Millions of people are binging on Jessica Jones right now. They’re watching as a sadistic predator named Kilgrave makes the title character’s life a living hell. Kilgrave’s even worse in the comics, though: he’s a crappy absentee dad who passed his powers to a bunch of angry, neglected sons and daughters.
Mild spoilers follow for the Jessica Jones TV series and recent Daredevil comics.
Killgrave — spelled with two L’s and initially known as The Purple Man in Marvel’s comics — started off as a Daredevil villain. His superpower is that he can issue impossible-to-resist commands with his voice. The purple-skinned manipulator was mostly a C-list annoyance who gave Matt Murdock big problems but never wrecked his life the way that, say, Bullseye or Kingpin managed to.
That all changed during the recent award-winning run of Daredevil written by Mark Waid with art by Chris Samnee, Matthew Wilson and Joe Caramagna. A three-issue storyline brought Zebediah Killgrave back into Daredevil’s life with a clutch of kids who shared his mind-control powers. The story touches on some of the same character beats that motivate Kilgrave on the Jessica Jones TV series. He’s a man who can get anything he wants but craves affection that’s freely given.
His re-emergence reveals that his years of coercing women to sleep with him had two purposes: shallow short-term sexual gratification and the eventual creation of children who’d adore him because he was their father, not because his powers made them like him. But the Purple Kids don’t know him, since he wasn’t there when they were growing up. They don’t love him at all.
In fact, they hate him. And the Purple Kids use their own upgraded mind-control powers — which are so strong when they’re together that using them doesn’t require speech — to try to send dear ol’ dad to an early death.
The second part of the storyline sees the Purple Kids going out on the town in San Francisco and doing whatever they want. Daredevil tries to intervene but is outmatched by the kids’ crowd control.
Part of what makes this storyline so devastating is that it happened when Daredevil had gotten a lot of his own worst behaviours under control. Even though he confirmed that he was leading a vigilante double life, was barred from practising law in New York and had a best friend fighting cancer, Matt Murdock was more well-adjusted than ever.
The self-destructive impulsiveness that brought him to the brink of despair so many times before was under control. He was starting over in San Francisco with a healthy romantic life and a lucrative deal to write an autobiography. But, a run-in with the Killgrave children showed just how fragile that newfound stability was.
Matt Murdock has lived a very messed-up life, which makes him especially vulnerable to the kids’ emotional attacks.
As someone who thrilled to the idea of a more emotionally stable Daredevil, these panels were crushing to read.
Things get even more complicated when it turns out that daddy Zebediah isn’t dead. Terrible parent that he is, Killgrave wants revenge on his kids and obedience from them.
Daredevil wins the day, of course, but this story arc was notable for putting a name to the turmoil Matt had experienced over the years. Daredevil was a superhero who’d been fighting depression, and it’s clear that Waid’s writing invokes his own experiences battling to keep up his mental health. Even in an era where bleak thematic backdrops are the order of the day for superhero fiction, this was a refreshingly raw take. Better still, Waid’s version of Daredevil is a character that shows it’s possible to fight and win — as long as you’re vigilant and get the help you need — against this horrible illness.
I haven’t finished watching Jessica Jones yet but there are a few instances where Kilgrave-controlled kids interact with the show’s main character. Every one of those instances reminded me of the storyline above and gave me goosebumps. It’s clear that the show’s version of Kilgrave — informed greatly by the Alias comics series where Jessica Jones debuted — comes at Jessica from a more intimately insidious angle. Kilgrave is so disturbing because he can get under your skin and stay there. The notion of damaged superpowered kids that could do the same in a more primal way is so terrifying that I hope the Killgrave children never make it into a screen adaptation.