The most recent collaboration between Netflix and Marvel, Jessica Jones, has gotten a lot of attention for just how different it is than a lot of other works in the superhero genre. Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg’s series offers up a uniquely complicated new female hero operating within a world with an extraordinary amount of depth. It also features an antagonist that many have deemed one of the very best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Kilgrave, a terrifying new villain who doesn’t necessarily view himself as a bad guy.
As played by Scottish actor David Tennant, Kilgrave (or “Killgrave,” as he is known in the comics) is gleefully evil but simultaneously chilling. He’s a man who has the ability to make anyone do whatever he wants and he wields that power indiscriminately. An aspect of Kilgrave’s power isn’t just making a person do something, but making them want to do it, confusing their desires so they feel that his will is their own. And while those powers didn’t change much from page to screen, Kilgrave’s background and the way he’s utilized did undergo adjustments – some more major than others. Each iteration of the character we’ve seen has managed to up the intimidation factor, transforming Kilgrave from a one-dimensional villain to a highly formidable foe.
Here are 12 Things You Need to Know About Kilgrave.
12. He started off as a Daredevil villain in the 60s
Killgrave – spelled as such in the comics in an obvious effort to really drive home his villainous intentions – made his first appearance in 1964 in the fourth issue of Daredevil, the first page of which touts him as the “most off-beat, far-out, ding-dong, rootin’-tootin’ crackerjack super-villain you just ever did see!” He never was one for subtlety.
His first appearance featured Killgrave robbing a bank by simply walking up to the teller and asking for the money. It’s only once he’s long gone that the teller even realizes a robbery has occurred. Killgrave is easily apprehended (he stands out in a crowd) and assigned a lawyer for his case who just happens to be Daredevil himself, Matt Murdock. Killgrave doesn’t have much use for a lawyer, however, instead using his powers of persuasion to walk free – and kidnapping Matt’s frequent love interest Karen Page in the process. He orders civilians to attack Daredevil and, in an act familiar to anyone who caught the first season of Jessica Jones, almost makes Karen kill herself.
Though he is dispatched by the end of the issue and has the usual Silver Age silliness going for him, some early establishing information and character traits have carried through to his most recent depictions: his apathetic outlook towards others, his unrelenting arrogance, and of course, his penchant for knowing exactly how to hurt someone.
11. His real name is Zebediah Killgrave and he goes by Purple Man
While Kilgrave is an alias in the Netflix adaptation, it’s his real name in the comics. In fact, his full name is the even more unlikely: Zebediah Killgrave (still no word on why the TV series dropped the second “L”), though he is generally referred to as the Purple Man. Why? For one simple reason, one that goes beyond a strong affinity for the color: his skin is literally purple.
In Daredevil #4, Killgrave reveals his own history: he was a spy for an unspecified but presumably communist country on a mission in an American army depot when he was spotted by a guard. The guard fired on him but narrowly missed, instead hitting a container of chemicals, shattering it and dousing Killgrave in a strange substance which turned his skin, hair, and clothes purple – in addition to giving him his powers. Killgrave was immediately made aware of his powers, as he was able to easily evade a troop of swarming guards. All he had to do was tell them he was innocent, and they believed him. Killgrave’s power of suggestion is later explained to be the work of pheromones he secretes. Daredevil hilariously manages to circumvent this by wrapping Killgrave in a plastic sheet, leading to the villain’s first defeat.
10. His daughter, Kara Killgrave, is a superhero
After gaining his powers, Killgrave had no compunction about using them to further his own selfish ends, particularly when it came to taking advantage of women. This dates back to his first appearance, when he compelled Karen Page to leave with him against her will. At one point he meets a woman named Melanie and forces her to marry him, which results in the birth of a daughter, Kara. Killgrave cedes his control over Melanie when he decides that he’s fallen in (his version of) love with her, thinking she might stay with him anyway. Of course, the horrified Melanie leaves him to raise her child alone.
Upon reaching puberty, Kara’s inherited powers kicked in: her skin turned purple and she found she could control others. That, combined with her mother explaining who her real father was, sent Kara into a tailspin, and she ran away from home. Despite her appearance, however, she was nothing like her father, though she certainly made mistakes with her powers before learning to control them. Kara later went on to become a superhero, going by hyper-literal pseudonyms like Purple Girl, Persuasion, and Purple Woman.
9. Beware the Purple Children
Kara wasn’t Killgrave’s only child. His crime sprees often involved the fulfillment of his own desires, treating the world as if anything in it was his to take – and other people as if they existed to serve him. This extended, as already noted, to women; Killgrave was a serial rapist who conceived children with the various women he controlled. All of these children inherited his powers and purple skin and, when the time came, Killgrave gathered them to function as his own personal army.
