The new Netflix series “Jessica Jones” is based on the Marvel MAX comic book series “Alias,” written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Michael Gaydos, and as translations go, manages the amazing feat of surpassing its source material in a number of ways.
Its thorough examination of what violation is, the impact and consequences of the act, how it tests people, pushes them to self-doubt, self-loathing, to persevere and take back their power, or unfortunately break and crumble.
Female empowerment of self, image, and the body.
In relationships, defense, and career.
The show also tackles another subject directly, in its story and through the dialogue of the characters.
Race, and interracial relationships.
Private investigator/ex-superhero Jessica Jones and the mysterious bulletproof bar owner Luke Cage, portrayed by Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter, respectively, go through the first painful steps of their relationship from a starting point at which you like them both.
I can’t say the same for the beginning of Jessica and Luke’s relationship in the comic books.
In 2001’s “Alias” #1, Jessica and Luke have a sexual encounter in which she is looking to give her body to Luke and allow him to have her way with it, so she can feel something, even if it’s not good.
Luke, portrayed as a vagina-chasing Black buck, is willing to provide, and does so with no apparent concern for Jessica.
“Alias” #1 was Jessica’s first appearance, so the readers were learning about her from point one, but Luke Cage had appeared in various Marvel Comics’ series since his introduction in 1972.
The characterization of Luke Cage in the early issues of the “Alias” series was a step backward, putting him in a position that served the story, but also painted the character in a light uninformed by his history.
“Jessica Jones” Executive Producer and showrunnner Melissa Rosenberg introduced Luke Cage to the viewer in a way that gave us a man with heart. He suffered loss, lived a low-key life, and even in sleeping with other women had rules, a relationship ethic.
Cage’s tragic loss of his wife, the failed attempts to fill a hole with the company of other women, his self-imposed solitude and a real need for connection. The combination of all those things complemented Jessica’s need for a loving intimacy, in the wake of being violated, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result, living a life filled with alcohol and financed, ironically enough, by the violation of other people’s lives.
On top of all that, and the ups and downs Jessica and Luke go through during the course of the show, is the inescapable subject of the interracial relationship.
Not just any interracial combination, but that of a Black person and a White person in America.
Marriage between a Black person and a White person was not legal in the United States until 1967, when the Supreme Court voted in favor of such in the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia. Less than fifty years ago.
Interracial relationships and marriages have been on the rise for the last few decades. Still, a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center showed the White/Black marriage to be of the smallest percentage of the three primary dynamics of White people with people of color, specifically Hispanics and Asians.
Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are an unexpected couple if you look at statistics.
During a scene after Jessica and Luke have had some undoubtedly pleasant sex, a period of tension leads Luke to ask Jessica if it’s because of race. He’s joking the first time he asks, but not the second time.
While Jessica’s attraction to Luke is probably informed by being drawn to the “exotic,” Luke’s race in combination with his stature and physique, the other feelings are clear, and the show makes sure to heighten the sexual tension.
A scene with Luke Cage wearing nothing but a towel while standing next to Jessica’s desk as she checks some information on a case, speaks to both the visual and social impact of the two as a couple.
This is magnified by both Jessica and Luke being superhumanly strong and impervious to damage, albeit to significantly varying degrees.
The problem posed in science fiction author Larry Niven’s 1969 essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” which detailed the consequences of a normal woman having sex with Superman, had no bearing in Jessica and Luke’s case, and Marvel Comics has portrayed superhuman sex between a Black person and White person before.
From “Daughters of the Dragon” written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray and illustrated by Khari Evans to “The Immortal Iron Fist” written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker and illustrated by David Aja, both titles humorously showed how sex between the mystically-empowered Iron Fist and the cybernetics-enhanced Misty Knight results in destroyed bedroom property and/or Iron Fist being seriously exhausted.
Handled poorly, Black/White superhuman sex could perpetuate both the prejudice-based Black superhuman myth and the phenomenon called “jungle fever.” The chocolate fantasy on the part of the White woman and the “selling out” on the part of the Black man.
However, “Jessica Jones” handled the sexual encounters between Jessica and Luke with a maturity, through a progressive lens which goes beyond race.
Two bouts of sex, one before dinner and one after, are governed by both lust and affection.
Luke’s capacity for gentleness seen in his one interaction with Jessica’s best friend Trish Walker, played by Rachael Taylor, is followed by Trish telling Jessica she sees the energy between them; something genuine, between Jessica and this man.
Their similarity, being two superpowered people in a world of physically fragile humans, is part of what makes them connect and able to sexually express themselves with each other fearlessly.
In Marvel Comics’ print universe, the relationship of Jessica and Luke ran for years through various monthly titles, including “Alias,” “Daredevil,” “The Pulse,” and “New Avengers.”
The two became husband and wife, parents, and a staple in the comic book continuity.
Jessica Campbell Jones Cage and Lucas Cage, under the primary care of Jones’ co-creator Brian Michael Bendis, are a symbol of where America is heading with its acceptance of the White/Black couple.
Their Marvel Cinematic Universe relationship will clearly take time, as well.
While Jessica does not, reportedly, appear in the upcoming “Luke Cage” Netflix series, there is already speculation of a second season of “Jessica Jones,” and Melissa Rosenberg has stated her readiness to visit the world once again, to put Jessica through the paces of her next journey.
It’s unlikely that the story of Jessica and Luke is over.
Their future together in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is possible, and popular sentiment is not against it.
Superhero fiction, at its best, is the vision of a world with our better ideals enduring our suffering and capacity for the worst tendencies.
That’s what “Jessica Jones,” the show, is.
That’s who Jessica Jones, the character, is.
Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by CNN Money, the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.
Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment, a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman and video game developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels and web-based entertainment.
His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.
Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.
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