We’ve started the month talking about one of the most popular villains of all time with the Joker, now we’re going to end talking about one of the most sadistic, terrifying, and underrated villains of all time: Purple Man.
Born in Croatia as Zebediah Kilgrave, Purple Man was a physician turned communist spy from Yugoslavia, which is now modern day Croatia. He was sent to infiltrate a chemical factory, where an accident occurred, causing his skin to turn purple and for his mind control abilities to form. He’s able to bend people to his will just by looking at them and speaking to them.
Purple Man first appeared in Daredevil #4 in 1964. He wasn’t a popular villain at the time, and has made most of his appearances in the 21st century.
One of the key parts of Purple Man as a character is his manipulation of women. He’s simultaneously a charismatic charmer who’s calm voice entrances people, and an evil manipulator with a penchant for sexual slavery. He first tested his powers by forcing a woman to marry him. It was when he developed feelings that he released her from his spell, hoping she would reciprocate his love. Obviously she didn’t, and left him, bearing him a child, Kara, who later becomes Purple Girl.
Purple Man is not first stopped because of his sex crimes but because of his involvement in a bank robbery. Kilgrave has Matt Murdock become his lawyer where he meets Karen Page, who becomes one of his victims. Daredevil defeats him, saving Page. Kilgrave is sent to prison but soon escapes, spending time in San Francisco and the American Midwest, failing to succeed as a criminal in both places. He ends up moving back to New York, where he meets his archnemesis: Jewel, or Jessica Jones
Here Purple Man’s role in the comics increases. In the “Alias” series, started in 2001, we get introduced to Jessica Jones for the first time and we see an increase in Purple Man’s prominence. He uses her as his sexual slave, forcing her to go against the Avengers, where she’s defeated and forced out of her trance. This leads to Jewel’s temporary retirement from heroism. Purple Man is then defeated by Daredevil.
The villain escapes prison and retires from crime until Kingpin captures him, using Kilgrave’s powers for his own gain. Kingpin and Doctor Doom are able to resist Kilgrave’s control. Both force him to do their bidding. He at one point created the “Villains for Hire” organization as a response to Misty Knight’s Heroes for Hire, and continued to taunt Jessica Jones and many other superheroes.
Kilgrave’s own sexual deviancy caused problems for him. It was found that he fathered many children besides Kara. He brought them together but underestimated their resentment. They ended up killing Purple Man allowing for an end to his reign.
Outside of Comics
Purple Man, while appearing a few times outside of comics in video games and animated television shows, has had his most well known adaptation in Netflix’s Marvel series Jessica Jones. Here he drops the title of Purple Man and just goes by Kilgrave, which is itself an alias for Kevin Thompson. Other changes include the lack of purple skin, the wide array of purple suits, and a different backstory and nationality. This Purple Man is British, portrayed by Scottish Doctor Who actor David Tenant.
Like Kingpin, Kilgrave is a sympathetic yet morally corrupt character. Jessica Jones was able to examine dark themes usually not prescribed to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The sinister nature of Kilgrave was developed. There’s discussion of trauma and the sexual assault narrative, from the comics, is carried over. Tenant is known for giving excellent performances. He’s done a wide variety of roles from Doctor Who to Hamlet. He delivers here, and creates a character that’s both intriguing and sinister.
While Purple Man doesn’t have the notoriety of other villains, he proves to be engaging due to his flamboyant personality and the horrific nature of his crimes. While his portrayal in the comics is that of a weaker threat, Netflix’s Jessica Jones changed the script and provided a dark narrative for a character that deserves it. With the #metoo movement revolving around manipulators like Kilgrave, it’ll be interesting to see where they take the character next.
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