Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Thrall Of The Purple Man!

With Brian Bendis enjoying a gig as Consulting Producer on the Netflix series Jessica Jones, it's easy to see parallels between the season-long arc featuring Kilgrave and the last few issues of the Bendis-written 2001-04 comic, Alias, which focus on Jessica's dealings with the Purple Man, who spells him name "Killgrave" and whose villainy hails back to his introduction in Daredevil in 1964. In both cases, Jessica has gone through hell with this man who kept her captive for months, an experience that haunted her even after she escaped his control; and in each case, we learn of Jessica's ordeal gradually, piecemeal, which more effectively conveys her struggle to put this period of her life behind her. Jessica as a victim is difficult enough to digest; Jessica as a helpless victim is a thought that boggles the mind.

For those of you whose interest in the character's clash with the Purple Man/Kilgrave is piqued and who have sampled (respectively) neither the television series nor the story in Alias, there is no one medium to choose first as far as which version offers more drama and a more powerful impact on the reader/viewer, as each of them has their merits and their own way of presenting the material. There is of course the perk of actor David Tennant in the role of Kilgrave in the series, who does a fine job of bringing the character to life in a real-world setting--yet you'll find the character in print no less compelling, so it comes down to the old debate about whether the book or the movie offers more entertainment for you. Having consumed both stories, I can at least attest that you won't be disappointed with either, no matter which one you prefer to dive into first.

Also, while the Netflix version no doubt brings with it the expectation of pulling no punches as far as portraying the gritty realism and frank reactions inherent in such a situation, the book is able to match the series in those respects, since Alias was the first series published under Marvel's new "Max" designation, with the company finally giving the Comics Code Authority the heave-ho and substituting its own ratings system while coming out with a line of R-rated comics titles. Both versions of Jessica are unarguably damaged, though with the television version being considerably more hard-edged and intimidating than her more vulnerable comics counterpart; but each medium does the character justice in how she copes with this painful reminder of her past.

In Alias, the Purple Man is incarcerated in the prison facility known as the Raft when Jessica is placed in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with him once more, after a group of "survivors" of his assaults on loved ones approaches her in order to obtain some closure for themselves--assuming, that is, that Killgrave decides to cooperate.

And since we're treading into the pages of a comic bearing the Max logo, it's probably a good idea to give you a heads up as to what to expect before we continue:

With the Purple Man's skin hue serving as a visual reminder of the nature of his power, the comic obviously differs from the television character whose power takes the more direct approach and chooses instead to make Kilgrave's ability entirely centered on his verbal commands to others; indeed, the Purple Man's skin emanations serve as more of an explanation as to how his power works (as Jessica notes) but are otherwise redundant and unnecessary in the presentation of the television character whose origin didn't include exposure to nerve gas. And so while Jessica's interaction with the "support group" of Kilgrave's victims is limited in the show, Jessica's meeting with them here is the catalyst for bringing her into contact once again with the man who violated her on so many levels.

In the TV series, Kilgrave first crosses paths with and takes control of Jessica when she intervenes in the beating of her future friend, Malcolm, who was being worked over by some street thugs. In Alias, we learn that she's instead immersed in her costumed identity as Jewel when she encounters a violent altercation in a restaurant and learns to her detriment that one arrogant and supremely confident man is responsible for it.

Though Michael Gaydos is the principal artist on Alias, it's arranged for artist Mark Bagley to provide a bit of contrast in the flashbacks featuring Jessica as Jewel. At the time that Jessica is divulging the humiliating details of her experience to her close friend, Luke Cage, she's long since discarded her costumed identity and moved on to establish herself as a private investigator, incorporating her abilities into her civilian work but otherwise keeping a low profile; and so these scenes show us two very different sides of Jessica Jones, where it seems we're almost seeing two different people, thanks to the separate approaches by Bagley and Gaydos. The only quibble I have with Bagley's is that he gives Jessica a mesmerized expression in order to emphasize that she's under someone else's control, whereas it's clear that Kilgrave's (and Killgrave's) victims are outwardly indistinguishable from other people in both appearance and manner. In so doing, Bagley too greatly distracts from the impact of Jessica's subservience to the Purple Man that, to the casual observer, would appear to be given willingly.

