documents from the original comic run, the other material included is the one shot, “What If? Jessica Jones had Joined the Avengers”. It’s a cute bit of fluff, but ultimately inconsequential given what we’ve seen of Jessica’s life.
Is ‘Alias’ a good primer for ‘Jessica Jones’? Absolutely.
Is ‘Alias’ worth reading divorced from that? Again, absolutely.
Next, I’ll be looking at Jessica Jones being transferred to the main Marvel comics universe with ‘The Pulse’.