Small Screen Comics – Alias/Jessica Jones

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Though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have been slow out of the gate, subsequent seasons of the show have improved and, in the wake of Netflix’s Daredevil, the Marvel-TV relationship is strong as ever.  Over on network TV, a new Agent Carter season is due to arrive next year (and you can find our Small Screen Comics article on that show over here) and Fox is starting production on two X-Men shows.  But, subscription on-demand streaming super-heroics have been the most successful and critically acclaimed.  Next up for Netflix?  The private detective Jessica Jones, of course!

Wait…who?  Jessica Jones is first television property without a Marvel movie background or at least a little name recognition.  Who are the comic inspirations for the characters on this new show?  Let’s take a look!  (Note: This article was written before the show’s release, so no specific spoilers for the show here, but we will be looking at the source material.)


Jessica Jones

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Jessica Jones first appeared as the leading character in the comic Alias (November 2001), created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos.   Jessica and the Alias title were created to be the first comic under the new Marvel Max imprint, which was formed in the wake of Marvel abandoning the Comic Code Authority’s regulations on what could appear in comics.  The intent of then-editor-in-chief Joe Quesada was to have some comic series that were not censored and could explore mature themes for older readers.

So, basically, you got dialogue like this:

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And this:

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And more of that particular word:

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A WHOLE lot more.

At the time, Bendis was the newest star at Marvel, around a year into his Ultimate Spider-Man run (which would go on to last over a decade, including a partnership with artist Mark Bagley that would break a Marvel record for longest consecutive-issue run, overtaking Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four).  Michael Gaydos was a newcomer to Marvel, with prior work over at smaller publishers and a DC Comics Elseworlds Batman-Citizen Kane mashup with Bendis in 2000.

When the series was announced, Jessica Jones was described as a former superhero and Avenger whose career was so un-noteworthy that no one even remembered that she was a member of the biggest team in the Marvel Universe.   With her superhero career all washed up, Jessica became a private detective, running Alias Investigations, in order to make ends meet.

Alias, The Comic Series

Alias first hit the stands in 2001 and would go on to run for a total of 28 issues, all written by Bendis and drawn by Gaydos.  The covers were done by David Mack, whose use of watercolors and collage have made the series retain an iconic image.

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When the series began, Jessica was a complete unknown to the comic reader.  Bends took advantage of this and, while teasing a history with the Avengers and being a superhero, the comic did not reveal her past right away.  In fact, it took many issues before we got more than a glimpse of her true past, a mystery and tragic story that Bendis and Gaydos took their time telling.

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We open the story with this very first panel, getting a feel for Jessica.  She’s a loner and lonely, but seemingly good at her job…

alias1-04And she can certainly handle herself.   The police arrive to investigate the investigator, which gets quickly to the in-comic reveal that Jessica was a super hero, when one of the officers spots a photo in the office.

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Yup, the gritty, tobacco-addicted, jeans-and-t-shirt-wearing Jessica Jones is a few years down the line from the pink-haired, spandex-wearing, happy girl in that picture.  Frustrated, Jessica unwinds at a bar owned by her friend, Luke Cage, and then unwinds a bit with him at his place (if you know what I mean…).

Luke Cage AKA Power Man

Now, Luke had been around in comics for a while by this point, but he wasn’t being used by anyone.  Since Alias was a Max title, Bendis wasn’t able to use any “A-listers” as recurring characters, for Marvel’s fear of how they would be represented.

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Cage first appeared in June 1972’s Hero For Hire as the headlining character, the first African-American character at Marvel to do so.  He was created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Sr. in response to the popular film Blaxploitation movement.  Growing up on the streets of Harlem and joining a gang worked for a short while, but Cage soon realized that he was hurting his family and tried to escape a life of crime.  Unfortunately, after defending a friend against the Maggia crime syndicate, Cage gets set up and arrested on false drug charges.

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While in prison, Cage gets recruited by a doctor looking to perform experiments with a modified Super Soldier process (the one used to transform Steve Rodgers into Captain America).  During the procedure, a guard that had taken a particular dislike to Cage disrupted the experiment, intending to kill him, but instead resulting in Cage obtaining rock-hard skin and super-human strength.

