YIN/YANG REVIEWS: Jessica Jones (Season 2) / Batman: Gotham by Gaslight
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
by Derek May
YIN : JESSICA JONES (Season 2)
After a rocky few entries of late to Marvel’s Netflix universe, the creators are back on smooth ground with the sophomore effort to our favorite self-destructing P.I., JESSICA JONES. The first season was a fresh, deftly crafted revelation, taking a hard-boiled, hard-drinking, hard-not-to-love “superhero” turned detective and putting her through an emotional ringer that ended with her making the necessary, if morally questionable, choice to end Kilgrave’s reign of terror.
When we last saw Jessica, she was teaming up with the rest of the Defenders to save New York from the evil, supernatural Hand. While that story offered some choice transitional nuggets for Jessica, we leave its more-epic scale to come back down to earth, where we find Jones dealing with the emotional repercussions of her actions at the end of her solo season.
This entry explores many themes, the first of which is post-traumatic stress. At first this manifests itself as Jess’s struggle with being a killer, this time by choice rather than by coercion. That alone might have been plenty to chew on, but as we develop, we see an even larger issue at hand—her 17-year struggle with the trauma of believing she caused the death of her entire family. But perhaps that weight is not hers to bear after all, and much of the rest of the season finds Jessica struggling to come to terms with that fact. Spurred by her ever-aggressive sister Trish, Jessica delves deep into the origins of her powers, and its rippling effects throughout her life. It’s somewhat of a twist on the origin story, and as we learn, in more ways than one.
It’ll be hard to continue here without mentioning something of a spoiler, so be warned:
During Jessica’s unraveling of the mystery of how she came to be, she faces off with a super-powered killer seemingly operating at the behest of the dastardly IGH cabal responsible for the human experimentation into creating powered people. Lo and behold, we discover that Jessica’s own biological mother was one of those experiments, who is not only alive, but the very killer she’s been fighting! This is where the show really takes off, mining the pain, confusion, and anger characterizing their relationship and compounding that with her mother’s uncontrollable bouts of homicidal rage. You know, just like any family. Jessica must now not only deal with her mother’s return, but the choice to sympathize with her mother’s afflictions (mirrored in her own) or seek justice for the actions they have caused. But even more so, what we really get to see is not the origins of superpowers, but the origins of their anger and rage and whether they are something one can choose to overcome, or whether it’s easier to just give in and become the monster you fear you could be.
Layered in is plenty for the supporting characters to chew on, including exploring Trish’s well-documented desire for recognition and, more importantly, superpowers of her own; Malcolm’s struggle with addiction and being used; and Jeri Hogarth’s downward spiral in the face of a deadly diagnosis. I don’t want to spoil the journey, suffice to say that each actor gives their character their all, bringing to bear all the raw emotions that have been seething under the surface since we were first introduced to them. This season really pays off the seeds that were laid early on, impressively choosing to mine those character dilemma’s that had been previously established rather than simply piling on new crap for them to wade through. This go round feels like we are keeping true to the story and characters we fell in love with in season 1, and rarely takes the easy path, choosing instead to face choices and consequences head on in all their beautiful ugliness.
While season 1 for me was near perfection, the occasional wart does rear up here. The danger with explaining a mystery is that it may never live up to the explanation the viewer has in his or her head, and there are a few instances where audience members might find some of the revelations actually dilute the characters. In addition, like with many shows of the genre, there are a few contrivances that are tough to overlook, and mar the otherwise clear façade of continuity.
However, I would argue these are few and far between, and do not diminish what is otherwise one of the best follow-ups of the Marvel television universe.
With its daring and emotionally honest storylines and characters, Jessica Jones season 2 is a breath of fresh air after the rancid stench of efforts like Iron Fist or the valiant-but-ultimately-benign Defenders. Fans of JJ will not be disappointed, as we are finally given answers to lingering questions while at the same time moving the characters into fascinating and potentially game-changing places by the end of the season. If you enjoyed the first season, this is definitely one not to miss.
YANG: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight
The animated “universe” which DC launched over 10 years ago has given audiences as close to the live-action treatment of some of their favorite characters and classic comic storylines as we are likely to get. Unfortunately, the results have been fairly scattershot. The latest release brings another seminal graphic novel to life, this time an “Elseworlds” tale originally written by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame). In this case, though taking extreme liberties (as they are wont to do) with the original storyline, they do in the end successfully deliver an intriguing story that pits our Dark Knight against one of the most dangerous and infamous foes in history: Jack the Ripper.
Released direct to video, the format allows the creators to give the tale the R-rating it requires. And while there isn’t much in the way of cursing and most of the sexuality is still subdued, it definitely takes advantage of the rating to splatter plenty of graphic blood across the screen, as well as not shy away from the adult motivations of the characters, the killer in particular.
Reimagining Batman and company in the year 1889, the steampunk elements are kept to a minimum and the focus is instead trained on the characters, where it should be. Bruce Greenwood returns as Batman/Bruce Wayne and, while no Kevin Conroy, is more than up to the task, delivering a worthy balance of bat-authority and Wayne-sensitivity. Taking the rest as it is (as departing from the source material), we are treated to a large assortment of the Rogues Gallery, including a faithful insertion of Selina Kyle as both love interest and crusader for the young women being hunted. I won’t spoil the biggest twist of the film as to the identity of the Ripper, suffice to say that the creators did a masterful job of offering up a red herring and then turning our expectations on their head. Fans of the original will likely either cry foul or embrace the changes, but as a work of storytelling it makes sense and provides a thoroughly engaging mystery/thriller that moves briskly and delivers in both character and chills.
The animation is on par with previous releases, and the color palettes provide the dark tones the story (and characters) require. The action is delivered with a deft hand, choreographing the brutal fights with clarity of movement and accuracy of techniques. Several of the shots have a gorgeous sense of scale, but we are also left with plenty of beautifully crafted moments of intimacy.
As opposed to something like “The Killing Joke” where the creative decisions to change and add elements effectively ruined half the film and nearly completely divorced several key characters from their essence, the choices this time round serve to expand the limited scope of the original and offer up a clever and satisfying slice of alternate reality that is definitely one to check out.