Marvel's Jessica Jones, explained

Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones isn't the most famous Marvel superheroine, but she might be the one who's said "fuck" the most times.

Netflix's Daredevil was a huge hit (exactly how huge, we may never know, since Netflix is notoriously cagey about releasing viewer statistics), and its follow-up, Jessica Jones, is almost here. But while Matt Murdock has more than 50 years of comics and a movie to have made a mark on popular culture, Jessica Jones, the titular heroine of the upcoming show, has only been around since 2001. Moreover, while her series was popular, she's never been considered one of the big movers and shakers in the Marvel Universe.

So it's reasonable of you to ask: Who the heck is Jessica Jones, anyway?

Let's answer that question.

Jessica Jones Fuck You
Alias #17

As a teenager, Jessica was exposed to radioactive chemicals in a car crash that killed her family and put her in a coma for several months. After discovering that she was now super-strong and super-durable, and could fly, she briefly embarked on a rocky career as the superheroine Jewel — until an incident involving the supervillain Purple Man convinced her that she just wasn't cut out for the life. Since then, she's been the owner and sole employee of Alias Investigations, a private-detective firm. She doesn't wear a costume anymore, but she still has her powers.

at its heart, Alias was a story about a hard-boiled detective

While Jessica Jones is the second of Marvel's Netflix series, it's a production that screenwriter/producer Melissa Rosenberg has been shepherding through development since 2010. That's right: A Jessica Jones show has been in some stage of planning since before Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger hit modern screens, before The Avengers was a hit, before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or even the first hints of a Marvel/Netflix deal.

The cover of Alias #1, Marvel Comics. David Mack/Marvel Comics
The cover of Alias #1

The character of Jessica Jones debuted as the star of the Marvel comic Alias (not to be confused with the Jennifer Garner TV show of the same name). A 28-issue series written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Gaydos, at its heart Alias was a story about a hard-boiled detective. The first arc of the series plays deftly with a number of classic noir tropes.

When Alias Investigations is hired by a well-to-do woman to find her missing sister, Jessica uncovers evidence that would not only connect a very famous superhero to some shady dealings — but also expose his secret identity. Then her client turns up missing, the sister turns up dead and the police bring Jessica in for questioning. Jessica's been set up, and every step she takes toward figuring out who did it uncovers a bigger, nastier picture.

Her other cases involve finding missing superheroes, a stint as bodyguard to Matt Murdock, flimflamming J. Jonah Jameson and, occasionally, finding a totally mundane cheating spouse or runaway teenager.

Alias had the freedom to frankly depict sex, sexual abuse, drug use and profanity

Jessica herself is also a bit of a noir standby: the detective with a dark past who never gets a good night's sleep and keeps a bottle of rotgut in their desk drawer. She has problems with trust and intimacy, is a bit of an alcoholic and, although her life has been — and continues to be — very hard, she hates the idea that anybody might pity her. This often causes her to lash out at anyone trying to get close to her or help her.

But like the classic noir detective, she makes up for all of that with her investigative skills, firmly held ideas of what's right and wrong, a bullheaded stubbornness to get at the truth, and an unwillingness to back down from any fight, no matter how outclassed she might be by her opponents.

Jessica Jones fight
Alias #5

Alias was the first series in Marvel MAX, a publishing imprint intended for stories in the Marvel Universe that dealt with adult subject matter. The purposes of cordoning off a book with a special imprint and logo were manifold. Readers would know where to go for darker, scarier and, ideally, more complex storylines, as well as more adventurous art. Marvel MAX books were also not sold in regular bookstores alongside other Marvel comics and collections, and the MAX logo served as a warning that these books weren't for kids. This attempt to make sure that children weren't drawn to Marvel MAX books also meant that you weren't going to see Marvel's flagship characters involved heavily in the books: no Spider-Man, no Fantastic Four, none of the famous X-Men.

For Alias, this meant the rare opportunity — in a comic book universe — to come up with a new character from whole cloth. Alias could also have the freedom to frankly depict sex, sexual abuse, drug use and profanity with complexity and nuance, and trust that its adult audience would embrace a series that was more conversational than it was action-filled.

And, it meant that Alias would have to get pretty creative about Jessica's ties, or lack thereof, to the superhero community.

Though Jessica first appeared in comics in 2001, she was retroactively inserted into the periphery of the lives of several superheroes and major events of the Marvel Universe.

Jessica Jones avengers
Alias #1

Taken all together, it's hard not to see her origin story as a sort of commentary on how terrible it can be to be an "extra" in a superhero setting — and on the reliance of the Marvel Universe on retroactive changes to continuity.

