Feeling the Pulse #4-5
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 #4-5(2004) written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Scott Hanna, and colored by Pete Pantazis.
Spider-Man has a prominent guest role in The Pulse #4-5, but he doesn’t steal the spotlight from the real heroes of the “In the Air” arc: the journalists of the Daily Bugle, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, whose picking up Norman Osborn’s limo throws a wrench in the newspaper’s plan. However, it ends up opening up the story a little wider as J. Jonah Jameson decides to forgo the sensationalism of TV journalism and focus on the victims of the Green Goblin’s murders. Along the way, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Mark Bagley and Scott Hanna spend some time taking stock of Jessica Jones’ feelings about her pregnancy as she is freaked out that the Green Goblin has killed her baby and goes berserk in some power packed panels.
The Pulse #4 opens with Ben Urich getting ready to meet Spider-Man on the roof while Jessica Jones catches up Luke on what she’s been up to at work and even shares an adorable dream about their child and her superpowers. Then, there is a quick back and forth conversation between Ben and Spider-Man as he tells him how he discovered Spidey’s secret identity and about how the Green Goblin is just killing at random now. Spider-Man is worried about this and tells Ben that the Green Goblin killed the love of his life, Gwen Stacy, and to be careful with his story. Ben then talks to Terri’s (the Daily Bugle reporter who was killed) friend Sheryl and with great reluctance, Jameson lets him go to the police with his findings on Norman Osborn after Jessica says that these kind of stories are why journalism exists. The police come to Oscorp with Ben and Jessica, who is acting as an “outside viewer”, because they might make the cover of the Daily Bugle, and the issue ends with the Green Goblin throwing pumpkin bombs at them.
The Pulse #5 is mostly explosive superhero action that Bagley excels at drawing as Spider-Man swings in and saves Jessica Jones from the Green Goblin. Completely freaking out, Jessica gets a few licks in and throws his glider at him as he flies away. The scene switches to Jessica and Luke at a hospital where the doctor compliments her toughness, says the baby is okay, and says that her pregnancy and labor will be tough so she should see a doctor that specializes in superhuman cases. Next, a deranged Norman Osborn is conferring with his lawyer, who helped get the Kingpin off and should get his own spinoff comic, when Luke Cage wrecks his limo in payback for almost killing his kid. Spider-Man shows up to cool things down, but even he ends up as a weapon in Luke’s hands as Norman Osborn’s identity as the Green Goblin is on display for the whole world. This ends up being a big headline for the Daily Bugle with the Pulse section running profiles on the families of Green Goblin’s victims, and Jessica walking alone and saying all she cares about is her baby. The final page of The Pulse #5 is a great return to her attitude in Alias where she just wanted to pay the bills as a P.I. and not have to deal with superhero drama.
With plenty of whiz bang fight scenes in The Pulse #5 and opportunities to draw arguably his signature character, Mark Bagley seems more at ease in these issues. He even gets a little visual humor when Ben meets with Spider-Man on the roof and is almost blown away by the wind while Spidey just chills out and sticks on the wall like a spider. Colorist Pete Pantazis’ work doesn’t particularly pop, but he definitely uses brighter reds, blues, and yellows for Spider-Man and the Green Goblin tussling together versus muted browns and greys for Luke and Jessica just chatting about their lives. And his palette is almost clinical when Jessica is in the hospital in The Pulse #5 as inker/finisher Scott Hanna channels his inner Michael Gaydos and gives her some frown lines that reminded me of when she was stressed out in Alias. For once, she doesn’t look like a teenage girl, but a superhero mom-to-be, who has taken a little bit of a beating while protecting the ones she loved.
Bendis probes at a weakness in Spider-Man in The Pulse #4 and borrows a little bit from the deconstructive bent of Alias as Ben explores why he just lets the Green Goblin walk free after killing so many people, including his girlfriend. Spider-Man is afraid that if he tells the press or authorities what he knows about Norman Osborn’s true identity that his own secret identity will be exposed, and that he will go to prison for his supposed murders and crimes. And this is yet another iteration of the famed “Parker luck” where Spider-Man can never catch a break. (Except that might not be a thing any more because he’s basically Batman now in Dan Slott’s current Amazing Spider-Man run for some reason.) Does putting one murderer out on the street outweigh all the good Spider-Man has done for the people of New York? It’s a dilemma that gets solved by journalists and a hero, who went public years ago and still doesn’t end up being a part of the Superhuman Registration Act in Civil War because he wants to protect his neighborhood in Harlem and not exist at the government or S.H.I.E.L.D’s beck and call.
