Comics

Jessica Jones: Inside Investigation

Brian Michael Bendis goes over his lead’s ups and downs as a detective!

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Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Jake Gittes. Popular culture gives us no end of rugged, hard-hitting private detectives who can sling quick-witted as if genetically-engineered to do so, but only one of them has had the honor of also calling themselves an Avenger.

That would be Jessica Jones, a no-nonsense investigator, mother, wife, and Defender. We’ve seen her solve some difficult cases on the page and screen, but it’s time to dig deep into what makes Jessica a particularly effective gumshoe. We got a hold of her co-creator and current JESSICA JONES scribe Brian Michael Bendis to chat about Jessica’s noir influences, her role as a wife/mother and the cathartic effect she has on her writer.

To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, “An interview with Mr. Bendis is, uh, the stuff dreams are made of.”

Marvel.com: As a co-creator of this character, what do you think makes her such an effective private investigator?

Brian Michael Bendis: Her perspective and experience and attitude. You have to have this perfect mesh of intuitive understanding of the human condition; I mean this is really what all detectives are. You’re looking at something and seeing things that other people wouldn’t see. You train your brain to see the tells on a person’s face so you can tell if they’re lying or not. You train your brain to scan a room and see little bits and pieces that other people wouldn’t know. On top of that, I think Jessica is quite excellent at knowing the right people to go to, to find something out and that’s one of her real successes. As a street level character, she kind of knows— like she’s one of the few people who knows where Night Nurse is and she knows where the gun runners are. She knows where all the players are, and she knows who to ask certain questions of something. Like right now, I’m doing a story where [Jessica] is trying to find out who is trying to murder Maria Hill, and that’s far out of her normal wheel house, but she was able to dig under some rocks and find the people who might know the people who know the people so she’s very good at that, I don’t think she gives herself enough credit. Just having had her perspective as an Avenger, as Luke Cage’s wife, as now a Defender, you know, she’s in it, she has a really unique perspective of the entire super hero community so when people come to her with problems revolving around it she’s able to figure out not only how to solve the case, but if the case is even a case; which is sometimes what a detective’s job really is. Is this case a case? Sometimes they’re not.

Marvel.com: That’s a good segue into the next question, which is when it comes to genre, Jessica Jones is very much like a noir character, so can you talk about the noir influences that went into creating the character and her stories?

Brian Michael Bendis: Oh, from Jake Gittes, all the way to the real life detectives I’ve met, to the most unique detectives in fiction, like [the movie] “Brick.” I love these movies or stories where there is a detective in the last place you would expect one. Ed Brubaker did an amazing series called Scene of the Crime that I absolutely loved as well. “Chinatown,” obviously, is the one that you go “Ok, don’t be bad, because there’s ‘Chinatown,’ try to be good like ‘Chinatown’.” And in there are so many excellent tropes about detectives and their relationships and why people hire a private investigator. Sometimes the police aren’t just enough, you need special attention or a special perspective and she definitely stands among her influences, that is one thing I definitely bring with her if that makes any sense is that she definitely does not.

Marvel.com: I’m glad you brought up “Chinatown” because, generally speaking, private investigators in pop culture have mostly been men with women taking on the role of the femme fatale, and she is such a subversion of those tropes…

Brian Michael Bendis: Yeah, I get it and we talk about it a little bit because, you know, there is a lot of muscle work with detective work, it’s a lot like [you’re] getting into fights in the back room of a bar or you’re body-guarding and fair or not, over the decades men would take those jobs, but Jessica, obviously, is unique and didn’t need to worry about that so from there we were able to build a completely different experience. Yes, there are real life private investigators and detectives that are women right now and actually I know them so I am not saying that there aren’t women detectives, there absolutely are and I’m just saying that you’re right that traditionally and certainly traditionally in fiction, we’ve seen a lot of men so once you start digging into what is unique about Jessica, yeah, Jessica has her unique perspective, and also a female perspective, and also the perspective of someone with the power to back it up, so she may get into jams that would be difficult for normal people, that she can get out of and that adds to what’s unique about her as a detective as well.

