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Marvel’s ‘Jessica Jones’ bravely tackles controversial topics

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By Diego Cagara 

December 8, 2015

Topics like gender, rape, sexuality, abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often sidelined in live-action superhero films due to their sensitive nature. However, Marvel is finally addressing those topics upfront with its latest effort, “Jessica Jones,” based on the comic book character of the same name.

With all 13 episodes released on Netflix on Nov. 20, the series revolves around Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), a superhero-turned-private-investigator, who is forced to take action once again when an enigmatic, villainous figure named Kilgrave (David Tennant) returns to Hell’s Kitchen, N.Y.

The series, created by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, is Marvel’s second collaboration with Netflix after “Daredevil” (2015) was released back in April to critical success, both of which encourage binge-watching. It is also the second effort in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to have a lead female protagonist, after ABC’s “Agent Carter” (2015) came out in January, but Jones is nonetheless the first true superheroine to lead her own series.

While Jones has superhuman strength and flight abilities, Kilgrave can verbally control people to do his bidding. Kilgrave’s power may initially sound clichéd and even cartoonish, but it’s proven to be extremely dangerous as he often uses it to compel innocent victims to satisfy his selfish needs, treating them as slaves.

Marvel uses Kilgrave’s power to help darken the series’ tone as he verbally and physically abuse his victims. Examples include forcing an old man to throw hot coffee into his own face, instructing one of Jones’ neighbors to slit his own throat and making Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty), a New York University student, shoot her own parents.

As a result, Jones, whom Kilgrave already victimized prior to the season, remarks that Kilgrave literally “leaves a trail of broken people behind him.”

Jones suffers from PTSD as she reveals that she was mind controlled, raped, manipulated and forced to murder an innocent woman under Kilgrave’s orders. Throughout the season, Jones suffers from vivid and haunting flashbacks to when Kilgrave abused her and she eventually decides to stop Kilgrave once and for all. Although there are no rape scenes in the first half of the season, Marvel already has pushed the envelope by mentioning rape alone.

Another new topic Marvel tackles is sexuality with attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), who is the first lesbian character ever in the MCU. Known originally as Jeryn Hogarth in the comics, her sex and sexuality change for the live-action series also challenges the negative stereotypes associated with lesbians as she dresses in feminine outfits, wears makeup and is not a tomboy.

Gender is also brought up as Ritter’s portrayal of Jones does not conform to female gender stereotypes. She never really wears overtly feminine clothes, constantly uses foul language, is very assertive and frequently drinks alcohol. Her defiant no-nonsense and unapologetic attitude contrasts her from the more mainstream superheroes like Spider-Man and Superman. Jones’ persevering nature also connects with audiences, particularly with real-life viewers who have personally suffered from abuse, PTSD or rape. This makes Jones a more human character with flaws that differ from how superheroes are often perceived as ideal and perfect beings.

As the series is stretched into 13 episodes, viewers are given more time to watch characters grow, understand their individual backstories and realize that there are comic book heroes and villains who, at the heart of it all, are still humans with faults. Doing all these things is harder in a single two-hour MCU film because viewers are given limited time to connect with the film’s characters and MCU films often favor action sequences over in-depth characterization.

While a second season has yet to be confirmed, the first season is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

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