These children made their comic book debut in 2014 with Daredevil #8. Killgrave, unfulfilled by a life in which he never faces any resistance and everything comes so easily, wants the unconditional love of his children without using his powers to get it. This backfires, of course, urging his children to resist him leads to them, well, actually resisting him. The kids mutiny and use their powers to make Killgrave walk in front of a streetcar, and they ultimately become Daredevil’s problem to deal with. Killgrave survives the attempt on his life, of course, because in comics, death is just like taking a nap.
8. He once “worked” for Doctor Doom
In the 1987 graphic novel Emperor Doom, supervillain Doctor Doom kidnaps Killgrave and imprisons him in a device that is able to simultaneously contain him and magnify his abilities. Doom then uses Killgrave’s powers to enslave the entire world. He didn’t do such a bad job, either – if you discount the totally fascist dictatorship aspect of the ordeal. With the help of Killgrave’s abilities, Doom was able to bring about world peace and rid the world of violence, though he turned everyone into mindless automatons in the process.
It was an interesting predicament for Killgrave – the man who had never faced true opposition being made completely helpless in the same way all of his victims were brought with it an obvious sense of irony. He wasn’t the primary threat of the story, but merely a tool to be used by an even bigger threat. Ultimately, Doom found world peace boring, and in a throwdown with the Avengers, Killgrave was able to escape. His biggest turn in comics was still to come.
7. In one alternate future, he’s the President of the United States
In the alternate universe story Marvel 1602, written by comic legend Neil Gaiman, most of our familiar superheroes live in the Elizabethan era instead of modern times, and Killgrave is the catalyst for this change. Though he only appears briefly in flashbacks, it is his thirst for power that sets off the events of the story.
In the dystopian future of that universe, Killgrave uses his powers to become President of the United States for life – not entirely dissimilar to what Doom had done, except he’d cut out the middleman. Killgrave rounds up heroes (including Spider-Man and Daredevil) and kills them to squash any traces of dissension. Captain America, who had been conspiring against Killgrave in the resistance, is captured, shot in the head, and sent back in time so no one could use him (or his remains) as a memorial to inspire others. Steve Rogers awakens in the late 16th century with no idea who he is and is taken in by Native Americans. This created the alternate timeline and brought superheroes into being 400 years sooner than in the normal Marvel timeline.
6. Alias was a major turning point for the character
Though Killgrave made sporadic appearances in comics from the ’60s through the ’80s, it wasn’t until Brian Michael Bendis’ 2001 series, Alias, that he became as unsettling and formidable as he is now considered. Alias serves as a major source of inspiration for the Jessica Jones Netflix series, as it follows the former-superheroine in the wake of her Killgrave-induced trauma. The Jessica of Alias is a troubled, unhappy private investigator struggling with alcoholism as she solves cases. She had previously been a superhero named Jewel, using her powers of flight and super-strength to help people, until Killgrave entered her life.
He used her abilities for his own gain and tortured her in every manner imaginable for months. Jessica became unable to tell the difference between his orders and her own desires because she was so beaten down by him. Killgrave ordered her to kill Daredevil, his old nemesis, but Jessica mistook the Scarlet Witch’s red costume for Daredevil’s and attacked her instead, and a subsequent battle with the Avengers left Jessica in a coma. It was only after this that she was freed of Killgrave’s control, but it had an understandably profound affect on her. It was here that Killgrave became more than a villain of the week, transforming into one of the more sinister antagonists in the comic medium.
5. He’s as immoral as they come
It’s unclear whether it was his powers that corrupted Killgrave or if an already-toxic personality caused him to take advantage of his persuasive abilities to such damaging effect. We never really meet him before his chemical accident, but his daughter Kara serves to exemplify the good that could be accomplished using his abilities; Killgrave simply chooses to be evil.
The character is defined by his insatiable greed. He’s materialistic in just about every way: he seeks money, expensive clothes, fancy dinners, and nice hotels. Any imaginable luxury is at his fingertips if he merely asks for it, and having that sense of authority has given Killgrave an immense sense of entitlement. With the power to make anything his, he feels that he has a right to whatever he desires, whether that’s people or things. There are instances where Killgrave expresses dissatisfaction because he never knows what is real or what is his creation – such as allowing his “wife” Melanie or children to go uncontrolled to see how they really feel – but it’s hard to have any sympathy for him, considering his repugnant actions.
