Sunday, March 13, 2016

Jessica Jones

The problem with comic books is that it's a industry. I mean, there may be more wrong with it than that, but (to me) that is the main issue.

Not that being a business is ALL bad; there's more than a few good things that come out of being a part of a big, greased-up machine. But as with film, and certain other media (yeah, I might as well throw tabletop RPGs into the mix), there're certain large pitfalls associated with being "big business." Being beholden to that almighty dollar, to shareholders, to the need to make a profit. It's not necessarily greed (this isn't another anti-capitalism least, that's not my intent). But folks get accustomed to a certain lifestyle, you know.

For example, Spider-Man has been featured in more than 1000 comics. That's featured mind in, his name is part of the titles. After more than 50 years of fighting crime, you'd think the old man would give it a rest. Most baby-boomers his age have retired by now...and I doubt any of them could boast of the physical beating he's taken over his career. I don't care if he has the strength of a 167 pound spider...he has had his ass handed to him every issue or three. Regardless of whether he's winning the fights or not, that shit takes a toll.

But even if it doesn't (and it doesn't...he's a comic book character after all), how many stories can you really tell over six decades and multiple titles (Spectacular Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, etc.)? Sooner or later, you're pumping a dry-well. You're recycling the same stories, the same issues, the same drama. You're fighting the same Green Goblin for the upteenth time, it's just Green Goblin II or Green Goblin III or the Hobgoblin. You're dealing with the same Doc Octopus of Doctor Doom you've thwarted on numerous occasions (and yet the guy never seems to get the hint). You've broken up and gotten back together with the same girl so many times it's like...I don't know. I had a neurotic relationship with a girl I met in college that was "on-again-off-again" but that craziness only lasted a couple-three years. You hit age 25 and (so long as you don't have a kid together by then), you wise up and grow the fuck up. It might seem like it takes twenty years, but it doesn't really.

But none of that is really Peter Parker's fault. The problem is one of "the biz:" Spider-Man sells comics. The objective of any business is to make money. Money is made (in that industry) by selling comics. Therefore, the Powers That Be require their artists and writers to continuously pump out Spider-Man comics, by whatever means necessary.

Art be damned. I mean it...comic books are a capital-A "ART form." They've got writing, they've got illustration. They've got pacing and layout and plotting and dialogue and all those things that require artistry (not scientific method) to achieve greatness. But all that "art" is secondary to the need to sell copy. Make an Avengers. Make a West Coast Avengers. Make a New Avengers. Diversify the brand and build on what's already popular. THAT takes priority in a business (going with the proven commodity) over trying to do something new and original. R&D is the money-suck of any never know if the brainstorm is actually going to payoff (and, heck, it probably doesn't most of the time), and you've still got to pay the wages of your employees. You've still got to answer to the shareholders. 'Art be damned...we own the Spider-Man IP!'

So, I'd guess more than a few people have never heard of Jessica Jones. In the scheme of the Marvel universe she's a fairly minor character (though she is part of their "main" universe), and a recent addition (created in 2001). Yes she's had her own title...twice (Alias and The Pulse), but they lasted a grand total of 28 and 14 issues respectively (with The Pulse ending in 2006). I've never read a single issue of either...the only reason I know anything about her is that she's married to Luke Cage.

[I was researching Cage for something a few years back...probably a superhero RPG...and I found out he had somehow gotten hitched and wanted to know who the hell would marry Luke Cage. Thank goodness for the internet, huh?]
THIS image is not what the show is about.
And while I've read all the background and story arcs (on-line) for the character's series, none of it was really enough to interest me. It's not that I'm more interested in Spider-Man or something...he's bored the shit out of me for years as well (truth is I haven't been a regular purchaser/collector of comics for decades). I just wasn't intrigued enough by what I read to want to take the time and spend the money on some new, fire-and-forget, minor character comic series. I used to dig on Dazzler, but I never bought her graphic novel, either.

So now we have this Jessica Jones show on Ye Old Netflix, and the only reason I'm watching it is (in descending order of importance):
  1. Because of the interconnectedness of the Marvel Netflix series (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist...the main one I'm waiting for...all living in the mean streets of New York) I'm afraid I might miss something if I don't catch ALL the series.
  2. I'd feel like a real shit-heel not watching the one superhero offering of Marvel that features a female protagonist. Seriously. Black Widow is bit character. And Shield Agents aren't "super heroes" in my book.
  3. The strength of the Daredevil series (and other Netflix originals...House of Cards, Unbreakable Kimmie, Orange is the New Black) gave me faith the show would be at least interesting.
[see that Marvel? There was a time when people picked up the new Marvel hero mag based on the strength of earlier offerings. All those "classic" titles that are into the 800s and higher were NEW once upon a time. Have a little faith (and quality control) and re-learn what you've forgotten]

[or not, whatever. It's your business, after all, not mine]

So I started watching Jessica Jones (for those reasons) and I'm nine episodes in (just watched two tonight), and the show is great. Probably better than Daredevil (I'm still irritated by that cheesy ninja fight towards the end of the season), though I am partial to old DD. But the story in Jessica Jones is excellent, the acting is top notch, the writing and pacing are great, and the whole of the show is compelling. I watched two episodes tonight (five in the last couple days), and I had to force myself to stop so that I could write a blog post before (hopefully) hitting the hay.

