Feeling the Pulse #2-3

The_Pulse_Vol_1_3Feeling 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 #2-3 (2004) written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Scott Hanna, and colored by Frank D’Armata, Brian Reber, and Pete Pantazis.

In The Pulse #2-3, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Mark Bagley and Scott Hanna abandon the whole half-assed murder mystery angle to tell the story of the Daily Bugle trying to expose Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin. It’s high concept and definitely a tough story to break, but is definitely the kind of hard hitting journalism that J. Jonah Jameson wants in The Pulse section of the Daily Bugle. Something that would usually be a subplot in a Spider-Man or Daredevil comic (or TV show) ends up being the main plot of The Pulse as up and coming reporter Kat Farrell, teams up with supposedly long in the tooth Ben Urich, and Jessica Jones to prove Norman Osborn is the Green Goblin after he killed the young Daily Bugle writer Terri Kidder.

The Pulse #2 is the kind of super focused character study that Bendis excels at as he and Bagley turn a woman, who was just a body at the end of The Pulse #1 into a flesh and blood human being with passions and weaknesses. The issue’s protagonist is Terri Kidder, a new reporter at the Daily Bugle, who transferred from a “major metropolitan newspaper”. (Perhaps The Daily Planet if sharing the first name and surname of two actors, who have played Lois Lane, is any clue.) She is trouble finding her place at a paper where the publisher is up in everyone’s business and gets laughed out of meeting when her first article pitch in a couple weeks is a puff piece on The Avengers. However, this lights a fire under her, and after talking with her friend, who is an Oscorp employee, she decides to interview Norman Osborn about multiple people at Oscorp, who have gone missing. She gets an interview with Osborn and plays to his pride first before pivoting and asking about the people. The issue ends with him strangling her to death, transforming into the Green Goblin, and killing her.

We finally catch up to the present day in The Pulse #3 as Robbie Robertson gives a big, motivational speech that wouldn’t be out of place in Newsroom, The West Wing, or hell even Friday Night Lights about the Daily Bugle having the best, most connected and giving Terri’s family a clear answer about why their daughter is dead. He puts Ben Urich, Kat Farrell, and The Pulse on this story/case. After showing a short tiff between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, we get to see Ben and Kat in action and the difference in their reporting styles. Ben has a lot of skeletons in his closets from past editorials and gets told off by a NYPD homicide detective when he says he wants to help with the case. On the other hand, Kat makes friends easily and gets all the details about Terri’s death from her medical examiner buddy, who is on his coffee/look at Iron Man break. Along with Jessica, they put their heads together and think about flying superheroes/villains, who may have dropped Terri in the lake. The issue ends with Ben being a tenacious, dogged reporter and digging in Teri’s desk (aka an active crime scene), finding a recording of a phone conversation with her friend at Oscorp, making the connection to the Green Goblin, and calling Peter Parker. Because a Spider-Man cameo is always great for sales.

Even if the exposé of Norman Osborn is barely starting to pick up steam three issues in, The Pulse #2 stands alone as a “day in the life” type story about an ordinary journalist in the Marvel Universe, which happens to end with her getting dropped into a lake by the Green Goblin. This is a dangerous place to hold a job because the corporation that gives you a nice pension package and healthcare could be run by an insane supervillain. Before you try to go after a powerful billionaire, you should probably be able to call Spider-Man, Daredevil, or another superhero for backup But Terri is just an intrepid reporter, doesn’t have any of these connections and ends up fish food.

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However, Bendis gives Terri a full character arc in The Pulse #2 as he and Bagley use a kind of “hypercompression” and the “illustrated play technique” that was used in Alias #10 to show how much of a damn chatterbox J. Jonah Jameson was. There is text off to the side showing how stressed out Terri is at the Daily Bugle while Bagley draws yet another full page cutaway diagram to show the bustling newsroom. Bendis’ writing also reveals her motivation for working for the Bugle: she wants to be part of every day people’s conversation by writing for a tabloid newspaper. (And once and for all, Bendis through Teri dispels the idea that the Daily Bugle is the Marvel Universe equivalent of the Daily Mail because the tabloid is the form and not the content in this case.) And this stress combined with J. Jonah Jameson’s insults propels her onto a deadly path, including an interview and death at the hands of Norman Osborn.

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Bendis and Bagley are definitely on the same page when Osborn goes loony. Terri and Norman’s encounter just starts as a usual talking heads scene with a decent amount of panels as he adjusts his suit while she lobs softball questions. But when she asks about the missing people, something snaps, and Norman Osborn becomes the Green Goblin even before he puts on the Halloween costume. Bagley’s layout turns into a strict eight and then six panel grid, and he and Hanna progressively give Osborn more wrinkles in his face while colorists Frank D’Armata and Brian Reber give his eyes a full green color that they previously hinted at in the hue of his chair. The ever increasing close-up is a successful device at showing Terri’s horror and surprise and reminds readers that Green Goblin isn’t a cheesy villain, but a psychopath, who kills for kicks.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, the warm chemistry that they shared has mostly left the building in The Pulse #3. Neither character appears in The Pulse #2, and they share a short conversation in issue three, which is mostly contradictions and arguing for the sake of arguing. And, of course, Jessica cries because she’s pregnant while Luke sits and acts stoically. They do get one genuine spark as Jessica lands a great one-liner about hiring a guy to tell Luke he’s the “mutha&*%in’ best” superhero as a random Luke Cage fan wanders by and gives him a high five. The conclusion of their conversation isn’t half bad either as Jessica talks about hating her body, and Luke just gives her hug and kiss. Some interesting ideas are thrown about Luke not liking Jameson or the fact that he’s an obscure superhero, but they don’t really come into play. Basically, Luke and Jessica’s arc is stupid fight, not the best characterization of a pregnant woman, and then a kiss and makeup. They definitely both play second fiddle to the Daily Bugle reporters so far.

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And we get to see Kat Farrell and Ben Urich’s journalistic process and philosophy in The Pulse #3 as they try to get to the truth in different ways. Kat doesn’t hate superheroes, but she knows her editor does and isn’t a big fan of both Terri’s piece about the Avengers as well as Ben withholding his knowledge about Daredevil’s secret identity. Therefore, she is more in-line with usual, non-fantastic journalistic practices, like having a source in the police station, similar to Terri, who has a friend that works at Oscorp. Their conversation is the kind of upbeat banter found in the good police procedurals and connects the plot dots a lot quicker than Urich mouthing off to an NYPD detective.

For some reason, Bendis gives her some insane Buffy-speak (“Did the guy have the super duper? Was he whacky on the junk?”) maybe to show that she is younger than Ben even though it’s impossible to tell her age relative to Jessica or anyone because again Bagley draws adult women like teenagers with slightly different fashion and an extra line or two from his inker Hanna. Ben Urich is the aging loose cannon to Kat’s fresh faced, company woman, and it shows in his not so friendly chat with Police Detective Gans, who has turned Terri’s desk into a crime scene. Bendis’ dialogue really sings when it’s used combatively, and the detective and Ben’s sniping shows the often antagonistic relationship between the police force and press of a major city. However, it’s his connection with Peter Parker that could be their only chance at exposing Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin and simultaneously providing a successful first story for The Pulse.

The Pulse #2-3 is trying to tell a non-superhero story in a superhero universe, and it should be commended for that even if it’s not as groundbreaking, visually interesting, or as nuanced as its “mother” series Alias. It might have Spider-Man on the cover, but it’s really about ordinary journalists trying to break stories and find the truth in an extraordinary world.