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'Jessica Jones': Netflix's even darker spin on Marvel superhero noir

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Writer-producer Melissa Rosenberg says she was attracted to the project by being able to write about a woman who is multi-leveled, complex and sexual being.

Here's a question you may not have considered: What's the psychic toll of being a superhero? It's probably no wonder that the only ones who seem to really enjoy themselves in these universes — apart from dry, semi-nihilistic wits like Iron Man — are the villains. How do you process the carnage and paranoia that comes with the job?

Marvel's "Jessica Jones" answers: not very well. The new series, set to be released on Netflix on Nov. 20, is the second installment in a four-series plan that debuted with the hit "Daredevil." And it looks like "Jessica Jones" will present an even darker, more psychologically rich spin on superhero noir.

Jessica Jones was created in 2001 by Brian Michael Bendis as part of the intentionally adult-themed Alias series, whose storyline weaves around the interconnected Marvel universe. The Netflix series picks up, more or less, in medias res.

Jessica Jones is now a private investigator trying to leave behind her seriously dark days of superhero crime-fighting, which have landed her with a crippling case of post-traumatic stress disorder. A man named Zebediah Killgrave, otherwise known as the Purple Man, seems to be the main culprit. Jones spent months under his mind-control, fulfilling his violent bidding.

The Netflix series hints that its main plot will involve Jones confronting her former tormenter. 

Melissa Rosenberg, writer and executive producer of the Netflix series, has been trying to get "Jessica Jones" produced for years. She spoke with The Frame's John Horn about the story and what drew her to the character in the first place.


One of the things that pulled me to this character, and one of the reasons I love writing for the show, is to be able to create and tell stories for women who are multi-leveled, complex, sexual beings. They are, in other words, human beings, and fully developed characters. So often in film and television, the woman is relegated to the role of wife. That’s her dimension. Or Sassy Cop. Or Madonna Whore Thing. You get one or the other and that’s who you are. Being able to push beyond those boundaries was always attractive, and that goes for the sexuality as well.

Jessica Jones herself is far from perfect. She is an alcoholic. She suffers from horrible traumas. She is not a poster child for good behavior.

No, she isn’t, which is incredibly fun to write! The original source material, written by Brian Michael Bendis, drew such an incredibly complex, deeply flawed character. The kind of character that he initially introduced was very much along the lines of the characters in television that I had been loving, but had been written pretty exclusively for white men. You know, the Tony Sopranos, or Walter White, or Dexter even, or Vic Mackey —  these very deeply flawed, interesting, sometimes morally ambiguous characters. I’d been dying to do the female version of that forever. 

When "Jessica Jones" became a Netflix series, how did you change the approach? Obviously, you can do more with language and violence and sex. What did that change in distribution mean to you as a storyteller?

The biggest difference in telling a story for Netflix versus network television is you don’t have commercial breaks. You don’t have a week in between episodes. So you don’t have to spend any real estate recapping. So this is like a 13-hour movie. You have more real estate, but you have to push it further. 

When you hear the name of the show, a lot of people would rightly assume it’s a superhero story. But you seem very intentional in not making it one. We don’t see a lot of Jessica Jones’s powers. As you were coming up with this show with your staff, were you talking about it as a superhero story or as film noir? What are the words you’re using?

We talked about it being a character portrait. I was less interested in the sexy fight scenes, the stuff of “Daredevil,” which they do quite beautifully. What’s most interesting are the characters and the relationships. I loved using her superpowers as a metaphor, but also very much in a matter-of-fact [way], very much how we treat the sexuality — it just simply is what it is. 

She has powers but they’re not the A-plus powers. It’s fun that she has these B-level powers. She’s strong but she’s not the strongest out there. She can jump but she can’t necessarily fly. Even her powers have flaws. 

Before this, you wrote the screenplays for all of the “Twilight” films. What did “Twilight” mean to your career and how did you go from film to television?

Actually I went from television to film to television. I’d had a good 15-year career in television. The last show I was on was "Dexter." I’ve always been a fan of TV, and it’s my favorite kind of storytelling – continuous storylines. Interestingly, “Twilight” was a continuing storyline as well. If you’ve created a character or a world that’s interesting enough, it would kill me to just end that in two hours. Hopefully it has endless possibilities.

On this show we’ve talked a lot about gender equity in Hollywood. From your perspective, do you think you need to be a woman to run a show with the woman as the lead character?

Absolutely not. No more so than you need to be a white man to run a show with a white male lead. That seems to be the thinking a lot of the time. Apparently white men can write anybody, but an African-American should only write African-Americans and women should only write women. There’s quite the disparity there.

Do you think that’s the problem, that maybe men who are make the hiring decisions don’t trust or employ women because they think they can only do a certain kind of show?

I think that’s part of it. There are a lot of factors. Part of it is this idea that women are brought in — I’ve often gotten this call from my agent — they want the “female perspective.” Well, alright, that’s clearly the thing that I bring to the table. Well, what about the perspective on any character? When there’s some ethnic diversity in there they bring in this person who has the “urban” voice. [Laughing.] That’s the other.

Meaning the black voice.

It still goes on a great deal. It’s disturbing. 

All 13 episodes of "Jessica Jones" will be released on Netflix on Nov. 20.

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