Feeling the Pulse #1
Feeling the Pulse is a weekly issue by issue look at the follow-up series to Alias featuring Jessica Jones and a team of reporters at the Daily Bugle, who investigate and report on superhero related stories.
In this installment of Feeling the Pulse, I will be covering The Pulse #1 (2004) written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Scott Hanna, and colored by Frank D’Armata and Brian Reber.
In The Pulse #1, Jessica Jones goes from being the through and through protagonists of her own series to a co-protagonist with embattled Daily Bugle city and crime reporter Ben Urich, who was a scene stealing supporting character in writer Brian Michael Bendis’ work on Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil as well as making a couple appearances in Alias so the two aren’t strangers. And like Alias, The Pulse isn’t a superhero comic, but something like The Newsroom set square in the center of the Marvel Universe. For over 50 years, the Daily Bugle and its denizens, like J. Jonah Jameson, have been supporting characters of Spider-Man, and now they get the spotlight. And they shine for the most part with some quick hitting conversations that would make Aaron Sorkin or David Mamet proud even though the “hook” for the next issue is a little conventional with a floating dead body and an ID of a random person. Also, it is entertaining to see J. Jonah Jameson talk out of both sides of his mouth as he pitches “The Pulse” newspaper section to both Jessica Jones and Ben Urich.
The Pulse #1 opens slowly and cinematically with a full page spread from artists Mark Bagley and Scott Hanna of reporter Ben Urich looking at a Daily Bugle newspaper with a typical anti-Spider-Man headline while his crime story about a Yakuza uprising is pushed to the back page. Perhaps this is a comment on traditional superhero tales continuing to dominate comics sales while compelling crime and noir stories are more middling, and no one wants to read about journalists. (In February 2004, Ultimate Spider-Man #53 sold 92,514 copies whereas Bendis’ crime meets superhero story in Daredevil #57 sold 54,629, and The Pulse #1 sold 51,116 and dropped to a little over 27,000 towards the end of its run.) It’s a compelling character introduction with a medium brown color palette from Frank D’Armata and Brian Reber
The first issue shows a dead body just rotting in a lake in Central Park for a whole issue while Jessica Jones prepares for her interview with the Daily Bugle in an attempt to find stability (and health insurance) for her and her boyfriend, Luke Cage. J. Jonah Jameson tells her that because his paper’s circulation numbers are down in the age of TV and Internet news that he is trying something new and deciding to give superheroes a positive spin in the new weekly “The Pulse” section, which will feature in-depth features about them. Ben Urich will write the stories while Jessica Jones acts as a “vigilante analyst” or consultant and will even be part of the story once she announces her pregnancy. Jameson tells a very different thing to Ben Urich telling him that even though “The Pulse” is meant for admirers of superheroes that he should be tough on superheroes if he catches them doing something wrong. This section is Jameson’s attempt at trying to shake off his lethargy and get him breaking big stories. Presumably, his and Jessica’s first piece will have something to do with the random body in Central Park that was dropped by a superhero or supervillain.
Before delving into the excellent characterization of J. Jonah Jameson or Bagley’s use of double page spreads to give letterer Cory Petit an opportunity to let Bendis’ long stretches of dialogue breathe, there is one main negative that will make you wish Michael Gaydos was still the artist. Mark Bagley is terrible at drawing adult women. He does an okay job with the teenagers in Ultimate Spider-Man, but his facial and anatomy work with Jessica Jones shifts rapidly as she goes from looking like a 17 year old when she’s cuddling with Luke Cage to a middle aged woman when she enters the Daily Bugle offices. Hanna’s inking gets more consistent during the “interview” scene between her and Jameson, but she does look like a brunette version of Ultimate Mary Jane Watson.
Bendis really seems to get a kick out of writing J. Jonah Jameson and even though Ben Urich and Jessica Jones are nominally the protagonists of The Pulse, he steals the entire issue kind of like J.K. Simmons stole the entire Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy from Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and company. He builds off Jameson’s characterization in Alias where he is grateful to Jessica for finding his missing foster daughter, Mattie Franklin, and creates a turning point for him as a character as he goes on about giving superheroes a fair shake if only to increase readership. But there’s always a catch with him, and the catch is the Daily Bugle getting the exclusive on her pregnancy as his tabloid headline grabber side reveals itself. Jameson likes good, hard news as evidenced by his keeping Ben Urich on the staff, but he also wants to make a buck and if he has to say nice things about superheroes, so be it.
Bendis and Bagley create a study in parallels between Jameson’s chat with Jessica Jones about The Pulse, and his chat with Ben Urich at the local watering hole. Bagley uses a stricter grid when Jameson and Jessica speak as she tries to keep it as businesslike as possible and is willing to compromise a little bit to support her family. But with the Jameson, Robertson, and Urich conversation, D’Armata evokes the smell of a respectable, but not too respectable tavern with brown wood tones and just enough shadow to keep it from being noir. Jameson also uses a similar manipulative technique on Urich that he did with Jessica by portraying each of them as “washed up” in some way or another. Jessica as a superhero and P.I., Urich as a reporter. Starting out, he dictates the narrative and dynamic between them. And teaming up an ex-superhero, who has a low opinion of them with a journalist, who respects their power to inspire, and an editor, who hates them is bound to lead to some great drama and disagreements along the way.
For being a first issue, The Pulse #1 doesn’t have the greatest final page hook. It is kind of interesting that there’s been a dead body in the lake for an entire issue in a city the population of New York, and that no one has noticed. Perhaps some kind of mind control is involved. But, whether it’s because of lack of visual distinctness in Bagley’s faces for women or just a plain, bad ending, the cliffhanger of the police looking at a faded I.D. falls flat. But the concept of a supervillain murder mystery from a journalist and possibly police perspective has some genre bending potential, and the interference and role of the press always spices up mystery and crime stories. (See The Wire or more recently BBC America’s Broadchurch.) Plus it’ll give Jessica a chance to do her private investigator thing.
The Pulse #1 has a unique concept and the makings of a compelling ensemble in Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, J. Jonah Jameson, Ben Urich, and Robbie Robertson, who have been liberated from playing second fiddle to Spider- Man.Some of the execution is lacking, such as Bagley’s inability to draw adult women and a half-assed murder mystery plot, but Bendis’ dialogue was built for walk and talk newsroom environment. (He used to work as a cartoonist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and this is evident in his development of Jameson’s philosophy for the Daily Bugle and its Pulse section.)