4. Certain characters can resist him.
Though a large part of Killgrave’s power lies in how his commands are impossible to defy, there have been characters who were able to resist his abilities. Killgrave’s mind control is a result of the pheromones he emits, so proximity is important – but so is human biology. Robotic (or even alien characters) would presumably be immune to Killgrave, so android heroes like the Vision are safe from his wrath. However, in the comics, most of the characters who can resist his control do so out of sheer force of will (like Doctor Doom and Kingpin). Daredevil is able to resist because of his heightened senses and control over his body. In Emperor Doom, Wonder Man was also able to resist, though the explanation for why is less clear. Perhaps the ionic treatments that gave him his powers made him naturally immune?
However, in the Netflix adaptation, strength of will isn’t nearly enough to disregard Kilgrave. It makes him an even more dangerous villain and a nearly insurmountable obstacle. In the comics, Jean Grey uses telepathic abilities to enter Jessica Jones’ mind and prevent her from falling prey to Killgrave again, but in the series, it’s handled differently. Jessica spends much of the show trying to break free of Kilgrave’s active control of her and the scars he left behind, but her ability to resist seems to imply that there is a breaking point. It’s possible that sheer will could work in this iteration of the characters as well.
3. He returns after Alias
Jessica is able to defeat Killgrave in Alias, but he survives the encounter and is sent to a prison specifically designed for superpowered criminals. He doesn’t cross paths with Jessica again, but he does try to cause trouble for her and her husband Luke Cage. Luke hadn’t encountered Killgrave during Alias’ run because his relationship with Jessica began after she had faced her literal demons, but he have a run-in with Killgrave some time afterwards.
In Jessica Jones, Luke becomes another victim of Kilgrave’s, though he’s not present at the climactic showdown in the season finale, so he doesn’t get to personally settle the score (yet). But in an issue of New Avengers, Luke is trying to contain a breakout at the supervillain prison when he crosses paths with Killgrave, who orders Luke to kill his Avenger friends and then himself, leaving Jessica (who’s pregnant with Luke’s child) once again vulnerable to Killgrave. However, the prison had been drugging Killgrave so his powers wouldn’t work (unbeknownst to him), leaving Luke free to ignore his orders and give him a savage revenge beating. And if anyone deserves a punch, it’s definitely Killgrave.
2. The Netflix series uses him as an analog for real world sexism and domestic abuse
At several points in Jessica Jones, Kilgrave instructs women, in person or through a proxy, to smile. It was something that resonated immediately with female viewers and became a heavy theme of both the character and the series: Kilgrave is sexism personified. He represents all of the petty little everyday irritations as well as the big, life-altering traumas. Most women have been hassled on the street, told to smile by strangers who frighten them or make them uncomfortable. Jessica having to prove he even exists to the outside world mirrors the difficulties many women have as they struggle to be taken seriously about the abuse they suffer.
Part of the show’s appeal is that it doesn’t sugarcoat any of this. It states explicitly what Kilgrave did (abduct Jessica, control her, rape her, violate her) and also shows how utterly deluded he is. He hurts Jessica and then wants to be thanked for it, because he did so in nice hotels and fancy restaurants. He doesn’t even believe that what he’d done to her in the past constituted rape. Kilgrave’s entitlement to women (their bodies, emotions, time and attention) is both a symptom and a reflection of the world we live in today.
1. His backstory was tweaked for the Netflix series
In addition to losing one “L” in his name, Netflix’s Kilgrave has an entirely different backstory than his comic book counterpart. Tennant’s Kilgrave has an air of realism about his appearance (in that his skin isn’t purple), though the color remains associated with him in clothing and specific lighting cues. Kilgrave retains his taste for extravagance and his persuasive powers, though instead of producing pheromones, it’s revealed that his abilities are actually a virus.
His name also isn’t really Kilgrave; it’s Kevin Thompson. As a child, he was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disorder that would have killed him eventually had it not been for the tireless efforts of his scientist parents. Many of the experimental procedures they put him through were incredibly painful and traumatic, but it was thanks to these experiments that little Kevin acquired his abilities. After that, he flipped the script, from hurt child to total sociopath, and tortured his parents until they were forced to abandon him. It’s a far cry from his Silver Age origins, but it adds layers to his character without sacrificing what makes him so interesting.
It’s unclear whether we’ll be seeing more of Kilgrave in Jessica Jones‘ recently confirmed second season, though we’re certainly holding out hope that the showrunners can figure out a way to work him back onto the series. After all, a hero is only as good as the bad guys they face. What’s your favorite Kilgrave factoid? Should Marvel look to bring him back in season 2, or has the villain’s arc been completed? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!
Season one of Jessica Jones is currently streaming on Netflix.