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William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

A while back I was talking to a friend about Hemingway and the art of leaving things out. In the famous Paris Review interview he gave to George Plimpton he said,
“I’ve seen the marlin mate and know about that. So I leave that out. I’ve seen a school (or pod) of more than fifty sperm whales in that same stretch of water and once harpooned one nearly sixty feet in length and lost him. So I left that out. All the stories I know from the fishing village I leave out. But the knowledge is what makes the underwater part of the iceberg.”
Watching Jessica Jones while A was out of town I had a small epiphany: one of the reasons that the recent run of Marvel stories-- in film, and especially in the series-- work as well as they do is exactly because they leave out so much. In fact, when the movies fail it is generally because they insist on telling too much: again with the radioactive spider?

Over the years comics have done a formidable job of developing  a dense mythology, rich with characters and history, and when we see it on the screen we don't need annotation. That's a girl passing through a solid wall in the background-- nobody needs to tell me it's Kitty Pride. "Hand me that," Tony Stark says, and hey! Isn't that Captain America's shield? I was unfamiliar with Jessica Jones before I started watching, but I know who the Purple Man is, and I know that a big, indestructible African-American guy is Luke Cage. I think the character that  amused me the most is Jessica's friend, Trish. It took me a bit, but then I realized that she is Patsy Walker, one of the most interesting people in the Marvel Universe. Patsy started out as a character in a teen comic sort of like Archie, then went on to be the star of a comic about a young model, and then became Hellcat, a member of the Defenders who was married to Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. The thing is, nobody needs to know any of this to enjoy the show, which is about free will versus coercion-- as old a story as there is. The part that is left out gives the characters depth and dimension, but you don't see that part, and that's where the brilliance is.


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