Speaking of Luke Cage, the fight between him and the Green Goblin is cathartic and memorable. A crazy psychopath hurt his girlfriend and almost killed their child so he’s back for revenge, and a limo or a pumpkin bomb won’t be able to stop him. Unlike Spider-Man, Luke doesn’t have to protect his secret identity from the public, press, and bad guys and is free to whale on the Goblin. Bagley even gives us the hilariously epic panel of him putting a pumpkin bomb on his bulletproof skin and then quipping about losing his shirt “again” because kevlar looks tacky as daily or vengeance wear. And Bendis gives Spider-Man a perfect rejoinder about “unbreakable pants”. But this isn’t in the end, and Luke fights the Green Goblin until the villain is unconscious in front of the Daily Bugle reporters. Without a shadow of the doubt, this famous industrialist is the murderous Green Goblin, and if Luke hadn’t come over and given him a piece of his mind and fists, there probably would be two or three more issues focused on the legal battle between Oscorp and the Bugle. Also, this sequence shows how much Luke cares for Jessica, and how he wants to keep her safe.
But the characters that come off as the real heroes of the first arc of The Pulse are the pregnant, ex-superhero Jessica Jones and the embattled, intrepid reporter Ben Urich. Bendis gives Jessica an amazing speech about how taking down men like Osborn is the point of a paper like the Daily Bugle, and “isn’t telling people stuff like this, like, the only reason to work here?” In any other character’s speech, this line would come off as a tad saccharine, but it seems more genuine coming from Jessica, who is usually cynical and sarcastic although she is a good person beneath it. If she’s the idealistic one, you should really go after the story. And her heroism is on display later as she beats the crap out of the Green Goblin, leaping and throwing him around to keep him away from Ben and Spider-Man. Bagley doesn’t depict these scenes like a typical superhero fight with punches and, but as an intense brawl with Jessica grabbing at the Goblin’s throat. There’s just a hint of sentiment as Jessica gets caught by Spider-Man, who is her high school crush, Peter Parker.
Ben Urich doesn’t get a big fight scene, but he gets several panels of getting his throat grabbed by the Green Goblin, who taunts him with bad jokes about journalists. Bagley and Hanna zoom in on his pain stricken and constricted face with Pantazis giving the backgrounds a fiery color after all the explosions and punches being thrown around buildings in New York. And after this and seeing the Green Goblin get away, he’s still brave enough to publish an article saying he’s Norman Osborn on the front page of the Daily Bugle. He’s also clever as hell as Bendis and Bagley spend several pages in The Pulse #4 showing how he realized Peter Parker was Spider-Man from the obvious of him getting the best pictures of Spidey to the soot on his costume he gets from running on rooftops like Daredevil and finally the fact that a school teacher from Queens knew Matt Murdock was Daredevil. Spider-Man’s first reaction to this is understandably anger, but later he fears for Ben’s life as he goes to take down Osborn via the printed word and even confides in him about his relationship with Gwen Stacy. Ben Urich is street level superheroes, like Spider-Man, Daredevil, and later Spider-Woman’s greatest advocate, but he isn’t naive about them and is still a solid journalist through and through.
The Pulse #4 may seem like padding for the trade, but it gives us a look at the time consuming and difficult journalism process as Ben Urich must corroborate sources and also make a strong argument to J. Jonah Jameson about printing his article about Norman Osborn being the Green Goblin. It also furthers the bond between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones as they talk about their future child adding an emotional layer to the slugfest of The Pulse #5.
It slips in some spots artistically and sometimes pushes its presumed protagonist Jessica Jones to the side, but the “In the Air” arc of The Pulse is a fairly triumphant melding of an investigative reporting story with a superhero comic.