Marvel.com: And like you’ve said, she’s been in the Avengers, she has tried the whole costumed hero thing” before starting Alias Investigations, so what aspects of crime fighting came with her to her detective days and which kind of fell to the wayside.

Brian Michael Bendis: What I like about her, and I know a lot of people like about her, is that she tried it, ok, she tried it, it felt like [expletive] to her, which is totally fine, and like I said even with people who [are] in comics, they are creators, they come to do a certain type of comic, and then they go “Oh, I don’t like that type of comic, I don’t want to make that comic,” right? But other people love it, they think it’s the best way to do it, so that’s the people who should do that, so the people who think that being a super hero is the best way to do it, those are people who should be [super heroes], and yes Jessica who doesn’t think that that’s the road for her or she thinks it’s proven it’s not the road for her, she absolutely should not do it, she should do it her way. So having the experience of wearing the costume and bouncing around and not appreciating it as much as others gives her that unique ability to scrape the [expletive] off of any story and get right to the meat of it; whereas other detectives and reporters might find themselves distracted by the flash of powers and flying around, she is not. She’s seen how the sausage is made so she’s alright. You’ve seen it too like, even reporters who have met fifty thousand movie stars, when they meet a new movie star they get all giddy, it’s exciting you’re meeting a movie star. If you want someone solving your case, you want something who isn’t going to start giggling if Tony Stark shows up. [She can ask], “Are you full of [expletive] or not?” That’s what Jessica can do.

Marvel.com: And kind of going off that, being a P.I can be a morally dubious job; how does that weigh on her conscience or affect her husband and child for whom she wants to set a positive example?

Brian Michael Bendis: Well that’s it and that’s really what the new series has been about for me. As I have often confessed, [JESSICA JONES] being a book that I’m the most aware that I’m working some [expletive] out of for myself. Sometimes when you’re writing you don’t know what you’re working out until it’s done whereas with Jessica, I am a father of four children and I am constantly finding myself being looked up to by them, they’re looking for answers from me. When you find yourself all the sudden in this position, where people are looking to you, you have to kind of examine who you are and why you put yourself in this situation, so that is part of what Jessica is doing, she wants to be the detective, she wants to solve her cases and by doing so, maybe make the world a better place, and when her daughter is old enough to look around, it’ll look better than the one Jessica looks at and she says that in the series to Luke. They’re both freaking out about being parents when they don’t think they’re fully realized as humans yet and as I’ve discovered in my life, I’ve never met anyone who said, “Oh good, I’m gonna be a parent because I’m fully realized as a human.” You always go, “Oh [expletive]! I’m a parent now, but I’m not done baking myself.” Because you’re never done, it’s the truth. So this is what Jessica and Luke will be dealing with in the series is, “We’re parents now so that means that we have other responsibilities on top of the responsibilities we had” or “The responsibilities we had are now amplified because we’re doing it not only for ourselves and for the world, but for this child. Not only do we want to raise her to be a good person, we’d like to help the world be somewhere safe for her and also, wouldn’t it be nice when she is old enough and looks at her [mother], that she sees Jessica Jones, the detective who saves people and is heroic and making the world a better place, not the gigantic pile of loser that she thinks she was years ago.” And the reason I say she thinks she was [is] because I don’t, I think she’s a survivor. She thinks otherwise.

Marvel.com: Final question: if you had to nail down a MacGuffin, so to speak, for Jessica over the course of her career, what would it be? What would her Maltese Falcon” be, in other words?

Brian Michael Bendis: Oh, it’s the Purple Man in a way if you think about. Here is my vague hint because the real interesting thing about your question is that her journey with the Purple Man has not come to an end…there’s your big tease.

Find out what’s next for the powerhouse P.I. in JESSICA JONES #8, on sale May 3 from Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos!