Full disclosure; I am a rape survivor. Trigger warnings obviously apply if you click that link.
There are upsides and downsides to Marvel choosing to use a newer more obscure character for their second Netflix Original series. With less than two decades in the Marvel U and no prior media existence outside of the comics, Jessica Jones isn’t as pinned down as a Daredevil or a Spiderman or even a Thor or Iron Man. She doesn’t have as much casual fan baggage or rigid continuity history. She isn’t as set in stone and thus translating her to TV has more wiggle room. Even if Marvel tries to be faithful to the comic to any extent, they still have more freedom to fudge the details here and there without fearing fanboy backlash.
I freely admit that, being poor and unable to buy comics regularly enough to know every little detail, all I really knew about Jessica Jones is that she was introduced as a retconned retired superhero who gave up the tights before she ever actually appeared in comics, was working as a PI, and eventually she married and had a child with Luke Cage. Beyond that I knew nothing else about her character, so I went in to Marvel’s Jessica Jones with no prior headcanon to interfere with my potential enjoyment of the show.
I’m beginning to think that was a mistake.
I’ve just finished the first episode and I’m so goddamned squicked out that I think it might have been a smart idea to research the character more first. So I could be mentally and emotionally prepared to be watch a story about a rapist tormenting a former victim for kicks.
To be fair, I was vaguely familiar with Kilgrave, AKA The Purple Man, the villain of this series as played by the 10th Doctor himself, David Tennant. And mind control powers have always squicked me out. But I had no idea just how creepy and triggery and repulsive Jessica’s backstory with him really was. Hell I didn’t even know there WAS a backstory that involved him in the comics. Or just how skeevy Brian Micheal Bendis made that backstory.
I’m not going to actually talk about the Netflix show, so technically there are no spoilers for the series. But as the comic backstory is heavily utilized in it, you should probably technically consider the rest of this article kinda spoilery.
Basically? Jessica Jones backstory is about rape, PTSD, sexual autonomy, and figuring out how to piece your life back together after someone has violated you in the worst way possible.
Kilgrave raped Jessica. Let’s be clear about this up front. I will brook no semantics about how he technically never actually sexually assaulted her. He took away her consent and violated her. He traumatized her, degraded her, psychologically tortured her, all without her permission, al forced upon her, all for his own power-tripping amusement. It was rape, plain and simple. And it included forcing her to watch helplessly as he actually DID sexually assault college girls in front of her.
This is the cold and ugly truth behind the concept of psychokenesis, the highest form of telepathy. AKA the ability to not simply read minds or communicate telepathically, but to influence or outright control the minds of others. For every Charles Xavier who tries to only do good with that power, there will be a Kilgrave, who uses that power with pure selfishness. Let’s set aside for a moment that technically, at it’s core, even what Xavier does with his powers is a violation that eschews consent, what Kilgrave does is absolutely horrifying.
This is a man who uses his ability to live the high life for free and abuse anyone he feels like solely to amuse himself. A man with no moral compass. A man who exemplifies how vile a human being can become when no one can ever tell him no. Who thinks nothing of the pain and trauma he’s causing because he gets off on it. That, my friends, is the ultimate rapist. Consent is non-existent and everyone he meets is his meatpuppet, to do with as he pleases.
Just typing this is triggering me. I honestly don’t know if I can watch anymore of the series. It’s difficult and very uncomfortable. I may try to power through it hoping for the catharsis of some sort of happy ending where Kilgrave gets his comeuppance. (If that does indeed happen, please no spoilers in the comments).
But Marvel is most definitely taking a huge risk with this series. And if any rape survivors watching it react to it as I have, it may well turn out to be a risk that backfires. Hopefully as the rest of the first season unfolds, it will show a lot more nuance and character development. And hopefully it will use all this squick to tell a good story and not just as shock value.
Tags: David Tennant, Jessica Jones, Rape