I have a crush on Jessica Jones. It’s the first series of it’s kind that I’ve really enjoyed. As a seasoned geek, most people assume that I love superheroes, or at the very least expect me to pick a side between Marvel and DC. Having only discovered comics in my mid-twenties the genre lacks a certain nostalgic appeal for me. Try as I might, I have been mostly resigned to the fact that despite expectations (including my own) the superhero genre just isn’t for me.

And then I watched Jessica Jones. Finally, something had delivered on everything I had been promised was so amazing about this genre – but it wasn’t that JJ did everything the genre was meant to but better, it was that JJ did everything the genre was meant to, but different. Jessica Jones struck me as an exception to genre conventions in a number of ways, but chiefly on two counts: the inversion of the damsel trope; and the minimisation of superhuman qualities.

Jessica Jones can be read as a feminist text on a number of levels, not least of which in the way it deals with issues of consent, and domestic and gendered violence; however, it is also compelling from a feminist perspective for its reformation of genre tropes. In most superhero narratives a leading man finds and saves a damsel in distress. This recurring trope is consistent with heteronormative standards for romantic relationships. What appealed to me about Jessica Jones was that the primary love story of season one was in fact the sisterly love shared between Jessica and her life-long friend and adoptive sister, Trish Walker. Whilst the potential for a romantic affiliation between Jessica and Luke Cage (also known as Power Man in the Marvel Universe) is heavily suggested, the sub-text to Jessica’s season-long conflict with Killgrave is her eventual declaration of love for Trish. So significant is this moment that it facilitates Jessica’s victory: saying “I love you” to Trish is such a vulnerable act for the emotionally broken Jones that it signals her immunity to Killgrave’s powers and thus alerts Trish and the viewing audience to the fact that Jone’s has managed to trick Killgrave into thinking he controls her, thus positioning her to deliver the final blow.

trish walker

You might be thinking, “but the victim was still a woman! that’s not progressive!” and I agree; however, what sets JJ apart as a superhero narrative is the characterisation of Trish. In most contemporary genre narratives, the “victim” is a trope in and of itself; that is, a plot device used to advance the story of the hero – a two-dimensional character with little to offer. This is not Trish Walker. Trish Walker is complex, dynamic and she has a story to be told, in which Jones features. Their relationship is built on trust, love, friendship and, importantly, mutual support. Then, as girls and, now, as women, the two take turns between being the foot and the hoist. Trish is integral to Killgrave’s demise and even when he uses Trish as bait, the moment is so fleeting that it serves only to remind us of his desperation. Killgrave’s victims not only advance the plot, but they advance the story by anchoring the events to our emotional investment in them as characters. Trish is one of my favourites.

The other reason I love JJ so much is that, not only is she flawed, but for a superhero she’s uncharacteristically pedestrian. I know Jones is super strong and that she has the ability to resist Killgrave’s telepathic powers, but for the most part, she drinks, skulks, curses and uses her mad detective skills to occasionally fuck some bad guy shit up. Oh, and her glowering is on point. Seriously, this woman has the face of someone who is constantly surrounded by idiots. You feel for her.

The point is, Jones is relatable. I don’t have mad detective skills, or super strength, but I could conceivably get a gym membership and facilitate a career change from eating pudding writing, to law enforcement – it’s not likely, but it’s not inconceivable. Ambitious though it may sound, I can relate to Jones. I can imagine myself in her shoes.

JJ Boots

Boots on fleek.

You see, Jones is super, but not extraordinary. She may punch holes through walls, but she’s not a known quantity – she doesn’t rip through her mortal foil to become a green hulking beast when she’s angry, nor does she fly or harness the weather. She’s super, but she doesn’t wear The Cape; that is, she isn’t coded as Super. Whilst fantasy creates other-worldly characters in other-worldly settings, and science-fiction reveals potential future scenarios that might one day become “ordinary”, the superhero genre takes something extraordinary, like The Hulk, Superman or Wonder Woman and often places it in an ordinary context. I find the discord jarring. I understand how this aligns with the alienation trope (i.e. the Other in an otherwise “ordinary” world); however, I struggle to reconcile the juxtaposition presented as the premise of such narratives. I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief when the fantastical elements are constantly intruded upon by an “ordinary” context, which shatters the illusion. Jones, by contrast, feels relatively consistent with her environment, so believing in her world is comparatively easy.

Ultimately, Jessica Jones is someone I can believe in, but she’s also someone I can relate to. Whether she’s bending steel with her bare hands, protecting her oldest childhood friend or chugging whiskey for breakfast, she feels familiar enough for me to empathise with her experiences. Her feats of heroism are rarely spectacular, but they defy trivialisation – they’re intimate. Her greatest feat so far has been to tell her best friend that she loves them, and that makes her Super.

Feature image: courtesy of Netflix