Yesterday, another Marvel story launched on Serial Box, Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire. As I’ve recently been recapping the excellent Black Widow: Bad Blood serialized novel published weekly on the site, I wanted to try this one out as well.
I’ll admit from the get-go that I’m not nearly as familiar with Jessica Jones as I am with Natasha Romanoff, having only ever seen the first season of her Netflix show—something I should really get around to rectifying. However, the Black Widow series has been impressive enough that I was happy to give this one a shot too, and from what I’ve read so far, I’m very glad that I did.
For those new to Serial Box, the site is an online service that provides sci-fi and fantasy stories to read and listen to. The stories are released as weekly episodes using synced audiobooks and ebooks so you can easily switch between the audio and written versions as it suits you. All the stories are originals, often from new and upcoming writers, but there are some classics as well as franchise-linked stories, including three from Marvel: the ongoing Black Widow: Bad Blood, this Jessica Jones story, and the previously released Thor: Metal Gods which is now available in its entirety. In order to experience a story, readers can purchase the season for roughly the same cost as buying a book, giving them access to all chapters as both e-books and audiobooks.
Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire opens mid-action sequence with Jessica helping to settle a dispute between two rival ice cream truck companies which has recently turned bloody. Jessica is working hard to reform herself. She’s quit drinking during office hours and is keeping up with her therapy appointments. Taking her therapist’s advice to try and take on fewer cases that require significant emotional investment, Jessica accepts what appears to be a simple missing person’s case. However, when the young man she’s been hired to find turns up dead beneath an underpass, Jessica can’t help but suspect there is more going on than just another tragic NYC overdose.
I found the opening three chapters of this story deeply engaging. As part of her investigation, Jessica discovers the world of “flares,” powered young people who have formed an underground scene, using their powers to create art, perform live shows, and find ways of living a bohemian lifestyle. Jamie—the young man whose disappearance Jessica was hired to investigate—was one of these flares, living in a commune with other powered people, building a reputation as a street artist, and performing in a club. What I found especially interesting is how the response to the flares mirrors the experiences many LGBTQ people go through. Jamie’s own conservative father refers to Jamie as a “freak,” talks about his choice to hide that aspect of his personality from others during high school, and even talks about sending him to “repression therapy,” a phrase any LGBTQ person will instantly understand to be an analogy for conversion therapy. While using superpowers as an analogy for the LGBTQ community is anything but new—one glance at the X-Men should tell you that—this is the first time I’ve seen it used so blatantly in something MCU-adjacent.
I wasn’t sure how different Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire would be from Black Widow: Bad Blood and, honestly, I was slightly concerned that trying to read them both simultaneously might end up with me getting confused, but that clearly won’t be the case. The writing style here is far more irreverent than in the Black Widow story and the language borders on being rather more fruity too, although nothing I wouldn’t expect to see in the pages of a YA novel. Jessica’s personality shines out from every page and anyone who enjoyed watching the Netflix show will instantly engage with her here. Although both Jessica and Natasha are women with traumatic pasts using their powers to try and make good in the world, the differences between these stories are as marked as I would hope them to be and show that similar-seeming characters don’t have to result in cookie-cutter storytelling.
Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire seems like it will be another great Marvel offering from Serial Box. Check back soon for my review and recap of episodes four and five.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.