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Tonight, Netflix releases every episode of Marvel's Jessica Jones for public viewing. The show formerly known as AKA Jessica Jones is based on a smaller character in Marvel's stable and one that was created relatively recently: Jessica's first comics appearance was in 2001. Compared to the 1964 debut of Daredevil or the 1972 debut of Luke Cage, Marvel has done a solid job establishing the character so she fits and makes sense in the Netflix slate of heroes.
Which doesn't really help you if you're reading this. You want to know the basics: Who is Jessica Jones? Who are her friends and family? Why does she matter?
I'm here to help you with that information, to get you up to speed before you watch all the episodes on Netflix.
Where Did Jessica Jones Come From?
Jessica Jones debuted in 2001 as the lead character in Alias, a book in Marvel's adult-themed MAX imprint. The idea of MAX was that creators could explore storylines that were too mature or gruesome for Marvel's regular line of PG-13 superhero comics. Writer Brian Michael Bendis had established his place at Marvel working on Ultimate Spider-Man, but his work before that was mostly crime comics: Jinx, Goldfish, Torso, and Todd McFarlane's Sam and Twitch. Bendis used Marvel MAX to dive into a genre he was well known for, partnering with artist Michael Gaydos.
Early on in the conceptual stage of the project, Jessica Jones was intended to be Jessica Drew, the alter-ego of Marvel's Spider-Woman. Drew was one of Bendis' favorite Marvel characters and she wasn't being used in any major way by Marvel at the time.
"For people scoring at home, it was the first book offered to me at Marvel years ago, like 10 years ago," Bendis told Comic Book Resources. "To show you how long ago, Marvel West Coast was still open. Mark Paniccia was running Marvel West Coast and he called me and I presented to him a "Spider-Woman" series. It was a lot different from what me and Alex will be doing, but it was supposed to be me and Rick Mays doing an ongoing "Spider-Woman" series. I handed in the presentation like the hour Marvel shut down their west coast office. It was about as bad timing as you could get. But, I did always have a real passion for her."
"Originally, 'Alias' was going to star Jessica Drew, but it became something else entirely," he added. "Which is good, because had we used Jessica it would have been off continuity and bad storytelling."
Instead, Bendis took the project in a different direction, creating a completely different character who just happened to also have the same first name.
Who is Jessica Jones?
Jessica Jones is a superpowered private investigator. She tried the superhero thing, it didn't work out. She has the catch-all "Superman Suite" of powers: she's rather strong, pretty durable, and she can fly when she puts her mind to it (she's out of practice). She is played in Marvel's Jessica Jones by Krysten Ritter.
As to her fictional background, which might be different in the show: Jessica Campbell was a Midtown High student who happened to attend school around the same time as Peter Parker. In fact, she had a crush on the young nerd, being a bit of an outcast herself. On a trip to Disney World with her family, their car collided with a military convoy carrying chemicals. Jessica's family died and she fell into a coma. When she woke up from the coma, she was adopted by the Jones family.
Cue moments of discovery and teenage angst as the newly-named Jessica Jones found out she had powers. After seeing a local fight between Spider-Man and Sandman, Jessica decided to become a superhero. She whipped up a costume and became Jewel!
This is where Jessica's story diverges sharply from most other superheroes. As Jewel, Jessica ran across the path of Zebediah Killgrave, a Daredevil villain known as The Purple Man. (The Purple Man is played in the Netflix series by former Doctor Who David Tennant.) The Purple Man's superpower is that his body produces pheremones that force people to follow his verbal commands. Killgrave mind controlled Jewel and forced her to be his bodyguard. The trick is, you're entirely conscious while the Purple Man's mind control is happening, you're merely unable to do anything but obey.
While some bring up the act of rape when talking about Jessica Jones, it was established that there was no physical sexual contact between her and Killgrave, though it was on the list of things she probably had to watch the Purple Man do. That said, her time with the Purple Man lasted for months and left clear psychological scars. Killgrave eventually sent Jewel to kill Daredevil in a fit of anger. She made a mind-controlled mistake and attacked the Scarlet Witch instead, calling the fury of the entire Avengers down on her.
This put Jessica into her second coma. When she awoke in SHIELD custody, the combination of eight months of psychological torture, a beating at the hands of the world's greatest superheroes, and the fact that no one noticed she was missing, demoralized her to the point that she gave up being a costumed superhero. The Avengers apologized and SHIELD even offered to make Jones their liaison to the team, but she declined.