There is also the contribution of Bendis to the character that helps with this transition between past and present. There is no trace of Jewel in the Jessica who confides in Luke--that hero was ripped from existence by Kilgrave's debasing treatment of her while in captivity. There is only Jessica, struggling to keep a handhold on the life that she has made for herself since--and Bendis has her spare no details as Jessica haltingly revisits that part of her life that she has struggled to put behind her.

While Jessica's sadistic and cruel ordeal is a difficult story for Luke to hear (and no doubt doubly so for her to tell), its weight is felt when Jessica is able to gain her freedom from the Purple Man's leash--not through her own strength of will, but through a blunder made by Killgrave when, in a fit of pique, he sends her to deal with either Daredevil or any heroes she encounters while angrily and inadvertently dismissing her in the process.

Jessica doesn't get very far in her "mission"--attacking the Avengers and injuring the Scarlet Witch before being dealt with, and ending up in a coma from which Jean Grey helps to free her while also assisting her in beginning the journey back to her sanity.

That brings us back full circle to Jessica's visit to the Raft to confront the Purple Man on behalf of his victims' families. You may find yourself shaking your head at this point at the apparent futility of such a task, since Killgrave has never demonstrated even an ounce of remorse in his activities as the Purple Man--in fact, quite the contrary. But it's possible (and understandable) that Jessica is doing this as much for herself as those she represents--and while she keeps her composure for the most part, it's clear that she has yet to completely shake off the hell that this man once put her through.

There's little doubt that the Purple Man not only had no intention of cooperating with Jessica, but that his only interest in her visit was to rattle her, assuring her in so many words that he wasn't yet done with her. Yet we're also given the distinct impression that he's very confident that he will at some point escape from his incarceration in this maximum security facility. So it's inevitable that, for the sake of this story, Jessica's worst nightmare comes true when the villain known as Carnage breaks out of the Raft and, in so doing, releases a host of other prisoners, including...

Jessica, naturally, is at her wit's end, trying to stay calm even in the face of reports that the Purple Man is closing in. Eventually, her fears are realized when he shows up in Scott Lang's apartment where she's taken refuge and plays out a gruesome spectacle that has her believing that Scott has met his death at Killgrave's hands. From that point, he indulges in his control once more over Jessica, even instigating a riot in the streets on a whim to create a spectacle that will attract the attention of the heroes who are pursuing the Raft's escapees. But when that moment arrives, and Killgrave orders Jessica to kill Captain America, Jessica is visited by a psychic projection of Jean that allows her to end her dealings with the Purple Man once and for all.

Jessica, as you might imagine, wastes no time in putting Killgrave out for the count. It's not clear whether or not she's taken his life, as she does in the TV series--chances are the answer is "no," since the more powerful point Bendis appears to want to make here is to have Jessica triumph over the stigma of this man's effect on her life, rather than having his death tie too neatly a bow on the matter. Instead, the Purple Man will have some purple bruises and a lot of bandages covering his hued skin, and likely his ego as well.

Alias would end with Jessica disclosing to Luke that she's pregnant with his child, following his disclosure that he wants their relationship to be a deeper one. From here, Bendis would segue their story to The Pulse, featuring a new direction for Jessica and, at last, a new beginning.

Alias #s 24-28

Script: Brian Bendis
Pencils: Michael Gaydos (with Mark Bagley)
Inks: Michael Gaydos (with Dean White)
Letterer: Cory Petit


Iain said...

Thank you for sharing this I watched the netflix show and this comic makes a lot of sense now, I may just seek out this series now as its quite compelling reading.

Comicsfan said...

Thanks, Iain--I think you'll find it well worth your time.

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