Jeph Loeb Talks “Jessica Jones”

Marvel's Jessica Jones
Marvel’s Jessica Jones

The 13-episode first season of “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” debuted on Netflix this past Friday, but the reaction started surfacing even before then — with reviews praising the series, and also pointing out how dark and edgy it is, especially compared to most of Marvel’s live-action fare. It’s similar to the reaction to “Daredevil,” which premiered on Netflix earlier this year, but “Jessica Jones” goes even further to some rather disturbing territory, not to mention more sex scenes than ever seen in a Marvel production thus far.

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While a number of critics and fans are excited by how different “Jessica Jones” is from typical Marvel — similar to how the source material, the “Alias” comic book series by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, was different than the rest of Marvel’s publishing line when it launched in 2001 — Head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb actually sees it fitting firmly in the 50-plus-year-old classic Marvel tradition. In an interview with CBR News, Loeb expressed his viewpoint that “Jessica Jones” is an “extremely relatable” and “very aspirational” story that is ultimately “really basic Marvel” — even if the tone and content is considerably more graphic than the Marvel Studios films.

Loeb also shared his enthusiasm for performances from the show’s leads including Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter and David Tennant, along with discussing some of the bigger picture of how Marvel’s Netflix shows relate to each other and stand on their own, with the “Defenders” miniseries bringing together Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist still the planned endpoint. Check back with CBR tomorrow for the second half of our conversation with Loeb, for more on the personal philosophy he brings to the job, and what’s next for Marvel TV and Netflix.

CBR News: Jeph, when “Daredevil” debuted, a lot of observers commented as to how it was something that felt very different from live-action Marvel up to that point. Now with “Jessica Jones,” that same notion is taken even further in terms of tone and content. For you as Head of Marvel TV, what are you proudest of in what the show was able to accomplish that viewers hadn’t seen before?

Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones
Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones

Jeph Loeb: I think what we’ve started with, from the very beginning, was always to try to get the best people to tell the best stories. That’s where my background comes from — I came to Marvel Television as a writer and a producer, and it was because of the faith of people like Dan Buckley and Alan Fine and Joe Quesada that we were able to build a brand-new division. We started out with “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Carter,” and now we’ve added “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones,” and we’re in production on “Luke Cage,” and we’re very excited about following that up with “Iron Fist” — and then ultimately to get to “Defenders.”

The short answer is, “What’s the best story? What’s the best place to tell that story, and how do you tell that story with the best people that you can get?” That’s both writing and cast and crew, which has been exceptional in New York. The Netflix shows are very different from the ABC shows, not just in content, but also in the sense that we do our ABC shows in California, and we do the Netflix shows in New York. The city is really a character there, and everyone from the governor to the mayor and the city itself has welcomed us, and made it an incredibly exciting place to be able to shoot, not just on the streets, but in the subway, on the rooftops, at the piers, on the water — it’s an extraordinary experience, and something I hadn’t had a chance to do since I was in college. [Loeb graduated from Columbia University.]

When we sat down to talk about “Jessica,” we knew that what Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos had created was very unique. Her story didn’t begin the way the average superhero story starts. The idea of someone who is hoping to become a hero is generally where you’re going. The risk that we took was the risk that Brian took — to begin with, the idea that someone who was broken, and how could she find her way back to being a hero? And did she want to be a hero?

What many people are responding to is, it’s a confusing time out there for a lot of people — what they want to do with their lives, how they’re going to achieve that. “Jessica Jones” opens that door, and tells that story in a way that is extremely relatable. It’s one of the many things it does — it’s also very much about a woman who’s had something extraordinarily terrible happen to her, and hopefully in a very aspirational way, what we see is how she picks herself up and moves forward in her life. That’s something that is really basic Marvel. The quote that I like to refer to all the time from “Daredevil: Yellow” [by Loeb and Tim Sale]: “The measure of a man is not how he got knocked down to the mat, but how he picks himself up.” In this case, it’s the measure of a woman.

None of that is possible without an extraordinary performance from Krysten Ritter, and a deliciously wicked performance from David Tennant as Kilgrave, and a terrific cast that surrounds them. Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker, her best friend, feels real and grounded. Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays Jeri Hogarth — which was a choice that we made to make that character, who certainly has a long history at Marvel, into a woman. If you’re going to pick someone, Carrie-Anne Moss is a pretty great choice. Of course, Mike Colter as Luke Cage was really, for us, the find of the year, because not only did he have to make his presence known in “Jessica Jones,” but he has to carry his own television series. That’s an enormous challenge for an actor, and from the moment we meant Mike, to the first day on set, to the first day on “Luke Cage,” he’s been nothing short of extraordinary. We’re really, really excited about working with him.

RELATED: Rosengberg On “Jessica Jones” Season 2, Tennant Hopes for Kilgrave in Movies

Compared to say a Daredevil or a Luke Cage, Jessica Jones has not had that long of a history in comics, and this series takes its inspiration from a very specific place, Bendis and Gaydos’ “Alias” series. How did that affect the process in developing and adapting the series? Was it easier to focus with a narrower field to draw from?

