Like most of you, I spent Thanksgiving binge-watching episodes of Jessica Jones on Netflix. The second instalment of Marvel’s The Defenders project was an instant hit, with social media buzzing about its dark subject matter and even darker hero. Jessica is a damaged, hard-drinking, even harder living woman trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and move forward. Yes, she has super-powers, but that’s the least intriguing thing about her.
So, what is it then?
We’re in a world now where we pretty much live and breathe comic-book adaptations. Seeing someone with the ability to fly or who’s impervious to damage or with inhuman strength is no longer new and exciting. We’ve moved beyond being awed when a character does something super-human, as it’s pretty much become old hat these days. Our focus has shifted from what these characters can do, to who they are and who they want to become. We’re looking for fascinating characters and dynamic storytelling, all wrapped up in a big ‘superhero’ bow. I hate to use the term ‘dark and gritty,’ because it seems to be the new go to when describing anything remotely compelling, but it does seem apt for the Marvel Netflix universe. Whereas Daredevil was visceral, edgy storytelling, Jessica Jones is a noir, psychological thriller that stays with you long after the credits roll.
One of the things that Marvel has done so well with this portion of their universe is bring everything down to the bare bones level, and that is no more evident than with Jessica Jones. She’s a real person, with real issues, that she’s bravely trying to overcome. Her life isn’t all sunshine and roses and she doesn’t put on a brave face, because, ultimately, she shouldn’t have to. She was violated in a way that is unimaginable, and it’s going to take time and many a meltdown in order to get to a place where she’s able to move forward. Just like in real life.
Over the years, there have been a number of female superhero’s that have donned the cape and tights on TV. And let’s face it, the majority of them have all had that sickeningly sweet ‘can do’ attitude, inherent to the stereotype. They’re women first and then superheroes, and usually have the costumes to prove it. Take for instance, the other female superhero to make her television debut this year, Supergirl. The two properties couldn’t be more different in tone and feel, even though their character origins are actually rooted in the same place. Whereas Supergirl has that ‘golly-gee,’ completely over-the-top look and feel to it, Jessica Jones has roots that are firmly planted in reality. And yet, when you get right down to it, the characters themselves are actually very similar. They are both twenty something women, gifted with extraordinary abilities. They care about others (this is something that Kara Zor-El wears on her sleeve and Jessica Jones keeps buried deep, only letting it show when she absolutely has to) and both try to use their powers for good and to help those around them. Ultimately, that’s the core of every superhero story and I’m not saying that one take is better than the other, because I know Supergirl has a loyal following and I love the fact that young girls have a lovely role model to look up to. My main issue is, in this day and age, aren’t we past this whole sanitized look at the world?
What Jessica brings to the table is someone who’s gone through something completely incomprehensible to most people, but has come out swinging, because she’s a survivor. Unwilling to let her past rule her, she uses what she can to move forward, on her own terms. Yes, she has flaws and vices, but then who doesn’t? These things aren’t what separate her from the rest of us, they are what bind her to us. We can relate to her and understand where she’s coming from because she acts like any normal human being would. She wasn’t born on some distant planet, and doesn’t have some epic quest to fulfill. She does what she does because she wants to, and if that means sacrificing herself to save those she loves, then so be it. She struggles to right past wrongs and rid the world of evil, all while trying to survive her own tortured past. When she could easily run and hide, she chooses to stand and fight, because she knows it’s the right thing to do. If that isn’t heroic, then I don’t know what is.
Jessica Jones is currently available to stream on Netflix.
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