Origin story: "Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 4"

Book: Jessica Jones: Alias, Vol. 4 by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Michael Gaydos

Release date: June 4, 2008 (series ran 2001-2004. This edition is a new printing)

Pages: 176

Publisher: MAX (Marvel)

Genre: Graphic Novel

Rating: ★★★

Jessica Jones is a hard-nosed private investigator, and the dark underbelly of the Marvel Universe is her beat. But it wasn't always this way. Once, Jessica stood alongside Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers, as a costumed super hero. What changed? What ended her crimefighting career before it even got started? Now, for the first time, learn all of Jessica's hidden secrets — how she was orphaned, how she got her powers ... and the dark, unspoken chapter in Marvel Universe history that changed her life forever. Guest-starring Peter Parker, Jean Grey, Luke Cage, Ant-Man and the mighty Avengers!

Last year, in anticipation of Jessica Jones on Netflix, I read the first volume of Alias. I loved the show, so I was eager to dig into Vol. 4, which delves into the character's origin and was the most direct basis as far as I can tell for the TV show.

If you're new to the character, Jessica Jones is a private investigator who used to crush on Peter Parker and roll with the Avengers, until the traumatic events explored in Vol. 4 left her forever changed and unwilling to prance around in spandex.

It's impossible to separate my feelings from the show from my perception of the book. Jessica Jones, the show was a visceral, disturbing, raw and insanely well-acted masterpiece. It was a high-wire act that I could spend several posts dissecting and never identify all its parts. Gory, macabre but poignant, with a villain so evil yet so thrilling to watch and a heroine who is broken, drenched in whiskey and palatable as a pint of vinegar but who can accomplish impossible feats of emotional strength and intellect. The suspense level of the show was such that I felt like I needed a Xanax prescription to make it from one episode to the next.

Saying you liked the show/movie better than the book is a literary sin, but I'm going to say it — while clearly building from and owing a great debt to the source material, Jessica Jones had a depth and resonance that far exceeded the impact of the graphic novel. I say that with the caveat that I didn't read Vols. 2-3, so I'm comparing an incomplete work with a complete work, and that might not be fair. And that isn't to say I didn't love the graphic novel. On its own, it's amazing, unlike anything I'd ever read before. But looking at it through these lenses, it was merely a good read, not a phenomenal one. This gets pretty spoilery after the break, so continue at your peril. Trigger warnings for rape and sexual abuse.

That's mainly because the stakes didn't feel as high in the book. The show exploited the full horror of Killgrave's mind control powers, was monstrous in its creative exploration of it. In the graphic novel, we got just a taste. It was a sickening taste, yes, and it explained Jessica's issues, but everything was resolved rather quickly and painlessly.

But one aspect in which the graphic novel soars above the show is by intimately and sensitively letting Jessica tell her story to love interest Luke Cage. Over and over, Jessica says she doesn't want to be pitied for the sexual abuse she suffered under Killgrave's thumb. She tells the story on her own terms, and that's powerful. A notable distinction between the show and the graphic novel is that in the graphic novel, the abuse was psychological. Killgrave manipulated Jessica's mind, made her watch him have sex with other women and beg for it to be her. He made her fall in love with him against her will, and that's horrifying.

In the show, Jessica asserts that Killgrave raped her. He made her say and do things she didn't want to do, turned her into his puppet girlfriend and kept her imprisoned in luxury, thought she should be grateful for everything he "gave" her at the cost of her free will. The show explores their dynamic in ways that get really squicky. There are episodes in which Killgrave and Jessica seem to have an understanding, even though you feel Jessica's hatred radiate off her, and that's uncomfortable as hell to watch.

One moment that was devastating in the graphic novel and excluded from the show was when Jessica, under Killgrave's control, attacked Scarlet Witch and was in short order beaten to a pulp by the Avengers. It was an incredibly hard scene to read, and it's hard for me to read it without seeing it as a big metaphor for revictimization of survivors of sexual assault who come forward. I don't think this was the intention, but I think this has the potential to be triggering.

Alias is an important series and Jessica Jones is an important show. I think they should be experienced together, and I intend to go back and read Vols. 2-3. The disparity in my opinions of the show vs. the book can be chalked up to simply wanting this amazing character as fleshed out as possible.

For really insightful and amazing commentary on the show, check out this incredible post. It's a personal and eloquent read and echoes a lot of what I loved about the TV series.