I’m really glad that Marvel’s publishing a new Power Man and Iron Fist series. But, man, it’s a real bummer that Jessica Jones is coming across like a bitchy housewife.
Like the old-school run that preceded it in the 1970s and 1980s, the new Power Man and Iron Fist still gets its energy from the cross-cultural friendship of its main characters. Luke Cage is a super-strong, nearly indestructible dude from the streets who takes no shit and Danny Rand is a rich orphan who learned super-kung-fu in another dimension. It used to be that Cage was the excitable hothead and Danny specialized in zen-cool conflict resolution.
People in relationships change. Nowadays, the 2016 PM/IF creative team of David Walker, Sanford Greene, Lee Loughridge and Clayton Cowles are delivering an older Luke and Danny to readers. The guy who used to yell at bad guys while wearing a tiara and yellow silk shirts is a mellowed-out family man. Danny Rand’s detached affectation has morphed into a restless hyper-nostalgia for the duo’s glory days. These are familiar tropes to build off of and, even if the shift in personality for Danny feels drastic, they don’t undermine from the established personas for the characters. Power Man and Iron Fist works best as an action-comedy where the leads don’t always get along. But Luke’s marriage to Jessica doesn’t come off as very funny.
The biggest change in the lives of Luke and Danny came when the former Power Man got married to Jessica Jones and then became a dad. The new PM/IF series’ first story arc has the friends teaming up again and uses Jessica as a supporting character. The combustible aspect of their relationship is intact; Luke and Jessica snipe at each other, but that’s been their thing from the very beginning, as it is for many couples who don’t necessarily look like they’re in love.
Fan-favorite writer Brian Michael Bendis created Jones back in 2003 as the lead character in Alias and it’s obvious that his affection for her played a big part in how he wrote her in various appearances across the Marvel Universe. When she was a cast member in an older New Avengers series, Bendis used her as a foil for Luke Cage. Bendis’ work on Luke Cage morphed the character from a loud-talking, quick-tempered ghetto strongman stereotype into a more even-keeled, low-key superhero. When all the other Avengers were dramatically shouting in big crossovers, Luke was the one with a quietly witty aside. The take seemed to call back to the self-awareness of the 1980s PM/IF run, where writer Christopher Priest had Cage reference his “loud, angry Negro” persona as a code-switching performance.
Jessica was the one character who was always one up on Cage. She always out-sassed him and got under his unbreakable skin in adorable ways. Her transition into motherhood gave a character who seemingly never gave a fuck about anything something very important to care about. When she was single and childless, Jessica’s cynicism and self-loathing (both internal and external, thanks to Killgrave/Purple Man) had her making some bad decisions and doubting her own ability to be a hero.
In the past, the couple’s arguments read more like the disagreements of two equals. At first, Jessica had Luke’s back with regard to the Superhuman Registration Act that ignited the 2006 Civil War crossover.
When Jessica eventually left Luke’s side to align with Tony Stark, the safety of their child was the main reason. Their fights were intense and it felt like neither one of them were ready to give ground:
In 2016 PM/IF, Jessica feels like a killjoy. A nag. I understand what writer David Walker is doing in this version of PM/IF. In his set-up, Luke is the chilled-out family man with responsibilities that draw boundaries around his life and Danny’s the old friend who wants his buddy to come out and party, superhero style. It’s a reliable sitcom template, if a little rote.
That framework needs somebody to cast aspersions on the chaos that the lead characters get up to. In buddy-cop flicks like Lethal Weapon, it’s a gruff, ball-busting commanding officer. Unfortunately, Jessica Jones is the “commanding officer” here and that role gets fused with an overload of “yo, your wife’s a bitch, dude.” The result is a Jessica Jones who doesn’t feel right. I winced when I re-read this sequence from issue #3:
The story logic demands that Jessica Jones be the sensible one here. Indeed, nobody familiar with her backstory would expect her to be a deferential, June Cleaver-style “little woman.” She’s the mother who anchors her household against whatever foolishness that her husband’s steel-hard butt may get into. But the pendulum feels like it’s swung too hard, all the way from don’t-give-a-fuck to unclench-why-don’t-you. I can laugh at a hen-pecked Luke Cage but the joke feels like it’s worn out its welcome. Luke and Jessica are two tougher-than-normal metahumans who wound up discovering that they need each other but the new Power Man and Iron Fist hasn’t shown any of the unexpected tenderness that also characterized their relationship.
This week’s issue #4 gives me a little bit of hope. The exchange between Luke and Jessica is more snark than harangue.
The series’ first arc just ended and there’s plenty of time to tweak Jessica Jones’ characterization as time goes on. (She’ll likely be getting her own series again, too.) This is an easy problem to fix. I love this series and all three of these characters. I just want it to feel like they all love each other.