It is often the case that this column overlaps with an object of nostalgia: something we loved when we were younger and are now re-viewing with a critical eye. Today’s Throwback is an exception to this standard. We’ve talked about the Jessica Jones series here and there, and our general opinion of it is that it was a fantastic and feminist, if incredibly dark and triggering, show. I recently had a chance to read “Purple”, the five-issue series of Alias that was published in 2004 and upon which the first season of the miniseries was based. And although I rarely say this, I actually think I like the TV adaptation better.
Spoilers for Alias and Jessica Jones and a trigger warning for rape after the jump.
Alias was part of the MAX line, a series of books by Marvel that contained more explicit adult content (everything from cursing to sex) than was editorially allowed in their typical comics. It makes sense that the show went to Netflix, with that in mind, seeing as the streaming service also doesn’t have to bow to network approval on explicit content.
The Alias series differs from Jessica Jones in a number of ways. First of all, it’s the conclusion of Jessica’s story rather than our introduction to her. “Purple” comprised the last five issues of a twenty-eight-issue run, so Jessica got to (presumably) have more character development up to the Purple Man’s introduction than she did in the show. (I only read the “Purple” part, so I don’t know what happened previous to that.)
In Alias, the Purple Man is actually already in prison, but Jessica is approached by a group of his victims. Although Kilgrave has been locked up, he never confessed to the crimes he perpetrated on these particular people. They hope that Jessica, as another victim of his but also someone with Avengers connections, will visit him in prison to extract further confessions from him. She goes to the maximum security super-prison where he’s being held to talk to him, but he doesn’t let anything new slide.
Shaken from her confrontation nonetheless, she seeks solace from Luke Cage. She reveals to him the nature of her captivity with Kilgrave: while he never physically raped her, he forced her to watch while he raped other women and made her beg to participate. When he grew bored with her, he sent her to attack the Avengers, who didn’t recognize her and ended up beating the shit out of her. After she recuperated, the apologetic Avengers tried to get her to take a spot with S.H.I.E.L.D., but she turned them down and opened up her PI business instead.
Any comfort she takes from opening up about this is lost when an unrelated supervillain breakout lets Kilgrave escape as well. Jessica is forced to go up against him, but it turns out that she’s developed a resistance to the pheromones that allow Kilgrave to control people. She kicks his ass and he’s taken back into custody. She finds Luke again and reveals to him that she’s been carrying his child this whole time, and they decide to start a life together.
Some fans of the Jessica Jones show complained that the producers chose to tell the most torridly rape-centric story about the character first, and not only that, but also to add even more rape into the story by making Jessica a physical victim as well. While I understand where they’re coming from, I felt that the show actually provided a much more nuanced exploration of the mindset of the victim and the effects of and psychology behind rape and rape culture than the comic did or could.
By taking longer to tell the story and delving more deeply into the effects of her victimization, we get a more emotionally charged and visceral story overall and one that’s a little more relatable and sympathetic than the original “Purple”. I especially felt that the depictions of Jessica’s trauma and the way she experienced and attempted to deal with her PTSD were done better in the show. We do see her being sick repeatedly throughout the comics, which I thought was a physical reaction to the reintroduction of Kilgrave into her life, but it turns out to be a harbinger of her pregnancy instead.
Furthermore, I know they were working with an established character in the comics and probably couldn’t really do much with his character design, but comics!Kilgrave is actually purple-skinned, whereas in the show, David Tennant is obviously not purple. Casting a charming and attractive guy who’s essentially the villainous version of an everyman makes the character much more frightening and real for me as a viewer, and I think makes the messages about rapists and rape culture that the show espouses hit home more effectively. It says rapists are not just comic book villains—they can and do look like men you’d trust and like.
While it was cool to take a look back at what was the source material for the TV show, and especially cool to read it in the original single issues (a friend at work lent me his copies), I ended up appreciating Alias more for what came of it rather than for itself as a piece of media. I think the Netflix team did a masterful job taking an already compelling but brief story and turning it into a really dynamic and transformative show. I don’t necessarily think readers shouldn’t pick up the comic, which is still readily available in trade paperback, but I don’t think that reading it added to my understanding or appreciation of the show in any meaningful way.