With Netflix teaming with Marvel to roll out television shows based on some of their more street-level superheroes, these smaller characters have seen a steady rise in popularity. While Daredevil had been in the public consciousness for years (no thanks to that terrible Ben Affleck movie), characters like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are profiting from being more well-known.
With that popularity comes Marvel wanting to capitalize on it. In order to do so, they have released two new series this week featuring the characters, aptly titled Jessica Jones and Cage!, and which feature top creators telling brand new stories about the characters people can’t stop talking about.
Cage! is a unique book in that it wasn’t developed solely to be a part of the promotional push for the Netflix show. The four issue miniseries, written and drawn by master animator Genndy Tartakovsky (of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack fame), has been trapped in development hell for years inside Marvel’s catalog. Now it’s finally seeing the light of day, and it’s definitely worth the wait for fans of Cage.
What makes the story work so well is the fact that Tartakovsky doesn’t try to tie the book into any sort of current continuity. Instead, he opts to return Luke Cage to his 70’s Blaxploitation roots. It’s almost reminiscent of DC’s Earth One line of graphic novels, with top creators telling stories outside of any continuity and iving them free reign to do whatever they please. With lines of dialogue like “The Bank Rollers just stuck it to…the man!” and “Ding-dang, beatin’ up on them skatin’ turkeys makes a brother hungry!”, the book feels like a story from times long past. Add in the outside narration over the story and use of thought bubbles throughout and the 70’s aesthetic is complete.
However, this book also serves to show how far Luke Cage has evolved as a character. His original development saw him as simply a collection of stereotypes, yet now he is seen as a fully-realized individual alongside other superheroes. Fans of the Netflix show looking for a more subtle and grounded take on Cage may be turned off by the gaudy, over-the-top look and feel to Tartakovsky’s story (and would do well to check out the current Power Man and Iron Fist book for that kind of story). But longtime fans of both the character and of Tartakovsky’s work will relish the fun this story has.
Jessica Jones is a different beast entirely. It serves to continue Jessica’s story in the Marvel Universe as a private investigator after having spent so much time being sidelined from key events raising her daughter, Danielle. While this change is interesting, it is also a double-edged sword. The change that is seen in the first issue of this new ongoing, from loving wife of Luke Cage and mother of Danielle to hard-boiled P.I. avoiding Cage and burdened with the mystery as to where her daughter is now, feels a little too jarring, especially with the character still appearing in Power Man and Iron Fist in her old status quo.
That’s not to say this sudden change is necessarily bad. Clearly the creators have a longer story in mind and are pulling the reader forward by having them wonder how things ended up so bad for Jessica. It’s hard to complain about this, especially since the original series, Alias, is still so well-regarded. It simply feels like too much too fast for longtime readers to have to process. Fans of the TV show will enjoy seeing the tone and style they know the character from. But only time will tell if the change feels organic to fans of Alias.
If anyone could pull this seismic change off with aplomb though, it is the men who helped create Jessica in the first place. Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos have picked up where they left off at the end of Alias and are already immersing Jessica in new cases to reflect the “crazy” things going around Jessica and her clients. Even though ten years have passed since the original series ended Jessica Jones feels like it was no time at all, an impressive feat for two creators reuniting after so long. With huge, universe-altering twists being teased in the coming months, I’ll follow these two down whatever twisting narrative they weave to see where things end up.
All in all, Marvel has managed to capitalize on the successes of their deal with Netflix by producing two strong books around two of their more grounded heroes. Jessica Jones is perhaps the perfect book for fans of the show to pick up, as it returns Jessica to her classic role as a tough P.I. who isn’t afraid to tell someone to f–k off and solve a superpowered mystery. Cage!, on the other hand, works best for fans of more retro stories and original Luke Cage tales as opposed to fans who want more of what Netflix dished out for them. Regardless of how close they hew to the shows, both books are fun and worth picking up even if you’ve never heard of either character before. Sweet Christmas, go read these books now!