Comic book adaptations brought to live action film and TV are more often than not hyper-real dreamlike fantasies with varying levels of cartoony paint spattered around. There's room for everything from primary coloured silliness to surly monochrome and any tones you can imagine in between. Think of Gotham, unabashed in the fact that they have no interest in telling stories that need to work in the real world. Now that they're committed to doing so, their second series has less of an identity crisis and is thriving. More believable and met with almost unanimously brilliant reviews was Netflix's Daredevil series, currently preparing its follow-up season. Keeping a tight reign on the weird played beautifully into the truthful notion that comic book stories don't always need to include the implausible mythology of characters like Thor nor the mutant factor of the X-Men, despite the fact that they regularly cross paths in the books themselves.
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Even Daredevil in its relative darkness had the occasional touch of temperate comedy about it. It had light relief in the form of Foggy Nelson and Daredevil's alter-ego, Matt Murdock, had a vulnerability to him that allowed for a certain amount of softness. With Netflix's newest wade into the Marvel water, Jessica Jones takes the foundations put down by Daredevil, sometimes literally, strips out any remaining cushioning and hits hard in every possible way. It is delicious in its harshness and when we do get glimpses of emotional guards being let down, they have that much more power to them as the result. It's as if someone was appointed to monitor any wavering willpower in letting it get too comfortable before drawing it back to adult ground again. That grown-up feel runs through everything from the unbridled language and sex right down to the violence and awkward personal relationships. Best of all, that hardness never feels like gratuity for the sake of gratuity. It's just television made for adults with a massive dose of class.
Jessica Jones is a little special, but that doesn't mean she's happy about it. She'd rather spend her days using her investigative talents as a Private Eye, locating missing persons, catching cheating partners through the shutter of her camera lens and, most importantly, being left well alone. She's a mess, her home and makeshift office, complete with etched glass door, are a dump. Any days she hasn't needed to reach into her desk drawer for a bottle to help her feel good about herself are few are far between. She's a classic noir character hardly ever done well these days and almost never handed to a woman. Right down to the bluesy soundtrack that plays throughout, without drawing too much attention to itself, noir comes back to life, minus the overt slurry voiceover. Krysten Ritter can lick the end of her finger and tap it firmly into the air for having nailed the role.
Behind every character whose eyerolls and down-mouthed sulks could freeze a thousand hearts is always a broken past. Jessica's is about as shattered as anyone's could be. In fact, rare reviews suggesting the series is formulaic and relies too heavily on the hero being a loser misses the point entirely. A superhero without flaws is without a tipping point and therefore you have no story. Jessica's previous entanglement with Dr Killgrave - in the comics presented more blatantly as the mind-controlling Purple Man - has left her a hollow husk of a person. When he resurfaces, played charmingly by David Tennant, Jessica literally has to face her demons in the hope of saving others from a similar fate, wrestling with her conscience like any quality anti-hero worth their salt. It may seem odd to refer to the villain of the piece as charming and you might consider David Tennant's inability to be anything else as possibly misplaced, but it's actually an incredibly adept piece of casting. Hate him and his despicable crimes too much and we'd never be able to understand just how easy it is to fall under his spell. David Tennant is just chilling enough to frighten you when you feel he's nearby and inviting enough that you want to believe every word he says when you know you shouldn't.
No reluctant superhero is complete without a team to back them up and Jessica is no exception. Some are new faces brought in courtesy of Killgrave and for the show, others are lifted from the pages of the comic books and brought to life, such as lifelong best friend Patsy 'Trish' Walker. There are also a small handful of surprises we'll have seen on-screen before. Most exciting is Jessica's attachment to Luke Cage, the bar owner she happens across while on a case and just can't stay away from. The contrast of her being an emotionally stunted diminutive creature with immense physical strength, while him the enormous unbreakable physical figure but essentially open-hearted is impossible to resist. Their chemistry is palpable enough that you want to fan your face any time they're sharing the screen. Mike Colter's Luke is electric and any misgivings over whether the character was well-known enough to successfully carry his own series, due on Netflix next year, have been entirely crushed thanks to Colter.
We currently have a startling amount of film and television available at our fingertips and, even for some aficionados, comic book superhero stories are too frequently tackled by too many pairs of hands. It can be difficult to pick out the diamonds when there are so many roughly made productions trying to cash in on the increased interest. Jessica Jones is worth the investment even if you have no inclination to explore the hard-copy backstory. Super powers are a mere byproduct of what's really going on. Jessica Jones is cleverly written, brilliantly acted and never feels like you're having your hand held just because the Marvel logo happens to flicker before each of the 13 episodes. It's a show for everyone, apart from the kids. It's definitely not for the kids. And for that we are truly thankful.
The first series of Jessica Jones is available in its entirety on Netflix now.