Our month-long tribute to comic book momsthe good, the bad, and the completely insanecontinues!
Publisher: Marvel Comics
First Appearance: Alias #1 (2001)
Created By: Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydros
When Jessica Campbell was a teenager, her life irrevocably changed when her family’s car was struck by a truck carrying radioactive material. Though everyone else she loved was killed, she ended up in a coma for several months. When she awoke, she discovered that she now had enhanced strength, limited invulnerability and fight—and soon, a new adoptive family, the Joneses.
Inspired by Spider-Man, she decided to become a super-hero named Jewel. Her super-career was pretty unextraordinary until she ended up in the thrall of the mind-controlling Purple Man. He spent months torturing her by forcing her to watch as he raped other women and making her strip naked and beg to have sex with him. Eventually, he sent her to the Avengers mansion to kill Daredevil. Considering Daredevil wasn’t an Avenger, she was unsuccessful and soundly beaten by the Vision and Iron Man until Carol Danvers intervened, resulting in another coma.
As Jessica recovered, Jean Grey helped her regain control of her mental state and build up more resistance to mind control. Considering the trauma of her ordeal, though, and the fact that she went missing for eight months without anyone caring, made her seriously question her super-heroing. She briefly tried a darker persona, Knightress, before throwing in the towel.
She was much better suited working as a private eye, which was her next career choice. Around this time, she also started dating Scott Lang (Ant-Man) while also picking up a casual affair with Luke Cage. When Jessica got pregnant with the latter’s baby, their relationship became serious. From there, she switched to journalism, working for The Pulse, a supplement for The Daily Bugle, which of course ended poorly because, hey, J. Jonah Jameson is not a good boss. During that time, her pregnancy was put at risk several times by the Green Goblin, which, um, only made it clearer how much she wanted the baby (see the illustration below for evidence).
After the birth of their daughter, Danielle, Luke and Jessica married. Despite some friction (they struggled when Jessica opted to support the Superhuman Registration Act to protect Danielle…plus there was that time when an alien kidnapped their baby), their relationship has been strong. In fact, Jessica even decided to try super-heroing again and joined the New Avengers, eventually choosing the name Power Woman in honor of her husband.
So What’s So Great About Her?
In comics, a lot of women become superheroes after experiencing sexual violence. Whether it’s as revenge targeted against criminals as a whole or as a means of empowerment, they don the proverbial cape, leap into the night…and often never mention the abuse again. I find this upsetting for numerous reasons: A) it’s so common that it’s practically cliche; B) the idea of all these creators blithely subjecting their characters to this kind of trauma is stomach-churning; C) male characters don’t usually need such a dark reason to get into the hero game (they’re a lot more likely to do it because it’s the right thing to do or just because it’s cool); and D) it’s almost never well-handled.
According to the George Mason University Worldwide Sexual Assault Statistics (2005), 1 in 3 American women will be sexually abused during the course of her life. That number is both horrifying and troublingly unsurprising, at least to me. But then, I’m a member of that third of the female population, so maybe it’s understandable that I’m not naive when it comes to this subject. And maybe it’s also understandable that whenever I come across one of these abuse-heavy backstories, I feel like punching the writer in the face.
But then, here we have Jessica Jones. Instead of becoming a hero in response to sexual violence, she stopped being one.
Don’t get me wrong, I have tons of problems with Jessica’s plot, most of which have nothing to do with her. It’s painful to read the flashbacks to her time in thrall to Purple Man. It blows my mind that we’re supposed to just accept the fact that two male heroes (well, one male hero and one male-identified robot) beat a woman into a coma, though I do like that the people who subsequently came to her rescue are women, Carol and Jean.
But considering the horrific abuse she suffered, Jessica emerges as arguably the most realistic survivor of sexual violence in comics, because she needed time to recover. She tried to bounce back like the others, picking up the Knightress persona for about a week, but it didn’t work. So instead, she took time off, dealt with being broken and depressed and self-destructive sometimes, and did other things. Her experience with Purple Man wasn’t glossed over — it became a very important part of her past, something that molded a great deal of her personality as it is today. That may not be how it is for all sexual abuse survivors, but it is for a lot of them.
And ultimately, Jessica has returned to being a full-fledged superhero in her own right. While I can’t say I love her new codename (Power Woman? The female form of her husband’s codename? Which is one of the most bland codenames of all time, to the point where it’s barely even used?), I do love that she specifically did it to serve as a role model for her daughter. Not that she actually needed to. After all, Jessica survived horrible sexual violenceas so many doand still managed to carve out several respectable careers, create a stable, loving relationship, and become a terrific mom to a child she obviously adores. That, I think, is more than enough to make her a role model.
Jessica’s currently appearing in the rebooted New Avengers, but for other Jessica-heavy comics…
Daredevil (vol.2) #36; 48
The Pulse #1-14
New Avengers Annual #1
New Avengers Annual #2
Secret Invasion #7-8
New Avengers #49-51
New Avengers Annual #3
New Avengers (vol.2) #7-8