Marvel Television

Jessica Jones vs Supergirl

Jessica Jones is not what all female superhero stories have to be.

Since both Supergirl and Jessica Jones were announced for release this fall, people have been desperate to compare them. The two series have nothing in common, beyond the general superhero setup and the fact that they have female protagonists, and yet people have almost treated them as competing adaptations of the story, and rushed to decide which one was the best.

The winner, almost inevitably, seemed to be Jessica JonesJessica Jones, after all, is dark. It’s gritty. She’s a “brawling, whisky-chugging, self-destructive mess,” dealing with the darker side of Marvel’s superpowered world, a serious character in a serious story for serious and intelligent viewers. Contrast with the cheery, optimistic, rom-com esque world of Supergirl, with cutesy superhero costumes and an earnest desire to do and see good in the world, and it’s obvious why a world enamored with grimdark stories like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead might prefer Marvel’s take, or at least declare it a higher caliber of storytelling.

But moving from “Jessica Jones is good” or “Jessica Jones is the sort of superhero story I want to see” to “Jessica Jones is the only right way to do female superhero stories” or “other female superheroes aren’t Jessica Jones and therefore they suck” is based on the false assumption that a female superhero can only exist in one single way, or that we can only have one female superhero at a time. The assumption isn’t surprising, even if it is subconscious — most ensemble superhero movies only have one main female superhero, while most single-hero titles only have one (non heroic) female character at all. Of course the “only one!!” perspective has settled into our psyche. But it’s not true. Just as male superheroes can range from the dark grittiness of Christopher Nolan’s Batman to the lighthearted fun of the recent Antman to Spiderman‘s teen angst and quippiness, female superhero stories can be pretty much whatever they want to be. We don’t have to be tricked into believing that we have to choose one single female superhero to represent all female viewers in the world.

Yes, it’s great that we’re getting a female superhero who fits in with that trendy “darkness and nihilism and everybody dies” vibe. Gritty realism isn’t just for male characters, with female love interests merely existing to be threatened or killed and create a motive for revenge. It’s great that Jessica Jones is a complex and morally interesting protagonist, and is neither the clutzy aspiring journalist who’s unlucky in love or the femme fatale spy/assassin that we’re used to seeing.

But Jessica Jones is not a show for me. Not right now. I am completely burned out on grimdark stories, and just reading a description of the series’ backstory made me feel sick.

If I wanted to watch a female-led superhero story, or any superhero story, I’d want one like Supergirl. Something that skewed slightly younger perhaps. Something optimistic and fun. And if I was going to see myself in one of these protagonists, Kara Danvers would come a lot closer than Jessica Jones

And that’s fine, because we don’t have to be restricted to one type of story. Viewers can watch the “girlier” Supergirl. They can watch Jessica Jones stare darkness in the face and deal with incredibly difficult issues. They can step back to the 1940s for the perfect-lipstick world of Peggy Carter or grab a copy of Ms Marvel for some identity-searching teenage heroics. They can enjoy all of them, or some of them, or none at all. We can have optimistic heroines and pessimistic heroics, anti-hero heroines and Lawful Good heroines, reluctant heroines and heroines who throw themselves into their heroics headfirst. We don’t have to pick which version of “female superhero” we like best and have it represent all women forevermore. We can have as much variety as we see in male-led stories.

But only if we insist on it. So enough with the Supergirl OR Jessica Jones. It should be Supergirl AND Jessica Jones, and many more to come.


  1. Fiona

    November 23, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    I hate how the default type for any female character is feisty. I like a feisty heroine as much as the next girl, but I get sick of same old same old. There are other ways to be strong besides being quick and sarcastic. Being vulnerable and earnest is its own kind of strength, but because it’s a more girly strength it’s rarely presented as valuable.

  2. Rocio g.

    November 24, 2015 at 3:54 am

    Oh no ! You have to watch Jessica Jones, seriously! It is absolutely brilliant on all the levels: it’s great storytelling, great characters, great villains. It’s a story about trauma and the personal side of violence, sure, but it’s a story that does it right: it gives tons of respect to everyone’s narrative and nobody is left to be a mere accesory. It’s a brilliant exploration into power and the importance of consent. It has a terrific female friendship at its core. It’s diverse. The action is fenomenal. I really can’t recommend it enough… especially for you! I couldn’t wait to read your review on it! Please don’t miss out on watching one of the best series on t.v (er netflix whatever) right now!
    (P.S I’m liking supergirl a lot too so far… though I still kinda prefer the flash on the d.c side of things)
    Cheers 🙂

    1. Rhiannon

      November 24, 2015 at 3:05 pm

      I will watch it eventually. It sounds like a really excellent show. But I’m not really in the headspace for anything darker than Gilmore Girls right now, and even an excellent treatment of intense subjects can still be intense to watch. I’ll write about it soon! But not this week, for sure.

      1. Rhoda

        November 25, 2015 at 5:07 pm

        Have you watched Miss Fisher’s Mysteries? It’s great frothy fun with excellent female characters. And she wears elegant colourful outfits which I like as it makes a change from other detective shows where they demonstrate tension by people dressed in grey/brown/black running around in the dark. It’s a period drama set in Melbourne about 1930. And she has sex without slut shaming.

        As for Jessica Jones or Supergirl. I like what I’ve seen so far of Jessica Jones, the villain reminds me of one from Kristin Cashore’s fantasy novels. Don’t think Supergirl is available where I am yet, but I’ll put it on my list of programmes to watch.

        1. Rhiannon

          November 30, 2015 at 3:37 pm

          I feel like I’ve been hearing about Miss Fisher’s Mysteries everywhere this week! Everyone seems to adore it. I’ll definitely have to try and grab the first episode.

  3. rosehustle1

    November 26, 2015 at 5:27 am

    I really love Jessica Jones. It’s dark but it doesn’t annoy me like some of the dark themed shows you mentioned. It really respects the character and shows her struggles dealing with the aftermath of being both physically and mentally violated by Kilgrave. It is honest about the PTSD many victims of rape and violence face. I also love the Jessica’s connections with the other characters. Really well written series that doesn’t feel super nervous about taking on big issues or feminist ideas.

    I like the actress who plays Supergirl. I just think she is lovely. I still haven’t really gotten into Supergirl though, but I think I know why. They need to have less story of the week and more mythological story building. When Smallville and Supernatural learned how to balance out this structure these series seemed to be more interesting. X-files also had to incorporate more episodes that followed a more long term story so that the case of the week structure didn’t become repetitive. I also think they need to show more backstory about her connection to Alex.

  4. Sarah

    November 30, 2015 at 10:51 am

    I watched Jessica Jones. I’m keeping up with Supergirl. I’m going to watch Agent Carter S2 when it comes out. I enjoy different things about these shows. I like how JJ treated the serious issues it dealt with. I like how lighthearted SG is. And I agree with you on the whole “not OR. AND” thing. I want more shows/movies with female heroines, super or not. I want different genres and attitudes. I’m not a one-dimensional being, I don’t see a reason why my shows should be like that, either.

What do you think?