Jessica Jones, the latest Marvel TV series to launch on Netflix, has a fast-approaching release date of November 20. The ass-kicking character – who has enjoyed a couple of trailers, here and here – follows Daredevil on to the streaming service and intended, like the Man Without Fear, to form part of an eventual team-up Defenders miniseries. If you don’t know your Jessica Jones from your Jessica Drew, or your Alias from your Alas Smith And Jones, allow us to elucidate.
Jessica Jones was originally dreamt up in 2001 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos for the Alias title (nothing to do with Jennifer Garner and her TV show). Though they had briefly considered using Spider-Woman (AKA Jessica Drew), by the time the new comic-book series came about, they had completely committed to Jones. She appears in Alias, part of the Marvel MAX imprint that allowed for more mature stories, which ran between 2001 and 2004, and then in Bendis and Gaydos’ The Pulse between 2004 and 2006. And she’s also cropped up in the New Avengers Series, hanging out with the likes of Thor and Iron Man. Since then, she’s appeared in a variety of other storylines, including Civil War and Secret Invasion.
Who is Jessica Jones, then?
Jessica Campbell is presented as a classmate of Peter Parker, an ordinary girl who harbours no dreams of becoming a hero. But she’s unwittingly given powers when her family – on their way to Disneyland thanks to tickets from her father’s boss, one Tony Stark – is involved in a serious car accident. Her family is killed, and Jessica is left in a coma, but also endowed with super-strength, a strong healing factor and limited ability to fly thanks to radiation from the military convoy involved in the crash. She’s eventually awakened thanks to Galactus appearing outside her hospital room and adopted by the Jones family.
Finally inspired by seeing Spider-Man tackle Sandman at her school, Jones decided to use her powers to help people. Using the alias 'Jewel', she has a largely unremarkable superhero career, and has some trouble mastering her ability to fly, although she soon figures it out. But she still manages to make some difference helping those in need and battling criminals. But her time as a costumed hero came to a terrifying end when she encountered Zebediah Killgrave, AKA The Purple Man, a psychic psychopath with mind control powers. Putting Jones under his command, he recruits her to carry out some of his evil schemes and tortures her psychologically. When he sends her ostensibly to kill Daredevil, she ends up at the Avengers Mansion in a fateful encounter with the heroes. Carol Danvers, in her Ms. Marvel persona, helps an injured Jessica out of the mansion and the X-Men’s Jean Grey assists in removing Killgrave’s control.
The trauma of her time as a superhero leads Jessica to quit as Jewel and open a private eye business, where she tackles cases for powered people as well as the usual digging into affairs or lost children. It’s here she starts an on-again, off-again relationship with Luke Cage, AKA Power Man, a seemingly invulnerable man who was given his powers in prison thanks to a radical experiment. But Killgrave, who has been locked up in high-security prison, breaks out and attempts to gain control over Jessica once again. She fights him off and he’s sent back to the slammer.
In Bendis’ and Gaydos’ follow-up, Jones takes a leave of absence from her detective business and becomes a correspondent for the Daily Bugle. She has a dangerous run-in with the Green Goblin, but we also learned that she and Cage – to whom she’s now married – are expecting their first child. Beyond The Pulse, Jessica keeps appearing in different stories and occasionally helps out superhero teams.
Announced by Netflix alongside Daredevil, Luke Cage (who gets his own series) and Iron Fist in 2013, Jessica Jones the show developed fairly rapidly. Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who has also worked in television on shows such as Dexter and The O.C., is overseeing the series. Krysten Ritter stars as Jessica in an adaptation of the Alias run that finds the character, in keeping with the comic, working as a private eye. Elements of her backstory have been incorporated, in a tweaked fashion: she did indeed get her powers in a car crash and she does have a past as a superhero that ended badly. Zebediah Kilgrave (note the altered spelling of the name) is threatening her once again, here played by David Tennant. Unlike the comic book version, he’s only purple in terms of his suits, and he’s no longer Yugoslavian, but British (and sounds disturbingly like Tennant’s run as The Doctor). Luke Cage will first appear in the Jones series, played by Mike Colter. Jones is running her business out of her rundown apartment and has recurring PTSD from her time with Kilgrave. Other characters co-opted by the show from the wider Marvel Universe include Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), Jessica’s best friend and Jeryn Hogarth, a lawyer played by Carrie-Anne Moss.
Krysten Ritter on Jessica
Ritter, who has appeared in shows such as Breaking Bad and was part of the cast for Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, is glad that, while the show is fairly faithful to Bendis’ and Gaydos’ ideas, has some freedom from the comic book. “The comics are beloved by fans because it's a great book, but it's not the most popular character we've heard of, so it's as much developed for television as it was in the comic books. They're a jumping-off point and we develop it even further and really create her and the world. There's not a mould I have to live up to, it's not Batman!” Still, she gets to be the hero, and a fully developed female Marvel superhero, at that. “I was pleasantly surprised when I read it and realised what a fucked up, sarcastic, dry, tough character she is,” Ritter admits. “She's a former superhero, very reluctant, wants nothing to do with it all. She's kind of a misfit in terms of where she fits into the Marvel world.”