Feeling The Pulse #6-7

marvel-the-pulse-issue-7Feeling 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 #6-7 (2005) written by Brian Michael Bendis, drawn by Brent Anderson, and colored by Pete Pantazis.

In the “Secret War” arc of The Pulse, which acts as kind of a follow up to The Pulse writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Gabriele Dell’Otto’s miniseries Secret War about Nick Fury sending different superheroes to Latveria to depose Dr. Doom, Bendis, new artist Brent Anderson (who won 7 Eisners for Astro City and drew the famous X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel), and colorist Pete Pantazis tap into the old Alias magic and craft a conspiracy plot that gets pretty personal. The Pulse #6 opens up very enigmatically with Wolverine running around ferally before the story cuts to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage’s apartment in Harlem blowing with both of them rushed to the hospital. Luke is in a coma after taking the brunt of a power blast from an unknown superpowered female, and the doctors can’t do anything to bring him back because no needles can break through his unbreakable skin. There’s yet another annoying police interrogation session, and then Nick Fury and Captain America burst in with Cap socking Fury in the jaw and then heading out with Luke and Danny Rand. (This arc is more mysterious if you haven’t already read Secret War) Jessica is really perturbed about this and tries to call her lawyer Matt Murdock, but ends up talking to Ben Urich instead. Then, lights start to flash in the hospital with explosions everywhere, and the issue ends with Jessica Jones in the wreckage of the hospital.

The Pulse #7 is all about Jessica freaking out with Ben Urich and wondering where Fury and Cap took Luke. A nurse at the hospital blames her for the damage on the hospital and then says that Luke Cage should have never dated a white woman. After this painful exchange, Ben calls into the Daily Bugle and finds out that there was a “fireworks incident” at the pier while a homeless man tells Jessica that he was saved by Daredevil at the same location. Something doesn’t really add up. Then, she frantically calls everyone from her ex boyfriend and current SHIELD agent Clay Quatermain to Misty Knight and Danny Rand and finally Luke one more time. There’s no response so she and Ben head to the Daily Bugle where Jessica is furious when Robbie Robertson tells her that the Bugle and all media outlets turn a blind eye to Nick Fury’s activities because he is protecting national security and the greater good. Then, Jessica runs off and ends up collapsing outside Misty Knight’s apartment where some teenagers try to steal her wallet before they’re scared off by HYDRA agents in a crazy cliffhanger.

Whereas “Thin Air” was more of a Daily Bugle story, the first two chapters of “Secret War” feel like an actual Jessica Jones solo story. Sure, there are cameos from Captain America, Nick Fury, Wolverine, Iron Fist, and other superheroes’ voice mails, but their appearances remind me of the first arc of Alias where the big name characters are used to create tension and show that Jessica’s paranoia is well-placed. The Pulse #6 and #7 also look like a Jessica Jones story as the standard superhero art of Mark Bagley is replaced by the realism and gritty lines of Brent Anderson. As an artist known for his character first, spectacle second approach on titles like Astro City, range on emotions are at the forefront of his work. For example, Captain America can go from angrily berating Nick Fury and punching him in the face with speed lines zooming and then pivot and ask Jessica how her baby is doing before leaving without a word. In Alias, Cap said Jessica was a true hero, and this is a nice reminder of their previous positive interactions as well as showing that he is a decent human being even in a terrible situation.

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But most of Anderson’s work is dedicated to showing Jessica’s vulnerability, paranoia, and how terrible she feels, but that she’s an ex-superhero/P.I and a current journalist, who wants to get to the bottom of this situation protocols about Nick Fury be damned. His pencils and ink work are pretty bleak showing the swaths of destruction created by this unknown supervillains, and he even opens The Pulse #7 with a highly detailed, almost watercolor painting of a sad, exhausted Jessica Jones. The fact that this is a conspiracy involving the man she loved has taken an extra toll on her, but has also increased her resolve to get to the bottom of it.

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The Pulse #6 and #7 is filled with sudden, insane events that make no sense to anyone who hasn’t read Secret War. Why is Nick Fury giving Captain America orders like he’s just another soldier? Why does a simple Daredevil and Black Widow team-up level a major docking area in New York and warrant a double page destructoporn spread? And why are random, hidden in the shadows superhumans showing up and blasting energy at buildings with striking gold colors from Pantazis? With the departure of the superheroes in The Pulse #6 and the inability of the Daily Bugle to publish or even investigate anything having to do with Nick Fury, Jessica is truly on her own in this situation.

Also, in The Pulse #6-#7, Jessica Jones sounds and acts like herself. In a couple pages with black gutters simulating the bars of an interrogation room, she tells off police officers, who focus on her possible mutant status, constantly refer to Luke Cage as her husband, and give her no space, because she has just lost her home and possibly her boyfriend. Again, Bendis turns his focus on casual sexism as the police say they’re big fans of Luke Cage, but don’t even acknowledge her abilities, career, or even listen to her when she says over and over again that she’s not married to Luke. And in a more simple return of the character’s voice kind of way, the hard swearing Jessica Jones of Alias is back even though her f-bombs are censored because The Pulse is set in the mainstream Marvel Universe. And, like in Alias, it’s not profanity for the sake of shock value, but Jessica Jones is super freaked out and alone and turns to her reporter friend, Ben Urich, to help her sort out this crazy situation.

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But The Pulse #6-7 isn’t just a conspiracy thriller and character study of Jessica Jones. Bendis uses the beginning of the “Secret War” arc to show how news media is complicit in government cover-ups because of “national security” reasons or because they’ll lose their access to press briefings, which hurts their access to breaking stories and will probably make them lose circulation and readers. Of course, Jessica won’t have any of this, and J. Jonah Jameson tactfully chooses the more idealistic Robbie Robertson to break their “no Nick Fury stories” policy to her even though him getting punched by Captain America while Luke Cage and Iron Fist look on in a hospital that later gets levelled would make a hell of a news story. Even Ben Urich, who has stood by his conscience for years and not exposed Daredevil or Spider-Man’s secret identity, agrees with the Bugle’s stance. This leads to angry running from Jessica Jones as Anderson’s layouts go from a grid to overlapping shapes as she looks at a Hulk headline and realizes that the media exists to make money and not show the truth about the world. It actually makes perfect sense that Jessica Jones is furious in this situation because her old job was a private investigator and to expose the secrets of the powerful (including a presidential candidate in the first arc of Alias) while the Daily Bugle reporters are implicit in the cover-up.

Even though some of the suspense and/or understanding of The Pulse #6-7 is contingent on if you’ve read another Brian Michael Bendis comic actually called Secret War, these two issues are a true artistic improvement over the previous five as Brent Anderson is the documentary filmmaker to Mark Bagley’s superhero stylist. Anderson really hits that sweet spot between cartooning and photorealism as his art is detailed, but not stiff. You can really feel the pain in Jessica’s eyes as she sees seemingly random superheroes fighting and arguing while her boyfriend is in a coma, and the power in Cap’s blow as he sucker punches Nick Fury, who is looking very guilty. Anderson and Bendis aren’t afraid to expose the dark, cynical underbelly of the Marvel Universe and even show that honest reporters, like Ben Urich, aren’t always paragons of integrity.