Jessica attended the same high school as Peter Parker — she harbored an unrequited crush on him — and at one point was nearly struck by the careening truck that blinded Matt Murdock. Thanks to her car-crash-related coma, she nearly slept through the climactic battle between Galactus and the Fantastic Four. During the events of Alias itself, she acts as a bodyguard for Matt Murdock and briefly dates Ant-Man after being set up with him by Carol Danvers (formerly Ms. Marvel, now Captain Marvel), her best friend in the world.

Jessica Jones Luke Cage crop
Mike Coulter as Luke Cage

And, of course, in the comics, Jessica dates and eventually marries and has a kid with Luke Cage, also known as the superhero Power Man. Stan Lee officiated their wedding, and absolutely no supervillains showed up to interrupt it.

It's unclear how many other Marvel characters will make it to the Jessica Jones Netflix series, but we can take some guesses based on its cast. Mike Coulter is confirmed to appear as Luke Cage, in advance of his starring role in Netflix's third Marvel series, also called Luke Cage. Rachael Taylor will be playing Jessica's best friend, a character known as Trish "Patsy" Walker, who shares a name with the Marvel superheroine Hellcat. We'll have to wait for the series to see if she shares more.

Finally, David Tennant will play Kilgrave, a character who is clearly intended to be an adaptation of the supervillain the Purple Man. In the comics, Kilgrave was closely involved in Jessica's decision to quit being a superhero, and his involvement in the series gives us some big hints as to the storylines it may be tackling.

Jessica Jones Tennant flipped
David Tennant as Kilgrave

The Purple Man — named for the strange color of his skin — was originally an antagonist to Daredevil. He became a supervillain when he developed the power to exude a pheromone that compels anyone near him to him to do, think or say anything that he tells them to. Which is to say, he can not only tell you to do something you wouldn't normally do — he can tell you to want to do something you wouldn't normally do. And you will.

Jessica's connection to the Purple Man is one of the central mysteries of Alias — though due to some basic facts about the story, it'll probably play out differently in the show. But if that's too spoilery for you, click here to skip ahead.

The final arc of Alias sees Jessica wrestling with the psychological abuse she suffered at the hands of the Purple Man, and ultimately confronting and triumphing over him.

Kilgrave ordered Jessica to kill Daredevil

Early in Jessica's superheroic career as Jewel, she encountered the Purple Man, who enslaved her to his will for eight months and subjected her to a campaign of sexually charged psychological torture. Instead of physically abusing her, he found it entertaining to use his powers to force her to watch as he forced other women to have sex with him; to command her to become overcome with lust for him, to command her to beg him for sex and then deny her.

Jessica Jones Purple Man
Alias #28

To Kilgrave, Jessica was a representative of the superhero community who'd consistently defeated, abused and — from his perspective, anyway — underestimated him. Ironically, Jessica's lack of connection to that superhero community meant that none of them noticed that she'd gone missing. Even her own mother, as she admits in one scene in Alias, simply assumed that she'd decided to stop talking to her when she didn't pick up the phone for eight months.

Jessica didn't escape, and she wasn't rescued. Instead, in a fit of random rage, Kilgrave eventually ordered Jessica to find and kill Daredevil. His command took her out of close proximity to him and away from his pheromones — but it also led to her flying to Avengers Mansion and nearly killing the Scarlet Witch before she could regain control of her mind. Not realizing she was one of their own, the Avengers severely injured Jessica before Ms. Marvel recognized her friend. When she recovered from her coma, Jessica hung up her Jewel costume forever for the life of a private detective.

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The implication of many stories in Alias is that the heroes of the Marvel universe are plenty heroic, but their dedication to the cause — and to a specific, wear-a-flashy-costume-and-live-in-Avengers-Mansion way of embodying that cause — can mess up their priorities. This means that if you're somewhere on the periphery of their community, it can make them shitty to be around: They're unreliable, secretive and convinced that they're always right. And, as Jessica's story can attest, it can be dangerous to be associated with superheroes, even when you've got superpowers yourself.

It's dangerous to associate with superheroes, even if you're one yourself

While that's a major theme of Alias, it might be too much to expect to see it in Jessica Jones on Netflix. After all, it's unlikely that the Avengers will be stopping by. But, on the other hand, Paul Rudd was just in a very popular Netflix revival. Maybe, just maybe, we'll see a surprise Ant-Man cameo?

However Jessica Jones shakes out, after 12 movies and three television shows, we're excited for Marvel Entertainment to debut its second production with a female lead — one who's fully capable of yanking a fire hydrant out of the sidewalk and clocking Doctor Doom in the face with it.

Jessica Jones Doctor Doom
New Avengers Vol. 2 #8