Idiot Box: “Jessica Jones”
 Alibi V.24 No.51 • Dec 17-23, 2015 

Idiot Box

“Wonder Woman” This Ain’t

“Jessica Jones” on Netflix

Superhero stories remain such a driving force in pop culture—taking over everything from movies to TV shows to ... well, good old-fashioned comic books—that we’re experiencing something of a glut. Everyone’s waiting for the Marvel movie blockbuster bubble to burst, and it’s getting hard to keep track of all the DC character crossovers The CW keeps pitching at us. Yet, in the midst of all this, the folks at Marvel have done something rather miraculous—developing some of the most genre-busting, long-form dramatic adaptations of comic books over on Netflix.

Just last month Marvel followed up the success of its viscerally exciting “Daredevil” series with the darkly emotional “Jessica Jones.” In adapting the obscure yet critically acclaimed series Alias from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos, “Jessica Jones” has become the first “post-superhero” series to make it into mainstream culture.

Where most Hollywood-backed adaptations of comic books fail is in assuming they have no story to tell other than the origin of whatever superhero they depict. How else to explain the endless movie reiterations of Batman and Spider-Man’s creations? Most superhero stories—in movie form anyway—can be boiled down to “So-and-so gains superpowers and fights such-and-such, who also has superpowers, thereby rescuing somebody-or-other.” Thankfully, “Jessica Jones” is over that moldy collection of tropes.

“Jessica Jones” introduces us to the titular character (played by Krysten Ritter from “Breaking Bad”). Jessica was once, briefly, a costumed superhero. But things went very wrong for her. She retired and is now living (such as it is) as an embittered, alcoholic private detective in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. “Jessica Jones” contains, hands down, the best origin story of any superhero TV show or movie. Upon crossing paths with fellow super-powered individual Luke Cage (Mike Colter from “The Good Wife”), she is asked, “How did you get your powers?” She replies, “Accident. You?” He answers, “Experiment.” End of story.

You see, “Jessica Jones” has an actual narrative to tell. And it’s not just about punching people until they explode. It’s about survival, victimization and overcoming your past. Despite her super strength, Jessica is suffering from post-traumatic stress. Big time. Seems she ran up against a nasty villain named Kilgrave. He had the power to control people’s minds. He used it on Jessica, forcing her to do unspeakable things. Eventually, he died, freeing Jessica from his grasp. But she still bears the deep psychic scars.

Naturally, it turns out Kilgrave (played with wicked charisma by former “Doctor Who” star David Tennant) may not be as dead as previously believed. This causes Jessica to confront (or in some cases, run away from) her greatest fears. It’s some heavy drama for a superhero series, making this one of the first in the mainstream to argue the old adage that comic book aren’t just for kids.

“Jessica Jones” could have stopped at being a groundbreaking, female-centric superhero series. Thankfully, it goes a step further, giving audiences a dramatic, thoughtful, sympathetic storyline that speaks very well for the diversity of superhero stories still untold.

“Jessica Jones” is available for streaming on Netflix.