A strong, flawed woman in its title and at its heart: Netflix’s take on Marvel’s Jessica Jones gets a lot right, says proud comic nerd Kate McCabe.
Ah, the old ‘women in refrigerators’ trope. How does a show which features the horrific abuse of a female comic book character get away from it?
If you’re unfamiliar with the much-criticised storytelling device, it’s this: women in refrigerators refers to the lazy employment of female characters – wives, girlfriends and sidekicks – in superhero comics. Typically, the character in question is either raped, murdered, or seriously abused. She serves primarily as a way to provide motivation for the titular hero to either BECOME the hero he is meant to be or to form a tragic connection with a supervillain. More on that here.
The overuse of this device has led to a stereotypical victimisation of women in comic books and is a disservice to the creation of fully developed female characters. Jessica Jones succeeds where others fail in this regard. The clue is in the title. It’s her world; we’re just watching it.
“David Tennant’s Kilgrave is the perfect allegory for the concept of entitlement within the patriarchy. When Jessica is under his control, all of her power is used for his gain.”
Marvel has been good at this particular game for a while, this strategy of taking C-list superheroes and making them superstars. Honestly, had you ever heard of Groot before summer 2014? Jessica Jones is not only a little-known superhero, she’s also a relatively new character. Introduced in 2001’s Alias title, she has been expertly nestled into pre-existing Marvel architecture by writer Brian Michael Bendis. She’s part of the Marvel street-level superhero category, a roster that includes Daredevil (already on Netflix), Punisher (soon to appear in Daredevil), Iron Fist (to be filmed soon), and JJ’s love interest and bad-ass in his own right Luke Cage (Netflix series imminent).
The street setting helps bring in a more diverse audience than just comic nerds. The aesthetic matches non-superhero TV. Do you like cop shows? Do you like strong yet realistically flawed women? Do you like twisted villains? Do you like handsome boyfriends? You don’t have to care about outer space to care about this show.
Jessica Jones gets a lot right. The look is perfect: the credits are a strong homage to Michael Gaydos (the original artist on the Alias series) and the show is all purple and rust. The casting is excellent. Initially, I wasn’t sure how wiry Krysten Ritter would carry it off. I’d always seen JJ as a more substantial woman – Ritter would be perfect as The Sandman’s character Death – but the attitude is what really plays here.
Much like my feelings about Charlie Cox as Daredevil, it only took a few episodes to change my mind. Mike Colter as Luke Cage is charming, cool, and chiselled. Carrie-Anne Moss is Carrie-Anne Moss (A+!) and David Tennant is unforgettable as Kilgrave.
Let’s chat briefly about Kilgrave, one of comicdom’s most loathsome and powerful creations. Also known as the Purple Man in the comics, his weapon is mind-control. That’s even without the benefit of Tennant’s British accent (Americans will pretty much do anything a British person says anyway because we think y’all are so fancy). Tennant is costumed in various purple garments (the traditional colour of villainy) throughout the series and he looks like a lean, sadistic brother of Michael McIntyre.
Kilgrave is the perfect allegory for the concept of entitlement within the patriarchy. When Jessica is under his control, all of her power is used for his gain. Watch for the moment in an episode where, like a creepy cat-caller, he tells her to “smile”.*
The feminist in me is happy this show exists. One series, in a fell swoop, deals with (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD): a lesbian divorce, a supervillain abortion, female characters who pass the Bechdel Test, and a woman saying post-hook-up, “Look, last night was fun, but that doesn’t mean I want your opinion.” How very fresh!
*Feminist Fun Fact: Liz Friedman who is a producer on the series also worked on Xena and Orange Is The New Black.
“Do you like cop shows? Do you like strong yet realistically flawed women? Do you like twisted villains? Do you like handsome boyfriends? You don’t have to care about outer space to care about this show.”
That’s not to say I don’t have minor complaints. One potential flaw with the bingeable series model is that 13 episodes is a bit too much and a bit too little all at once.
Traditionally, the US model worked on a 24 episode per season schedule. The first time I remember seeing a show that short-changed the 24 episode model was around the HBO boom: The Sopranos, Sex and the City, etc.
With this model, I think we get cheated out of the ‘day in the life’ episodes or what in the The X-Files were known as the ‘monster of the week’ episodes, those self-contained hours that are just fun for the sake of being fun. Instead, we focus unflinchingly on the main driving plot line. Sometimes that plot line gets spread too thin. Indeed there were a couple of episodes with JJ where I was left wondering if the developments were just there to add another 20 minutes to the hour. Perhaps, now that this initial story has been told, we’ll see a more varied episodic line-up in future seasons.
Still, like most fangirls and boys, I’m just glad this series exists. What a time to be a comic nerd. What a time to be a woman.
You can watch Jessica Jones on Netflix.2321 Views
Kate McCabe is an American comic living in Manchester. When not gigging as a standup, she improvises with ComedySportz Manchester, and contributes to local TV and radio including The Gay Agenda on Fab Radio.