Here’s another title that you can add to the ranks of volumes where I started reading them before I went to bed and wasn’t able to stop until I had reached the end. I had my doubts about the setup for this volume, coming so close on the heels of “Return of the Purple Man.” The thing is that writer Kelly Thompson and artist Mattia De Iulis, with help from Filipe Andrade, craft a different kind of story about Jessica’s archnemesis that focuses on the psychological implications of his powers. They serve up some gripping drama as the title character worries about how much of this stuff is just going on in her head and how these worries spill over to her friends and family in the real world. If only the story didn’t serve to undercut itself by going back to a familiar well one more time.
At the end of the previous volume there was a development that made me go, “Too soon…” The title of this one is basically a spoiler for that: After coming back from a trip to the park, Jessica and Luke Cage find that their daughter Danielle has turned purple. It’s a clear sign that Jessica’s nemesis, the man who once captured and kept her under control for months, the Purple Man is back.
Or is he? The last time we saw the Purple Man, or Zebediah Killgrave as he’s also known, he was wracked by doubt about what he should be doing with his life. Ultimately, he took Jessica’s advice and killed himself and her friend Carol Danvers threw his body into the sun. That was supposed to be it. No more bad guy. Nightmare over.
Except that with Danielle turning purple the nightmare lives again in a new and even more frightening form. It puts Jessica in a very bad place, but also one that she knows how to punch (and drink) her way out from. In order to do that, she’s going to need to call on some very unconventional allies to solve the mystery of her purple daughter.
Where “Purple Daughter” really succeeds is in how Thompson really gets into Jessica’s head from the very start. She may not have created the character, but she understands her in a way that feels entirely consistent with Bendis’ stories. Even though Jessica is fueled by doubt and a certain amount of self-loathing, she knows how to avoid being buried by these things and uses them to fuel her investigation.
Yet that self-doubt is key to the story here as the mere fact that Killgrave might be involved again brings a whole new dimension to the nightmare the character has brought to Jessica’s life. There are certain implications regarding what Danielle’s skin change means. Her actual parentage being one of them. Then you’ve got the conversation Jessica has with Carol early on in which the latter does arguably too good a job of getting into her head and finds out that what’s happening here also has ramifications for her as well.
There’s also the pressure this development puts on Jessica and Luke’s relationship. Their romance and marriage has been one of the things I’ve enjoyed without reservation over the years as it was an unlikely superhero pairing that worked. So to see the both of them wracked with doubt as to whether or not their situation is even genuine as a result of this hits like a punch to the gut. They may be superheroes, but the fears they’re dealing with here feel all too believable. You really want to see them get past this and come out the other side stronger than before. Which is one more reason why I didn’t stop reading this volume until I was done last night.
Unfortunately the revelation as to who was behind Daniell’s change involves walking some stuff back and the introduction of a new (but not totally new) character. It’s not giving away much to say that Jessica meets up with Killgrave’s daughter Kara, and the Purple Children from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s “Daredevil” run. I’ve got no problem with seeing them here and it actually makes sense to have them interact with Jessica given her history with their father. This is also probably a good time to mention that this volume’s mutant guest star also plays off the PI quite well while bringing something new to the story as well.
The problem is that while the new character Thompson gives us in this volume does make a certain amount of sense regarding how they fit into the Purple Family, their presence is kind of an anti-climax. Much of the tension in this volume revolves around the question of “Killgrave’s dead, so who could be doing this to Jessica?” Having the answer be, “Someone you’ve never seen before who’s basically a new version of her archnemesis,” isn’t entirely satisfying.
The circumstances regarding how this character was able to get their powers does lead to some interesting situations in the last third. Jessica and Luke being forced into an idyllic mental prison with the former eventually having to make a deal with the devil in order to get out of it. This does lead to a welcome reaffirmation of Jessica’s strength of character, which is good. What’s not good is the fact that by the end of the volume the character has returned to a familiar status quo. Something I thought we had moved past after “Return of the Purple Man.”
De Iulis returns to illustrate the majority of this volume and the results are just as good as they were last time. While his linework is naturally slick and appealing, his character work is spot-on as well. In a story focused so much around the character’s inner fears and self-doubt, he’s able to sell their emotional states quite well on the page. De Iulis is also no slouch when the punching starts too.
He’s joined by Andrade for one issue in this volume and it’s not a fill-in. Andrade handles the “idyllic mental prison” part of the story and on one hand the results are quite good. There’s an unnatural look to his characters and the world they inhabit which gives the sequence the unnerving feeling it needs. The catch here is that I’ve only recently come around on the artist’s style when he’s pushing it in a more stylized direction, such as the issues of “Old Man Logan” he did. When Andrade tries to do “normal” stuff as he does here, it just looks weird and arguably sloppy. Which actually winds up working for this particular sequence. So that’s a win, I guess?
While I have my reservations about where things eventually wound up going with this volume, I still enjoyed reading “Purple Daughter.” Great art, an equally solid handle on the title character, and some gut-wrenching drama all make it a story well worth reading for fans of the character and quality Marvel superhero comics in general. Actually, this is something that you should really go out and buy RIGHT NOW because this appears to be the end of Jessica’s digital-first adventures. I really enjoyed what Thompson and De Iulis did with Jessica between these two volumes and it frankly sucks to think that these will be all we’re getting from them for now.