Max Comics
Max Comics

Sometimes it’s very exciting to have 50 years of history, like we did with “Daredevil.” when people asked us what what story we were telling, we said, “All of them.” That was great fun. What Brian and Michael created was a very real character, and someone who very much fit into this world. One of the things that’s very important to us at Marvel TV and at Netflix is that when we first brought them this idea, it wasn’t just telling a Daredevil story and a Jessica Jones story and a Luke Cage story and an Iron Fist story. We wanted to tell stories about the street-level heroes, and we wanted to tell how each of them was dealing with crime in their own particular way. They’re as different as the Marvel movies are — if you look at “Iron Man” and “Hulk” and “Thor” and “Captain America” that’s led up to the “Avengers,” that’s a pretty gutsy move, to try to make four films, one of which takes place in the 1940s and is a war picture. And yet they somehow all very much feel very “Marvel.”

Obviously Bendis had a great deal to do with this — these characters “knew” each other. It wasn’t like we were going to reach into a grab bag of Marvel heroes and go, “We’re going to take these four or five characters and we’re going to try to find a way of making them know each other.” There have been lots of stories that have been told about how Matt knows Jessica, and obviously Jessica and Luke have a relationship. I think everyone’s looking forward to the day Danny and Luke get together, because as a partnership, that’s just great fun. Each of these series need to stand on their own. We need to be able to meet our heroes, and we need to be able to understand where they come from, understand their point of view, and understand why they’re different from each other — and to a certain extent, why they’re different from the Avengers. We’ve said from the very beginning, the Avengers are here to save the universe. The street-level heroes are here to save the neighborhood. If we tell that story right, because television is such an intimate world and one that is very much dependent on character, as opposed to being able to do the epic spectacle that the Marvel movies do, you have to really get to know these people, and you have the time to do so. If we’re going to tell a 13-hour story, it’s more akin to a graphic novel than it is to a single issue. I’m in awe of what the movies do in two hours, but we have a different challenge ahead of us.

In reading interviews with showrunner Melissa Rosenberg about the process, she mentions that there is of course the connective tissue, but has emphasized the creative freedom she had as showrunner. For you as Head of Marvel TV, how important is it to hire creative people and give them the space to use their voice to tell these stories?

"Jessica Jones" introduces Mike Colter as Luke Cage, who will star in Marvel's next Netflix series.
“Jessica Jones” introduces Mike Colter as Luke Cage, who will star in Marvel’s next Netflix series.

It’s important that we do hire the best storytellers that we can. I think that’s true whether it’s animation or in the comic books, or in television or the movies. But make no mistake about it, Marvel is the producing partner. It’s a very unique relationship that we have — what we like to say is, when we meet with the showrunner for the first time, “We’ll give you a nine-lane highway.” Where that goes, and how you get there, and how fast you go, those are all things that we’ll work with you on. But if you hit the guardrail, we’re going to let you know. It’s important that you have people like myself and Joe who are storytellers, and who don’t just have to approach it from the point of view of — for want of a better explanation — “the suits.”

We are there to tell the best story that we can, and put together a great writers room and a showrunner who believes in what’s going on. But make no mistake about it, it needs to feel “Marvel.” I don’t think it’s by magic that the properties that get done that have Marvel intimately involved in the storytelling, in the production, in the casting, editing, delivery, all those things — whether it’s the movies or it’s the animation or it’s television — really benefit from it. We can point fingers at some of our properties that we don’t have control over, and the fans get very vocal about it, and are very frustrated that some of those properties don’t get the same kind of care that we like to put into it. That’s just what it is to tell a story here. I think it shows in all the storytelling that we do.

How clear is that balance in your head, with these Netflix shows especially? Both “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” make it clear that is part of that larger world, but they’re subtle about it.

It’s very important that when you watch Marvel Television, that you enjoy the story that you’re watching. If you’re a fan, and there’s a wink — one of my favorite lines from “Daredevil” season one is when Foggy says, “I can put wings on my head, that doesn’t make me Captain America” — it’s that kind of thing which says, “Yes, we live in that world,” but I never want it to feel like what Joss Whedon once referred to as an “Easter egg farm,” where people are continually being distracted by the fact that there are some elements that take you out of a story. But by the same token, you need to feel that you are part of a much larger universe — that’s the fun of Marvel. That goes back to Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] and Steve Ditko. It always was a connected universe, so why would we not want it to be its own thing? We just don’t want people to feel like they need to have watched 11 movies and now a hundred hours of television in order to know what’s going on. But I think there’s something very comforting about knowing there’s a plan, and we really do spend a lot of time thinking about how things are connected, and how that can best work — not just for us, but for the writers and the cast and everybody that’s involved in the production. It needs to feel like Marvel, that’s really what it comes down to.

CBR conversation with Jeph Loeb.

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