Why Jessica Jones hates the MCU

You know what I hate most about comic book movies and TV shows? They really, really wish they weren’t based on superhero comic books. Sure, comics can give them the characters and story material for some of the highest grossing films of all time and the most successful Netflix shows, but let’s not mention the source material, eh?

This isn’t new, of course. I’m put in mind of the Tim Burton quote in his feud with Kevin Smith, “Anyone who knows me knows I would never read a comic book”, says the two-time Batman director. More recently however, I saw it in Jessica Jones on Netflix (Daredevil was somewhat guilty of this, too).

One of the big draws of Jessica Jones was that it was part of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, which  basically means it set in the same world as Robert Downy Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America. Though it would never happen, it’s entirely feasible within the show that either of these characters could actually make an appearance, and can be referenced in-show. Except Jessica Jones really doesn’t like referencing superheroes. The Hulk is “the green guy” and Captain America is “the flag-waver.” Jessica Jones hates superhero characters so much it can only actually reference them euphemistically, even though a big selling point of the show is that it co-exists with said characters.

Now, on its own I don’t really care about that. The showrunners are clearly going for a particular aesthetic and tone and are keeping as far way from the capes and costumes brigade as possible in order to achieve that. Literally nothing in Jessica Jones would have been any different if it wasn’t connected to the MCU, meaning the connection it does have is nakedly commercial in nature. Say its part of the MCU and you get +X more viewers.

What this really makes me think about is how superheroes evolved from popular, pulpy kids entertainment to being dominated by 18-40 year old men. How this audience seems to need to legitimise the stories by making them as brutal and bleak as possible. “Look, comics aren’t just for kids! This woman got raped, see? This is mature stuff.” But it isn’t mature stuff. It’s juvenile, usually. Bendis got it right with Alias, but for every Alias there’s two Identity Crisis or Superman breaks someone’s neck.

I liked Jessica Jones. I think its a great story of PTSD and surviving abuse and coming out the other end. I think its a great story of not being defined by your abuse or abuser. And I even think linking in the superhero aspect lends proceedings a certain power. I’m just not so sure it should be in the same world as Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon. My 4-year-old son loves Guardians of the Galaxy, you know? (I censor when appropriate). But I’m betting that come Infinity War we’ll have Daredevil and Jessica Jones in the same shot as Rocket Raccoon and Groot and now I’m totally with the JJ showrunners – they don’t belong in the same place.

This isn’t me saying comics shouldn’t ever deal with these kinds of issues. Of course it isn’t. But I do question the wisdom of superhero comics looking at these issues, especially while they double down on corporate synergy and link everything together for good or ill. There’s a longer entry in here about the nature of franchises, corporate ownership and stewardship of characters. Remind me to write it?

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Longbox R.I.P?

If you’re a comic book fan, this topic is more divisive than Moses at the Red Sea. Though the idea of reading comics on a computer is hardly new, technological developments have given it the ability to fulfil it’s long held promise.

iPads and other tablet computers, by and large, have screens roughly the same size as your average comic book page, so no narrative-breaking scrolling down or across the screen. The Comixology app that has claimed the digital ground as it’s own also has a function for zooming into individual panels, so you can really appreciate all that detail.

And what of that under rated pleasure, the Page-Turn Reveal of Something Cool? It still exists, as your digital page is turned with the drag of your finger. Yes, it seems digital comics have it all. But they still have their critics.

The most common, and to my mind the most valid complaint is ownership. Sure, the price of a digital comic is lower than its print cousin, but what do you actually get for your money? A file? Ones and zeroes? Do you actually “own” anything? And what if it gets accidentally deleted? But most of all, what about the joy of having something in your hand, like a good book? As much as I love digital comics, they dont compare to my Absolute All-Star Superman.

But my Absolute All-Star Superman is a luxury item. It’s bound wonderfully and is bigger than the average comic. It’s not designed to be in the same category as a monthly floppy. It’s the blu-ray DVD box set of that TV series you recorded.

And it’s certainly not portable.

My iPad currently contains at least 50 comics, bought over a period of months. I’m on a train right now, and can choose from the complete Planetary by Warren Ellis, Birds of Prey by Gail Simone, and any number of DC Comics’ New 52. To carry print copies with me would be heavier and cumbersome, and could even damage my comics. No, thank you.

Ultimately, digital or paper should come down to personal preference, but with the state the comics industry is in, we may not have that luxury. Costs for printing are high, and most comics barely break the 20,000 sales mark. Digital gives an ailing industry a cost effective way of publishing and reaching more readers than those with access to a local comic store. Bleeding Cool has recently reported that Shonen Jump are due to cease printing their monthly anthology title in favour of a weekly comic to be downloaded, for only 99 cents. While DC and Marvel court controversy with their price points, both digital and print, Shonen Jump are showing just what kind of value for money digital distribution is actually capable of.

With a dying economy and less money in my wages, the appeal of this may outweigh any affection I have for print comics. Add to that the fact that I’m just way busier than I’ve ever been. Though it’s barely 2 miles away, I haven’t had time to visit my local comic store, the fantastic A1 Comics in Glasgow, in a very long time.

Due to time and money issues, with the exception of high quality trades for my favourite stories, I can see my consumption being solely digital in the very near future.

How about you? Ink or information, what’s your preference?