Why Jessica Jones Is the Hero We Need

Alias Jessica Jones David Mack

Our heroine, by artist David Mack.

When I was 14, I fell in love with the Uncanny X-Men, and especially teenaged hero Kitty Pryde. Kitty was everything I wanted to be: cute, fantastically smart, super powered, and conveniently emancipated from her parents so she could go live with an adoring group of grownup superheroes who thought she was the best and always had her back. But years later, when I read Brian Michael Bendis’s gripping Alias series, it hit me like a punch to the gut: although I had grown up wanting to be Kitty, I was really more like Jessica Jones. And I wish I had met her earlier.

Jessica Jones’s origin story starts out much like any superhero’s: she survives the tragic death of her family and an accident that gifts her with superpowers. Soon she’s dyed her hair bright purple, clapped on some shiny tights, and is poised to become the very! Best! Superhero! She can be!

Unfortunately, that’s not very good. She’s soon captured by Zebediah Killgrave, aka the Purple Man, who completely violates her, keeping her in his thrall via mind control, for eight months. When she finally meets her would-be “adoring group of grownup superheroes” (while being forced to attack them), they beat her so badly they send her to the hospital in a coma. When she wakes up, she realizes that instead of “having her back,” no one really noticed that she was missing. For eight months.

Jessica Jones, despite her early promise, was not destined to be the darling superhero mascot adored by millions. Instead, she was a failure. A loser. A damaged woman who the world does not revolve around–instead, she must make her place, and her peace, herself.

Meeting Jessica Jones started a chain reaction deep in my soul. I, like so many girls, grew up hearing the same mantra: “You can be anything you want! You’re smart! You work hard! You can do anything!” But what if you can’t? What are we taught to do when we fail, when we don’t live up to our potential, when life slaps us so hard it knocks the wind out of us?

Now I am not knocking the loving people who told us this–in the ’70s and ’80s, we were coming off decades of asking women, “Do you really need to go to college?” and “Why would you want to be anything other than a wife and mother?” Our messages to girls are always evolving. But I think everyone would benefit if our next iteration includes the following information:

“You are going to fuck up. You are going to fail. You are going to hurt other people, and yourself. You are going to compromise yourself in ways you later regret to get the things you think you need. And you’re still a worthwhile person. And you’re still deserving of love. And you can use all your fuckups and failures to help someone else.”

Jessica Jones fucked up as a hero and retreated, becoming a disreputable private detective with a love for booze and the occasional man. When I fucked up my life 15 years ago (fizzled comics career, terrible-idea marriage to someone who isolated and emotionally abused me), I fled to the other side of the country. While I did not actually become a detective, I did tirelessly investigate the cases of Can I Get That Dude’s Attention and How Many Shots Can I Have Tonight and Still Function Tomorrow (really, I left no stone unturned).

But what I love the most about Jessica Jones and Alias is, her redemption didn’t come in the form of a training montage (let’s figure out those faulty powers!), a new shiny uniform, and a team of super-cool friends: you can be a special awesome girl superhero after all, Jessica! Instead, her journey is slower, more painful. More mistakes. And as she learns, she creates a new life for herself, on her own terms. Which is what we all really want anyway.

Anyway. Haven’t watched Jessica Jones on Netflix, but as you can see, I’ve got high hopes. Still love you Kitty Pryde!

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