But as I wrote in my last post, it can be difficult (mm..."challenging") to watch. The creators seem to really be striving to put the "tense" into "intense." I actually started watching the series a few months back, and am only just now returning to it. It's...well, it will probably push some buttons for you (and not very nice ones)...but that's a good thing, in my opinion. I mean, not if the show is absolutely hateful...and this one isn't. Hateful I mean. There's enough humanity and decency found within the characters (in a non-cheesy, non-preachy way) to balance the negativity.

And some of it's pretty get that in any story involving private investigators, of course; especially when the P.I.s biz starts getting mixed up with their friends and relations. But Jones is just such a fuck-up in so many ways...even when she's being super-smart and ballsy and tough and clever, she's STILL putting her foot in it. Digging her own hole. She's a friggin train wreck.

She's the jaded nihilist with the heart of gold. She's too much of a realist to be a hero, but has too many scruples (or guilt) to be a rank opportunist. She's a walking bucket of shame with a fifth of whiskey.

It's so anti-heroic, Jones (played exceptionally by Krysten Ritter) is on the verge of redefining what the hell it means to be an "anti-hero." She shuffles around town in her hoody and combat boots, basically making an ass of herself at all times. She shows that even a Class A badass can end up looking like a Class A clown if you keep the "tough guy" image going long enough. So many non-heroic images...getting thrown out of a bar, too drunk to stand. There's a great scene in which she climbs the Brooklyn Bridge (for no reason other than character exposition/development) where the camera is doing the "point-up-the-dress" view, and all you're treated to is a woman in rather unflattering jeans climbing a ladder. There's her completely wrecking people's lives while trying to "do the right thing." It's not Jones trying to be a "hero;" she just has too much morality not to try.

"A drink needs me. I don't."
And she has absolutely no time or give-a-shit for other folks' baggage or self-pity. She just tells it like it is. The murderer whose talking about his abusive childhood: "You're going to blame your shit on poor parenting?" She's constantly telling people to grow up...even though she is light-years away from maturity herself.

But it's good writing; none of this feels like it's just set-up for one-liners. And just as often she's getting sharp retorts thrown back in her face. Or being told off in no uncertain terms. Most often by people she cares about and whose opinions matter to her (thus making the "sting" harder). It's abusive. But it's self-inflicted. It's depressing...but there's hope. I mean, she's a superhero, dammit...she's got superpowers and we're talking about Marvel, so of course there's hope. And we all hope she'll pull through.

Because there are a lot of people counting on ol' Jessica Jones. In the comic book world, people count on their heroes. Eventually. After they realize (in the words of one character) that "they're up there, and we're down here, and we just need to get the hell out of their way." The way God and Stan Lee intended, I suppose.

It's a very good show. It also has nearly bupkis to do with the story arcs of the Jessica Jones comic series (either one) besides her origin story and her abuse at the hands of the Purple Man. In fact, the show is soooo street level, I really wonder how they're going to handle the Luke Cage and (especially) the Iron Fist series. On the Kenneth Hite "blue (weirdness) scale" this one's cranked pretty darn low...not much room for other dimensional realms and flaming chi punches. Just like you won't find Stilt-Man or even "radar sense" in the Daredevil series, the super powers found in Jessica Jones are either rationally explained, or else relegated to the land of Not-Relevant-Enough-For-Exposition. Like Daredevil, this one's an origin story without the origin story. No one cares about how Ms. Jones got her super powers (well, not much anyway)...we care about what she does with them. In this series we're seeing an origin of sorts...not how she became superhuman, but how she became a hero.

And that's a far more interesting story to watch.

[EDIT: Comments on this post may contain *SPOILERS*. Read at your own risk, but feel free to comment]


  1. Sorry. It is 'good' television writing; and I thought it better than Daredevil. But there are repeated, incredibly convenient moments where the baddie is saved, where characters are carrying the idiot ball, that pisses over the very, very good dialogue and motivation that comes between. It is frustrating to see all this excellent dilemma build-up and then the bad guy gets away because . . . idiot ball.

    Good writing is good throughout. Good television writing suffers from the writers using cheap tactics to get themselves out of corners because this thing needs to run five more episodes.

    1. @ Alexis:

      I will defer to your expertise when it comes to screen-writing.

      And I agree there are certain plot points that feel contrived. Not necessarily to drag the series out (there are other "noir" style TV series that can run a whole series around catching a single bad guy) but...well, for shortcuts or unnecessary material.

      For me, the worst both occur in Episode 9, which (per wikipedia). 1) Why are the dude's parents in New York? In the end, it's completely unnecessary to the story UNLESS the writers decided they were running the risk of turning their bad guy into a sympathetic character (because of the video evidence of his origin). However, unless something extraordinary happens with Dear Old Dad in the last two episodes, they were nothing but momentary speed bumps to the plot.

      The worst though may be the "reveal" of the cop boyfriend as the ex-secret-soldier-experimental-program. Absolutely unnecessary to the plot of the show (he could still go "off the deep end" without the need to make him part of some shadowy org). The only thing I can think is that the writers decided they needed to showcase a fight with another super-strong bad guy (because she's, like, strong, you know?) and they felt it was more expedient than writing a new character. The whole pill-popping thing? Completely extraneous...all the plot development (him torching the evidence, the break-up of his relationship) could have been accomplished without a very unbelievable and contrived "twist."

      [the Patriot character on which Simpson is supposedly based DOES have a connection to Frank Miller's Daredevil, though, so maybe this is a set-up for "cross-over" material]

      However, I have little problem with most of the stuff. I can totally buy the lawyer's stupidity, for example.

    2. Except that we were calling out the lawyer's stupidity two episodes before it came to pass.