Those scars and that decision inform the character that you see in the Netflix series. All this backstory was delivered to readers in Alias #22-28, which is oddly the only trade paperback in the Alias that Marvel has not reprinted. If you're looking to get the original story of Jessica, you can pick up the Omnibus or the first two trade paperbacks, while waiting for the last two to release.
Here's links to all the trade paperbacks:
- Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1
- Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 2
- Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 3 (Coming December 8, 2015)
- Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 3 (Coming January 12, 2016)
- Alias Omnibus
Who's in the Cast of Jessica Jones?
I'm going to give you the show's cast, because the comic's supporting cast is going to change for various reasons I'll cover in the next section.
Jessica Jones - Krysten Ritter
Ritter is Jessica Jones, a semi-alcoholic and rather violent private investigator. She tried the superhero game and it really didn't work for her, so now she beats up people and solves crimes for money.
Zebediah Killgrave, The Purple Man - David Tennant
Tennant plays Killgrave, the mind-controlling villain whose actions forced Jones into a situation where she turned her back on being a superhero. He's a sadistic bastard. In the comics, his skin is actually purple, but in the Netflix show, his name seems to allude to his dress code.
Luke Cage - Mike Colter
Known to avid gamers as Halo 5's Agent Locke, Mike Colter plays Luke Cage. In the comics, Cage was in an on-again, off-again sexual relationship with Jessica, while also remaining her friend. That relationship deepened at the end of Alias' run and eventually Cage and Jones married and had a daughter. Cage is the focus of the next Netflix series and it's unknown if he has his superpowers (enhanced strength and bulletproof skin) at the time of Netflix's Jessica Jones series.
Trish Walker - Rachel Taylor
Trish is a new, non-superhero version of Patsy Walker, known in the comics as Hellcat. She in the new sit-in for Jessica's well-to-do best friend, as Carol Danvers is busy waiting for Marvel Studios to start shooting Captain Marvel. In the show, she's a talk show host, former model and child star.
Jeryn Hogarth - Carrie-Anne Moss
Moss is Jeryn Hogarth, who in the comics is 1) a dude and 2) a fairly significant supporting cast member for Iron Fist, the last hero in the Marvel/Netflix deal. Hogarth is Iron Fist's lawyer and the executor of his parents' estate. So... new take?
Malcolm - Eka Darville
In the comics, Malcolm's full name is Malcolm Powder, a high school student who's a fan of Jessica Jones. She hires him on a part-time basis, given his rather extensive knowledge of superheroes in New York. Darville's character is listed as a "neighbor of Jessica's whose life will cross" over with hers.
Hope - Erin Moriarty
Moriarty's character is listed as one of Jessica's clients, but I have no clue who her potential comic counterpart is, if she has any.
Will Simpson - Wil Traval
Traval plays a cop in the series, but according to an IGN interview with the actor, the character is a potential rethink of Nuke, a crazy ex-Vietnam super-soldier. I'm not sure how this will connect up here, but sure, why not?
What's Going to Change?
In the comics, Jessica Jones was a new addition to an established universe. In fact, the original strength of the character was that she had superpowers, but largely ignored the good/evil dichotomy that most of the Marvel Universe gets caught in.
But this means there's a whole host of stuff that's not available in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Young Jessica was a contemporary of Peter Parker, her dad worked for Tony Stark, and she explored her growing womanhood with posters of the Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm. I doubt Ritter is going to have a crush on fresh new Spider-Man Tom Holland, Tony Stark isn't really that old, and Marvel can't use Johnny Storm.
Her beating as Jewel came at the hands of the Avengers, but that group wasn't established early enough for that to happen to this series, unless she has a really short timeline. She was taught to hold strong against the Purple Man's powers after her second coma by Jean Grey, another character Marvel Studios can't touch.
Other changes include the fact that while Jessica has an ongoing affair with Luke Cage, she's actually supposed to be dating Scott Lang, also known as Ant-Man. Her best friend is Carol Danvers, who is Captain Marvel. Both characters are earmarked by Marvel Studios; Danvers hasn't been cast yet and I doubt we'll see Paul Rudd's rather light character in the darkness of Jessica Jones.
Which is to say, we can make certain guesses as to the direction of the show, but it's ultimately an adaptation, so it'll stand alone as its own thing. So we're all in for a ride.