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After escaping prison and returning to New York, Cage becomes a Hero For Hire, a superhero who could be bought (for the right price) in order to help people in need.  Eventually, Luke would partner with Iron Fist (another character created by Marvel in the ’70s in response to a popular film trend, Kung Fu movies) and form relationships with police office Misty Knight (who will be making an appearance in the upcoming Luke Cage series) and Dr. Claire Temple.

Dr. Claire Temple

A quick aside about this character, who has already made multiple appearances in the Daredevil series, played by Rosario Dawson.

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Dr. Temple first appeared in Hero For Hire #2 and would go on to be Cage’s on-again, off-again lover and the Heroes for Hire resident physician.  She later would go on to marry Bill Foster, the Avenger Goliath.

Back to Alias…

So Jessica gets a new assignment, this time trying to find the missing sister of a wealthy socialite, who was though to have run away with a mysterious man.  While on a stakeout at the house, Jessica gets roped into a plot that goes deeper than she expected.  We begin to find out a bit about her past and her powers — super-strength, maybe flight? — and she gets some help along the way from Matt Murdoch AKA Daredevil and one of her only super-hero friends, Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel (currently Captain Marvel).

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Now, Marvel seems to (smartly) want to keep Captain Marvel for the big screen, so it looks like they’ve replaced Carol as BFF with a different hero:

Patricia “Trish” “Patsy” Walker AKA Hellcat

If you thought that Captain America was the only “old” Marvel character still around, just take a peek at Patsy Walker (who is going by an alternate nickname, Trish, for the TV series).  Patsy first appeared in November 1944 in the pages of Miss America Magazine #2, which was published by Timely Comics, an era before Marvel was Marvel.

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Patsy, along with her contemporary Millie the Model, were created by Ruth Atkinson, one of the first female comic artists.  Firmly in the romance/comedy genre, Patsy appeared in multiple titles, including her own titular book and its many spin-offs, which lasted until the 1960s.

Patsy Walker 1st Apperance

Patsy then made the leap into the main Marvel universe, appearing in a Fantastic Four story and later alongside the X-Men’s Beast in Amazing Adventures in 1972, written by Steve Englehart.

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After Beast joined the Avengers (which Englehart was then writing), Patsy showed up in issue #141, later gaining the codename Hellcat and a costume that gave the wearer enhanced strength and agility in issue #144 (February 1976).  Hellcat ended up joining the Defenders, whose members included Doctor Strange and the Hulk.

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Patsy fell in love with and eventually married teammate Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan.  Unfortunately, this relationship led to a journey to Hell, parental betrayal, insanity, and her suicide.  BUT, because comics, she came back with psychic powers and other enhanced abilities.

Malcolm Powder

So Jessica takes another case, this time trying to find Rick Jones, the perpetual sidekick of the Marvel universe, which (of course), gets her in over her head.  But, this case also brings a new “friend” for Jessica, the teenager Malcolm.  He’s a bit of a super-hero groupie and hangs around the office, hoping for time to hang out with Jessica and help out with her cases.

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According to IMDB.com, there’s a character named Malcolm being played by Eka Darville.  Could be the same guy?

Back (again) to Alias…

Issue #15 of Alias reunites Jessica with Luke Cage, as they both begin working as bodyguards for Matt Murdoch, who was just outed as Daredevil by a tabloid magazine.  There’s some residual tension from their one-night-stand in issue #1.

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Jessica also goes out on a date with none other than Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man (who, at the time of the comic’s publication, was a C-lister and certainly not the movie leading male that he is now) and begins a somewhat-relationship with him.

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Jessica’s next case involves trying to find Mattie Franklin, who was a teenage super-hero going by the name Spider-Woman.  She enlists Malcolm’s help in exchange for a possible job for him.  During the investigation, Jessica comes across the telepathic Madame Web, who gives the reader our first hint that Jessica’s past may be more horrible than we’ve been led to believe.

