The Variants Cover

Gail Simone Breaks Down Jessica Jones’ Universe-Spanning Case


Years ago, Jessica Jones endured a terrible trauma that ended her brief career as a costumed superhero, but not her work helping others. That’s because she opened a private detective agency. The cases she took on allowed her to assist desperate people caught up in the tumultuous and dangerous world of New York’s superhero and supervillain communities. She also became a prominent part of the hero community when she married Luke Cage, who recently became the Mayor of New York.

This June, Jess will learn what might have happened if she made other choices when she accepts a case that brings her face-to-face with several of her alternate reality counterparts. It all happens in The Variants, a five-issue mini-series from Gail Simone and artist Phil Noto. CBR spoke with Simone about the series, her take on and love for Jessica Jones, the titular characters Jess meets, and the roles Jess’ friends and family play in the story. Also included are previews from The Variants, drawn and colored by Phil Noto.

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CBR: How does it feel to be given a chance to write a character like Jessica Jones? What are some of your favorite things about her and the world she inhabits?

Gail Simone: It’s a funny thing, but in my career, I have always been attracted most to the characters that I felt, rightly or wrongly, were at a bit of a low point in their characterization or visibility. In short, I like to try to polish up characters a little bit when they hadn’t had the spotlight they deserve for a while. With Jessica Jones, that just wasn’t the case. She’s pretty much always been handled immaculately, first by her creator, Brian Bendis, and then by brilliant writers like Kelly Thompson. So she was never really on my radar in the same way that some of the other characters I love have been. She just was already in the best possible hands.

What appealed to me upon second read was, she’s one of the few ongoing characters who has been allowed to evolve in a naturalistic way. Read her first stories up to her more recent ones, and it feels like every event she’s experienced has made her better and even more vibrant. That’s rare with these characters. They often go from reboot to reboot without a thought. Jessica had a LIFE that she’s lived.

It’s intimidating. The standard is very high. I just want to tell a story with as much heart as possible. I think people will be surprised. I do love that seedy neighborhood feel of her stories. I love those less Stark-y bits of the Marvel Universe, but I also have to say, when Tom asked me if I wanted to do this, I hesitated, mostly for the reasons stated above. Then he said, “What if we got Phil Noto to do the art?” and that was it. I never said “YES, I’M IN!” so fast in my life.

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As you said, Jessica is a character who’s changed a lot over the years, and The Variants is a story about her confronting some of her multiversal counterparts. So that raises the question of what do you feel Jess’ defining character traits are?

To me, Jessica is an avatar of survival, which I am always a sucker for. She lived through some of the most terrifying trauma imaginable, and her story is always one of finding the light again, finding a reason to keep going. This is such an important message. It’s heroic as hell to me. At cons, I meet readers who have been through the most awful stuff, and many of them carry those burdens in silence. I don’t think it’s corny to say that Jessica represents that in a way few mainstream characters do. I want to tell a story that celebrates that kind of heroism — and it is heroism.

I’m not really interested in berserker characters. I just don’t find them surprising. Someone pulling themselves up and extending a hand to others, that’s just breathtaking stuff to me, and no one represents that in comics like Jessica. AND she can knock you flat if you step across that line.

The cover of The Variants #1 suggests two of the titular characters Jess meets are her past identities of Jewel and Knightress. What was it like bouncing her off those familiar seeming counterparts?

Oh, it gets so much weirder. One of the funnest aspects of Jessica is, she’s a down-to-earth character to such a degree that she deliberately eschews the superhero tropes and lifestyle, yet she sometimes ends up working with the Avengers or fighting Ultron or whatever impossible thing. It often feels like she’s from another genre, that of the hardboiled private eye, and has been dropped in this setting where she doesn’t belong at all. For that reason, the Variants are even more fun than they would be for, say, a character who has met multiverse versions of themselves a dozen times already.

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What can you tell us about some of the new Jess Variants that you created for this story?

Well, there were a couple I had to get permission for. Can I just hint that maybe they didn’t come from the Marvel Universe at all?

Interesting! What roles will Jess’ friends and family play in The Variants? What’s it like writing characters like Luke Cage in a story like this?

I don’t want to say too much, but I’ve been dying to write Luke for a long time. It’s funny because one of the characters gets on Luke’s bad side right away, and it’s my favorite scene in the book so far. He’s Luke Cage, you can’t go wrong. Just make the coolest, toughest, best guy and give him a yellow shirt — you’re good.

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What can you tell us about the structure and shape of The Variants? Is this just as much a P.I. tale as a fantastic sci-fi one?

I am writing a beast with two heads. I want it to be a story that people who know nothing about Jessica can still enjoy, BUT that if you do know her and love her, you won’t feel anything is being left behind. This is the Jessica from all those great stories you loved, and it moves her forward in surprising ways, but you can come into it completely cold, as well. You’ll be welcome. There’s some P.I. stuff, and because I don’t get to do as much in the MU as I would like due to my schedule, it’s got a bunch of my favorite Marvel characters. Getting to write Daredevil, man, that was fun.

What can you tell us about the antagonists of The Variants? Are you dealing with familiar characters? Brand-new ones? Or a bit of both?

I can’t say too much here, but the Variants are going to surprise you. Yes, there are a couple you’ll clearly see coming, but some are jaw-dropping.

I don’t want to say who the bad guy is, but it’s definitely ****** up.

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It sounds like this is a story that involves big emotion, moody settings, and a variety of designs. Phil Noto is amazing at all of those things. So, what’s it like working with Phil to bring this story to life?

Phil Noto is a bucket list artist for me. I love his work so, so much. I am just a ridiculous fan of his. I know every writer says this all the time, but, I mean, really. It’s PHIL NOTO. I just never imagined it happening. He just seems to be on another level. Then when we actually talked about this, he was like, “What? I always wanted to work with YOU!” and could not be more kind and gracious.

I just got a full set of colored pages yesterday from him for an issue, and honest to god, I’ve just been staring at the pages. There’s a two-page spread unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a superhero comic before, and it’s just devastating to me on a visceral level. People often think of Phil as a design-heavy guy, like a single image artist. He IS astounding at that, but people might forget that nobody does acting any better than Phil. Two characters talking becomes a powerhouse page in his hands. I better shut up, or I’ll go on all day. It’s just some of the finest art I’ve ever had the pleasure to have on a book I wrote. I’d put it up against anything out there. It really is some of his best, most human, and emotional work.

Any final hints or teases you can leave us with about the trouble that Jess and her counterparts get into as The Variants unfolds?

Well, she does go to some experts in this field to get their opinion… This is a self-contained, complete story about what it’s like to live in the Marvel Universe and NOT be an X-man or Avenger. Jessica has a job. She has a family, and she has some boulders she’s had to smash her way out of, like a lot of us do. Here, someone tries to take what she’s got, what she’s worked so hard to build. They picked the wrong girl to **** with. I hope people pick it up, it’s an honor to be chosen to write her, and I can’t wait to share it!

Catch Gail Simone’s take on Jessica Jones in The Variants, arriving this June.

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