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Friday, December 11, 2015 

How could Jessica Jones be much good if the heroine's unlikable?

In this pretentious column on Arcamax, the new Jessica Jones TV program is in focus, and what they tell about it here doesn't sound very appealing. Even what they say about the original comics series (Alias) by Brian Bendis doesn't make it sound particularly classic:
Just like the comic book on which it is based, Netflix's "Jessica Jones" is a revelation.

The 13-episode first season, all of which became available Nov. 20, is based on a 2001 Marvel Comics series that was no ordinary Marvel Comics series. It was the first in Marvel's adults-only "MAX" line -- and as if to punctuate that distinction, the first word spoken on the first page was the F-bomb.
Does that make it any good? Hardly. That only makes it sound like Bendis and company were desperate to prove to everybody that this is hardcore adult storytelling right out of the gate. But vulgar profanity alone does not an entertaining series make. However, it does bring to mind that Marvel missed a big chance earlier to prove they could do something worthwhile without resorting to overt censorship, recalling a Black Panther story in Marvel Comics Presents from 1988 that was bloody, yet profanity was censored (some of the Epic imprint series also got censored, the line's focus on indie books notwithstanding). Which, now that I recall, was also the case in Bendis' own Avengers work. And his take on the Avengers is even worse than Alias.
But the most impressive aspect of "Jessica Jones" is just how daring both the comics and the series are in their depiction of the lead character. Never before had I seen a series offer me a lead character who was so unlikable that she didn't even like herself! Jones, at the beginning of both comic book and TV series, is a bed-hopping, self-loathing alcoholic with a traumatic past who is slowly circling the drain.

And, sure, detective noir is chockablock with male characters who answer, in varying degrees, to the description above. But for comics to offer a leading lady who wasn't a paragon of virtue was pretty daring in 2001.
Pardon me? I know that Phillip Marlowe and Mike Hammer could've been portrayed with flaws, but I don't think they were ever depicted as unlikable or hating themselves. How could the audience appreciate the stars if they weren't appealing? The premise draws mostly from Bendis' writing:
Moreover, the reason that Jessica is so unlikable is the real thunderbolt. Although writer Brian Michael Bendis strung out the mystery in the comics longer than the TV show did, the trauma was due to a minor Daredevil villain named Killgrave (Kilgrave on TV) who has the power to control minds. He can make anyone do anything, just by telling them to do it. No one can resist.

Despite this incredible power, Killgrave was minor because he was a lazy jerk. He didn't want to control the world, he just gratified all of his petty and selfish impulses. So he lived in five-star hotels or mansions, and ate only gourmet meals, leaving in his wake mystified employees who got fired or homeowners who couldn't account for weeks of time. He would force pretty girls to have sex with him, while ordering their boyfriends to commit suicide. It's all pretty stomach-churning, but his destructive acts were on a personal, not global, scale. He fought Daredevil, after all, not the Avengers.

But minor villain or not, his effect on individuals is catastrophic. One such was Jessica herself. In the comics, she was under his control for months, forced to do all sorts of terrible things. In the end, one of Killgrave's orders resulted in her attacking the Avengers, of which she was a member (as the superhero "Jewel"). She was saved from critical injury by her close friend Carol "Captain Marvel" Danvers, but that pretty much ended her superhero career.

That wasn't the worst part. The effect of Killgrave's repeated rape -- of both mind and body -- was to traumatize Jessica so badly that she could barely function. She built up walls around herself emotionally, chased away people who tried to help, engaged in rough sex to punish herself and drank to forget. She was haunted by Killgrave -- an abuser from whom you could never be safe -- and suffered flashbacks of her torture.
You know, if somebody's going to written as frozen in such a mental state for so long, I'm not sure how that counts for character development. There are victims who manage to overcome their trauma well enough, and if Jones remains stuck in a holding pattern, what good does that do?

Actually, what's really annoying is the notion that a rape victim would be depicted as so unlikable. If we're supposed to feel sorry for Jones, that can dampen the impact. So whatever premise they've launched here, it doesn't sound off to a good start.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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