Trailers for the upcoming Netflix/Marvel installment Luke Cage are continuing to surface and my feelings about the upcoming series are mixed. On one hand I’m very much looking forward to Marvel’s Harlem based, Cheo H. Coker produced, Ali Shaheed Muhammad scored, melanin rich venture. On the other hand I’m hoping the hip-hop elements won’t tip the scales from promising and provocative to unrealized potential and pandering.
This entry, however, is not about Luke Cage but rather Jessica Jones where Luke Cage was introduced and specifically Jessica’s nemesis Zebediah Killgrave. I liked Killgrave. There are a number of articles in the blogosphere about Killgrave and how great David Tennant’s portrayal was. All things I agree with from the acting to the questions about patriarchy and consent. But those aren’t the things that endear me to Killgrave. What intrigues me the most is his inner turmoil and the struggles of navigating his life with those powers.
Now before anyone accuses me of being a [insert villainous activity] sympathizer please note that I do not excuse or condone anything Killgrave did. Wrong is wrong. I recall telling my co-worker that there is one circumstance where I actually had some empathy for Killgrave and that was his desire for Jessica. Sure he probably was on some macho bullshit just wanting what or who he cannot have and thus commits heinous crimes in his pursuit for her but the flip side is, he actually wanted Jessica because she is not subject to his power. Killgrave (it seems) actually wanted someone who could think for themselves. Not convinced? I’m not so sure either. But consider this:
Let’s set aside how Killgrave got the money. He bought the house that Jessica grew up in to impress her and he could have easily told the owner to sell it to him at or below market value. Instead he didn’t because if Jessica were to finally fancy him as he hoped, he didn’t want to take any shortcuts, even when he could have. Now the conspiracy theorist in me is never one to give too many benefits of the doubt. Killgrave could have simply wanted to cover his bases in case Jessica checked to see if he swindled the owner out of his home. Assuming that’s not the case, Killgrave did all of this in pursuit of someone who could make up their own mind, engage him in conversation that is not solely led by his instructions, and consent to being with him should that opportunity ever arise.
Does any of this excuse having a young woman kill her parents? Or any of his other numerous crimes and atrocities Killgrave committed? Nope. Not hardly. But it still makes him the most interesting of all the villains I have seen because of the questions raised around consent and will. Killgrave would and did use his powers at times he didn’t even want to. If anything, he had to try not to use them as opposed to actively doing something to use his powers. Normal everyday conversation as we know it is a “luxury” Killgrave did not have.
One could even argue Killgrave is/was one of the most powerful mutants ever as he could command almost anyone to do as he pleased. We’ve never seen him pitted against a Professor X or Phoenix but I would certainly love to see that (I’m not saying it hasn’t happened but I’m not enough of a comic book head to have seen it myself). Whose mind would prove to be more powerful? Would it be Killgrave’s who can just say what he wants without the need to put his hand to his forehead and concentrate? Killgrave “wields his powers” so effortlessly it’s like Will Hunting yelling how easy math is for him. Except it’s so easy he can’t turn it off and he becomes a miscreant to the highest degree.
I’m not sure any villain will top Killgrave for me (Hamill and Ledger‘s Jokers aside). I think most of us can agree that it is the villains that make a comic property great, even more so than the hero. This is why so many people (especially yours truly) love The Punisher. Ultimately the question comes down to, how good is your bad? Add to that bad some interesting context ala Killgrave and that bad becomes great. Let’s see what Cottonmouth can do.