When it comes to obscure Marvel heroes that you would never expect to see cross paths with Jessica Jones, the hard-drinking private eye, nobody beats the Whizzer. A speed demon with a bright yellow costume and crazy origin story involving a mongoose-blood transfusion (yes, really), the Whizzer raced into existence in 1941, when Marvel was still known as Timely Comics. After a not especially distinguished 77-year career, he’s now the surprising centerpiece of Jessica Jones‘s Season 2 premiere, which debuted on Netflix — along with the rest of the 13-episode season — today. Played by Jay Klaitz, the Whizzer shows up in the opening minutes of the episode, looking to hire Jessica for protection from someone he claims is trying to kill him. “They haven’t caught up to me yet, because of my superspeed,” he tells an incredulous Jones, adding, “I can only speed when I’m scared — I’m a fear-based hero.”
So how did this deep-cut character make the leap from the Marvel Comics archives to Netflix’s corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg gives full credit to Megan Thomas Bradner, a Marvel producing mainstay who has worked on such shows as The Punisher and Agent Carter. “We had created this character who was kind of a sad sack,” Rosenberg tells Yahoo Entertainment. “He had a power, but we weren’t sure what power. Megan suggested the Whizzer, and I was like, ‘The name alone is perfect!‘”
Far from being a sad sack, the original Whizzer — who made his first appearance in USA Comics No. 1 — had a disposition as bright as his banana-colored duds. Born Robert Frank, son of top scientist Dr. Emil Frank, he accompanied his old man on a research trip to Africa and found himself on the receiving end of a cobra bite. In a last-ditch effort to save his life, Dr. Frank injected his kid with the blood of an injured mongoose, a critter known for its speed and agility. Faster than you can say “Rikki-tikki-tavi,” Robert is racing around at mongoose-like speeds and has decided to use his powers to run circles around bad guys.
While he never scored his own comic book, the Whizzer spent the 1940s alternating solo adventures with appearances in team-up titles like Liberty Legion and All-Winners Squad, where he met his future wife and fellow costumed crimefighter Miss America. In later years, and in darker times for comics, tragedy would finally catch up with the fleet-footed hero. Miss America died, their son, Robert Jr., became the nuclear-powered villain Nuklo, and Robert himself survived heart attacks and battles with depression before passing away following a battle with an old nemesis in a 1982 issue of The Vision and Scarlet Witch. Prior to his appearance in Jessica Jones, Ford was resurrected in animated form for a 1997 episode of Fox’s Spider-Man cartoon, and more recently in a 2015 installment of Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man. (The Whizzer identity has also been assumed by other people over the decades, including James Sanders and Stanley Stewart.)
SPOILER ALERT: Rosenberg’s version of the Whizzer, who has been rechristened as Robert Coleman, also meets a sad end, buried under debris that plunges from Jessica’s building in an apparent accident that’s actually not at all accidental. But his life (and death) reverberates throughout the rest of the season, since it later turns out that Coleman’s speed — depicted in frankly goofy special effects that feel appropriate considering his goofy comic-book origin story — was gifted to him by the same shadowy organization that gave Jessica her superstrength.
And before his passing, he hints at the big bad that Jessica will be facing off against this season, their equally powerful “sibling,” played by Janet McTeer. “I think they’ve made something worse, and it won’t stop,” he says, before whizzing off to his doom. Coleman makes a brief reappearance in the second episode, when Jessica investigates his squalid apartment, and discovers video evidence he left behind. (Funnily enough, in that video, he’s heard paraphrasing the relative of a far more famous Marvel hero, saying: “With great power comes great mental illness.”) She also has a close encounter with his beloved pet: (what else?) a mongoose.
“A mongoose is part of the character’s backstory, so he has a pet mongoose in the show,” Rosenberg says, chuckling. “We looked into his canon in the comics and used some of that to build his character for the show.” That’s also the reason why Robert Coleman sports a jacket of the same shade of yellow that Robert Ford modeled back in the day. “The props built that jacket specifically for him. We wanted the color to be exact,” Rosenberg says. You might say that the props team are, uh, whizzes at their job.
Jessica Jones is now streaming on Netflix.
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