The Badass Female Project: Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones: she has the surface-level badass bonafides: leather jacket, attitude, drinking problem, super strength (!?).  But Jessica’s rightousness is buried a little deeper—and her exploits throughout the series poke relentlessly at the question of what it means to be a hero.

So what was I doing watching Jessica Jones in the first place? I’m not really a comic book person. I like me some great graphic novels, but the superhero stuff hasn’t ever really been my thing. When I first saw ads for the Luke Cage TV show, I thought it said “luge cake” and I was excited about that. But Netflix thought I might like Jessica Jones, so I gave it a shot. (Aside: I did read some of the Jessica Jones comics when I got interested in this project, but they’re more Marvel-y than the TV show, and I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole— not today, anyway). My first impression was that the first episode drew heavily on Lisbeth Salander for inspiraiton, so I was ready to like it. And I did.

So, what is Jessica’s deal? She has powers, but she “quit” being a superhero for reasons that aren’t fully disclosed, and now she’s working as a PI. She’s being tormented by an abusive man with mind-control powers (known, hilariously, as Kilgrave), and she’s determined to stop him from implicating others. Despite her swagger and posturing, she seems to genuinely care about what happens to people— her friends, Kilgrave’s other victims. As much as she fronts as an eye-rolling, too-cool-for-school screw up who’d rather drown her feelings in whiskey,  she can’t quite talk herself out of doing the right thing.

The show itself feels like a noir, but the detective is a woman and there’s no sexy broad answering the phones. It doesn’t skirt (ha) issues of sexuality, PTSD, rape, or abuse— it engages with them. Like a lot of good genre work, it turns a sharp lens on critical contemporary issues. And like many of her badass female bretheren, Jessica’s not interested in being cute, likeable, or “properly” feminine. Her power is super strength: unexpected and great fun to watch.

OH, and: I’d be remiss if I didn’t return to the question of the female creater. The character’s original writing and art were done by men. But for the TV show on Netflix, the creater and showrunner is Melissa Rosenberg. There’s also a great female cast led by Krysten Ritter and including Carrie-Ann Moss (we can talk about her another day).

Hero, anti-hero, superhero. . . it all comes out in the wash, it seems. Did you like the show? Should I give the comic another shot?

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