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Malcolm comes through and leads Jessica to a club where she finds Mattie, who is being used to harvest Mutant Growth Hormone.  (I’m breezing through this since Fox owns mutants and Sony has spiders, so I doubt we’ll see the TV-version of this particular story arc.)  With the help of Jessica Drew, the original Spider-Woman, and Speedball, the inspiration for Remy’s man-crush Golfballs and one of the characters that would trigger the comics version of Civil War, Mattie is rescued and returned to her family.

The Secret History of Jessica Jones

And then, in issue #22, we finally get our answers about Jessica’s past.  (Fair warning: I’m presuming that the TV show will be treading these same waters and I’m going to talk about what happens in the book, so possible spoilers for a real interesting and tragic story.)

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Young Jessica went to the same high school as Peter Parker and had a crush on the teenaged nerd, but was always too shy to speak to him.  She missed her chance, thanks to a certain radioactive spider, and then nearly messes up Daredevil’s origin story by almost getting hit by the same truck of radioactive materials:

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Then, while driving with her parents and her younger brother Phillip, the car accidentally crashes into a US Army convoy, releasing a mysterious canister into the car, which then spins out of control and explodes.

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Jessica’s family and brother are presumably killed in the accident and Jessica goes into a coma, waking 6 months later (at the same time as the events from Fantastic Four #50, when Galactus fought the Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer — ignore the movie adaptation of that one).  She goes into foster care (conveniently) back in the neighborhood where she grew up.  When the kids at her school make fun of her, she runs away in tears, which is when she first manifests her powers:

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Yeah, she’s always had the mouth.  After being rescued from the river by Thor, she decides to test her abilities, discovering that she also has super-strength.  It’s a pretty typical origin story and fits with the usual Silver Age nostalgia.

Back in the present, Jessica her answering machine and gets a message from Kim Rourke, who is looking for help finding information on a particular person.  That person’s name?

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Dr. Zebediah Killgrave AKA The Purple Man

Killgrave was created by Stan Lee and artist Joe Orlando and first appeared in Daredevil #4 (October 1964).   A Croatian spy, Killgrave was sent to a chemical refinery but when the mission went awry, he was exposed to chemicals that not only turned him purple, but also gave him the ability to control minds.  Sure, it’s a fairly common power, but factor in Killgrave’s sociopathic behavior and ZERO redeeming qualities?  Well, you’ve got a real problem on your hands.

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Despite having the potential for being a real serious problem, Daredevil was able to see past his persuasive powers and easily take care of the villain.  Over the years, Purple Man appeared here and there, but never amounted to much.  But crimes aside, the most repulsive thing that he did was use his powers to convince women to have sex with him and then forget about him.

Purple Man and Victims

Yes.  That’s right.  Purple Man is a complete serial rapist.

Looking back on his appearances, we’ve seen Killgrave manipulate women for his own desires a few times, most prominently in the form of his daughter, Kara Killgrave AKA Persuasion, a member of Alpha Flight and a product of rape.  But, in Kara’s example, Killgrave released her mother from his influence because he actually fell in love with her.   Since Kara’s first appearance in 1986’s Alpha Flight #41, Killgrave was taken in a much colder and emotionless direction.

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Jessica goes to Kim’s house and is confronted by a huge crowd of people, all who are looking for Killgrave.  It turns out that he had committed a mass murder of innocents and, thankfully, captured and jailed.  But, for some reason, he won’t admit to all the crimes that he had done.  These families are looking for closure and are hoping Jessica to get Killgrave to confess.

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Jessica reluctantly takes the case, alluding to a painful past with Killgrave.  She gets drunk and ends up sleeping with Luke Cage again, coming to him for comfort and support while we see exactly what happened to Jessica in the past.

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As a young hero named Jewel, Jessica was stopped by police to help with a panic in a restaurant.  When she goes inside to help, things turn fast.

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She tells Cage that she wasn’t ever raped, but Killgrave kept her as a mindless slave, making her watch all of his other rapes, making her beg for 8 months to sleep with him, all the while being mentally tortured by her captor.  Then, one day after he reads an article about how Daredevil again saved the city, Killgrave becomes enraged and lashes out at Jessica.

