As part of our lead-up to Marvel’s Jessica Jones, we’ve put together a few posts to introduce you to what we know about the show’s cast of characters—most of whom have quite a bit of history in Marvel Comics. Today, we meet Kilgrave.
One of the defining of comic book supervillains is how colorfully they present themselves. These aren’t common street thugs or suited enforcers, but individuals with unique gimmicks or qualities that separate them from the rest of the pack. In Zebediah Killgrave, a.k.a. The Purple Man’s, case, the “colorful” part is literal.
If you saw a guy in real life completely clothed in purple and skin color the same shade, you probably wouldn’t expect him to be that threatening. In Purple Man’s case, you would be wise to run as far as possible in the other direction if you catch even a glimpse of him. This isn’t a bad guy who is dangerous because of how physically strong he is, but how he can torment you mentally, and sometimes, that’s even more frightening.
Thanks to a lab accident, Killgrave’s skin gives off a pheromone that allows him to control others simply by speaking. This control is only at its greatest when he’s in direct contact with the victim, so once he leaves an area, his influence will subside. That said, whoever is near him will be affected, so it doesn’t matter if it’s one person or one hundred nearby. His body has also been altered so that he can heal faster than usual, but it’s the mind control thing that one should worry the most about. This man is one of the most sadistic supervillains the Marvel universe has ever seen.
Daredevil #4 (1964): This was Purple Man’s first appearance in the comics, where he publicly debuted his unique power and used it against the then-yellow and black garbed Daredevil.
Alias (2001-2004): This is the series where his horrific relationship with Jessica Jones unfolded, and readers saw what kind of a monster he really is.
Daredevil #8-10 (2014): As of this writing, this is the most recent story Purple Man has appeared. In this arc, Daredevil finds himself not just going up against his old enemy, but his children as well, all of whom share his suggestion ability when they’re together.
Character History (Warning: there are SPOILERS ahead!)
Dr. Zebediah Killgrave hailed from Rijeka, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). Originally a physician, he switched professions and became an international spy. One of his missions required him to infiltrate a chemical refinery, but during the operation, he was accidentally covered in a chemical that turned his skin clothes all purple. That by itself would have been unfortunate, but while Killgrave was being interrogated by his superiors on why he failed the mission, he was freed despite giving a pathetic alibi. After a few more tests, he discovered that the mysterious chemical had given him the power to command the wills of others. Logically, he decided that the best way to put this ability to use was becoming a criminal.
Purple Man is primarily known as being a member of Daredevil’s rogues gallery. During their first encounter, the Man Without Fear found he was highly resistant to the villain’s influence. Although Killgrave kidnapped his love interest Karen Page, Daredevil was able to defeat him by wrapping him in a plastic sheet that dampened his powers. The two would battle each other a few more times, but by the 1980s, Purple Man’s appearances were few and far between. It was in Alias that his twisted connection to Jessica Jones was established.
Early in her career as the superhero Jewel, Jessica encountered Purple Man while he was starting a riot, and he used his powers to take control of her. For the next several months, he psychologically tortured and humiliated her. After growing enraged at Daredevil’s constant victories, Killgrave eventually sent Jessica to kill the Man Without Fear, and the heroine went to Avengers Mansion to get the job done. However, the confused Jessica mistook Scarlet Witch for Daredevil and attacked her. Because of the slip-up, the Avengers were able to subdue her, and after learning she had been brainwashed, had Jean Grey turn off the mental programming and made it so Purple Man couldn’t control her again. Jessica’s captor was apprehended soon after, but she was so traumatized by what happened that she gave up her superhero life. When he escaped from prison, he tried to control her again, but she resisted and knocked him out.
In the years since then, Purple Man has primarily kept himself busy by repeatedly escaping The Raft (the Marvel universe’s supervillain prison) and getting into trouble, whether it was manipulating Luke Cage or screwing around with Baron Zemo and the Thunderbolts. During the Fear Itself event, he tried to kill fellow bad guy Puppet Master, but was stopped Elektra and the Heroes for Hire (the new organization, not Luke Cage and Iron Fist). He was most recently seen in Mark Waid’s Daredevil run trying to use his powered children to take control of whole countries and finally experience unconditional love. His children eventually stood up to him and tried to kill him, but his healing powers allowed him to survive. He then followed his children to San Francisco and tried to punish them for their disobedience, but Daredevil defeated him and saved the kids.
Which brings us to Jessica Jones, where Kilgrave (the TV show decided to drop an ‘l’ from his name) will be played by Doctor Who’s David Tennant. Just as in Alias, Kilgrave took control of Jessica and traumatized her, and when the series begins, he’ll come back into her life. Beyond that, we don’t know what he has planned. If Jessica Jones took the same care fleshing out Kilgrave as Daredevil did with Wilson Fisk, then we can expect another complex character who isn’t just doing evil for evil’s sake, but has his own unique reasons for committing these crimes.
We’re also hoping that unlike the majority of their big screen heroes, Kilgrave makes it out of Jessica Jones Season 1 alive. That’s not to say he should be the main antagonist again in a potential Season 2, but if Tennant’s iteration of the character is as intimidating as we’re led to believe, then surely there’s more to be done with him beyond one season. Regardless, we’ll find out what’s in store for Kilgrave when Jessica Jones premieres on Netflix November 20.
To read more about information other characters from the series, see: