In this era of one blockbuster superhero movie after another, the true gems translating comic-book worlds from page to screen are not in theaters. Dark and brooding (and also not relying heavily on computer-generated special effects; so refreshing!), the latest original web series from Netflix — Marvel's Daredevil and Jessica Jones — are shining examples of how to do superhero stories right. Even better, you don't have to be a Marvel universe expert or even a casual fan of comic books to enjoy them.
Released in full with 13 episodes on Nov. 20, Jessica Jones is the second installment in Netflix's planned miniseries based on four characters from Marvel's Defenders series. This summer, the first solo series depicting the troubled, blind vigilante Matt Murdock — aka Daredevil, a lawyer by day and crimefighter by night — was released to much critical acclaim. Up next is Luke Cage's solo story, followed by Iron Fist. The four will eventually come together in a grand-finale Defenders series yet to be announced.
So far, Daredevil and Jessica Jones are both incredibly gloomy and gruesome. Each leading hero is caught up in complex internal struggles regarding whether it's wiser to turn a blind eye to unstoppable evil, or to step up to the challenge of bettering the world, even if it means making some questionable choices along the way. Typical superhero conflicts, yes, but told through masterful character development and acting.
Jessica, played as a pessimistic, sarcastic badass by Krysten Ritter, is running a private investigation firm out of her New York City apartment while she attempts to mask past trauma with lots and lots of whiskey. But Jones' haunting memories are reignited when their source, the evil mind-controller Kilgrave (ominously played by David Tennant, of Dr. Who fame), returns from the supposed dead, wreaking emotional havoc on Jessica with his nonchalant disposal of victim after victim. Determined to put an end to Kilgrave's reactionless murders of innocents — his power allows him to verbally command people to do anything he wants, from slitting their own throats to jumping off skyscrapers — Jessica realizes that she is the only one who can stop his bloody tirade (a really messed-up attempt on Kilgrave's part to win her affections).
With an original plot that hasn't been overdone, and less tropey characters than most shows out there, Jessica Jones is a superhero series about coping with life-changing tragedy and, in the aftermath, finding the willpower to face your worst fears. Rather than sending this message with overdone clichés, stereotypes and sappy self-reflection, Netflix's series, created by Melissa Rosenberg, showcases unlikely relationships, diversity of casting, and strong-willed, smart female characters. Jessica may have superpowers, but she's just as flawed as any of us.