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And, of course, she has no choice but to listen.  She flies off and spots the Scarlet Witch, who she mistakes from behind to be Daredevil, and lands a huge punch.  Unfortunately for Jessica, the rest of the Avengers and the Defenders are all there too.

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She regains her right mind and flies away in fear, but the super teams catch up with her and, well, beat her within an inch of her life.

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With the help of the X-Men’s Jean Grey, Jessica comes out her “popping” or coma or whatever.  The Avengers apologize for overreacting and S.H.I.E.L.D. offers her a job being their Avengers liaison, but she declines, stepping away from the super-powered lifestyle.

Back in the present, Jessica goes to the Raft, the super villain prison where Killgrave is being kept.  She confronts him about confessing to all his other murders, but Killgrave is uninterested in being helpful.

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Killgrave gets in Jessica’s head the old fashioned way — sans super-powers — and she leaves upset.  But things only get worse when she hears a news report about a breakout at the Raft and Killgrave’s escape.  She goes to Scott’s house for help and a place to stay, but wakes the next morning to a horrifying sight.

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But, as we enter the final issue of Alias, all is not as it seems.  Killgrave is in the apartment, manipulating Jessica’s perception of reality.  There’s a lot of breaking of the fourth wall:

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and Jessica again falls under Killgrave’s influence.  The pair go out on a walk as Killgrave leaves death and destruction in his wake, having civilians kill each other for no reason:

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Thankfully, Jean Grey’s past involvement comes back to help, as she has psychically implanted a way for Jessica to resist Killgrave.  As the Avengers arrive to stop him, he gives Jessica orders to break Captain America’s back, but she is now able to break free.

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Killgrave is taken into custody, Ms. Marvel has a tearful reconciliation with Jessica, Jessica and Scott have a heart-to-heart about these events, revealing a secret.

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Of course, that leaves only one guy that could be the father, Luke Cage, who couldn’t be happier.

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The couple’s story picks up in a new title, called The Pulse, which ran for 14 issues from 2004-2006.  In this book, Jessica closes her detective agency and gets a job with the Daily Bugle as an investigative reporter.   She eventually gives birth to a daughter, which they name Danielle after Luke’s buddy and former partner, Danny Rand (Iron Fist).

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They do get married (by Stan Lee, no less), but the calm is short-lived, as Civil War begins.  Luke and Jessica disagree with Iron Man’s Superhuman Registration Act, a bill that would require all powered individuals to register with the government.  Jessica and Danielle move to Canada and Luke takes charge of an underground group of heroes, called the New Avengers.  Jessica and Danielle eventually come back home and, in an attempt to prove to her toddler that her mother is a hero, she goes back to crimefighting,  first under the name Jewel again, but later taking the name Power Woman.

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With Danielle being watched by her new babysitter, Squirrel Girl (keep your eyes peeled for her, ladies and gents), Jessica fights alongside her husband on the Avengers for a few years before again retiring.

Jeryn Hogarth

The only other main character that has been announced for the TV series is Jeryn Hogarth, who in the comics, doesn’t actually have any tie to Jessica Jones.  Hogarth first appeared in Iron Fist #6 (August 1976), created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne (who were also working on a small title called X-Men at the time).

Jeryn

Yes, though Jeryn is a female character in the TV series, he was a guy in the comics.  Jeryn is a friend of Iron Fist’s father, a lawyer, and would go on to be a long-time supporting character in both Iron Fist and Heroes for Hire titles.  Honestly?  He hasn’t done all the much over the years but be a loyal middle-aged white lawyer dude.

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The Alias series was one of my favorites when it was first released and, rereading it for this article, it totally stands up 14 years later.  Dark and gritty being the direction of the Netflix Marvel series, Jessica Jones, at least in the Alias days, completely fits.  Daredevil was amazing and I’m excited to see how Jessica Jones keeps up the level of excellence.

Jessica Jones is set to debut all 13 episodes on Netflix on November 20th.

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