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Feeling the Pulse #10-11

The_Pulse_Vol_1_11Feeling 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 #10-11 (2005) written by Brian Michael Bendis with issue 10 pencilled by Michael Lark, inked by Stefano Gaudiano, and colored by Pete Pantazis and issue 11 drawn by Michael Gaydos with colors from Matt Hollingsworth.

In The Pulse #10, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano tie the comic into yet another Marvel “event” and instead of the relatively self-contained Secret War, it’s House of M, a comic which really kickstarted the decade plus Marvel tradition of having a summer event that ties into virtually their entire publishing line. To jog everyone’s memory (Thank goodness for recap pages!), Scarlet Witch lost control of her reality warping powers in the famous or infamous “Avengers Disassembled” arc (also written by Bendis) and killed the Avengers Hawkeye, Ant-Man (Scott Lang), and her ex-husband Vision. After this, she flees to her father Magneto while Professor X gathers the X-Men (from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run) and New Avengers to decide what to do with her and hopefully not killer. But this confrontation causes her powers to go into overdrive and create a whole new reality called House of M where mutants led by Magneto and his children rule the world, and humans are hated and feared. Wolverine and Layla Miller (A smart teenage mutant from Peter David’s X-Factor) remember the pre-House of M reality, and this leads to complications when Layla reminds the still living Hawkeye that he died in another reality.

And Hawkeye freaking out leads directly into The Pulse #10, which doesn’t feature Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, but focuses on Ben Urich, Kat Farrell, and the Daily Bugle, whose editor-in-chief is somehow Mystique. The issue opens with Kat Farrell investigating an explosion of a Stark Industries building, which Bishop, a bodyguard/PR guy for the House of Magnus, blames on a human using mutant growth hormone when Kat spots kinetic energy absorbing mutant Sebastian Shaw and members of SHIELD on the scene. Thinking she has a scoop, she brings it up at a newspaper meeting, but is deflected by her editor-in-chief, who is waiting for SHIELD to make a comment. Then, Kat gives Mystique a piece of her mind and has a heart to heart with Ben Urich about working within the system and occasionally breaking a big story. And while working late, the story happens as Hawkeye bursts in and starts to realize that there were two realities when a newspaper headline about his death turns to something about the House of Magnus memorial. And when he tries to show Kat Avengers Mansion, it turns out to be a memorial to mutants killed by Sentinels. Reality is flimsy, and it freaks him out. And in his freakout, he destroys the Sentinel memorial with exploding arrows, asks Kat to tell his story, and runs off. The issue kind of ends with a note to follow the rest of Hawkeye’s story in House of M proper. Sometimes event tie-ins can be really annoying.

The Pulse #11 takes us back to the friendly haunts of Earth-616 as well as reuniting Bendis with Alias artist Michael Gaydos and colorist Matt Hollingsworth for the final arc “Fear” before cancellation. And they give us an excellent character-driven story with a B-plot featuring a Z-list superhero and the Daily Bugle journalists that wouldn’t be out of place in Alias. Also, Gaydos just plain understands how Jessica Jones looks as a character and her reactions to things, like when she is scared, being sarcastic, or just being happy. The Pulse #11 focuses on her taking a trip to the Baxter Building, seeing how the superest of moms Sue Richards deals with having kids and superpowers, and then going to lunch with her and Carol Danvers. Their conversations are raw, honest, and kind of read like What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but with superheroes. And while Jessica is lunching, Ben Urich is investigating an interesting case of a smelly, out of breath superhero, who looked like Daredevil in his original yellow costume , helping stop the robbery of a store way out of Hell’s Kitchen. Kat Farrell identifies him as D-Man, a wrestler turned superhero and former Avenger, thanks to his “Wolverine hat”, which is what cowls should be called from now on. And it turns out that he took more than just a bottle of water from the store. The Pulse #11 concludes with Janet Van Dyne working on redesigning Luke Cage’s costume because he’s now a New Avenger when Jessica’s water breaks.

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In characterization and art, The Pulse #10 isn’t a bad read as Kat Farrell is the lead character for the first time in the series. Her tenacity and willingness to tell the truth, snap a cellphone pic, and break a story even in the face of a mutant, who has both telepathic and energy absorbing abilities are on full display this issue. It’s also a subtle inversion of her role in the main universe The Pulse series as Ben Urich is the one courting controversy, hiding Daredevil’s secret identity, and possibly taking down Nick Fury while Kat is more willing to play ball with editorial. In this issue, Ben is the one giving Kat a mini-lecture about picking battles and working with Mystique until they can really blow the whole Magnus regime open. Artists Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano with colorist Pete Pantazis even give us a glimpse at the writing process with a double page spread that cuts between the dusty Daily Bugle archives, and Kat desperately trying to churn out a story. Her computer has a slight glow in the dark building and will remind anyone of that burning feeling you get in your eyes when you’re trying to beat a deadline the night before.

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However, the story of Kat Farrell intrepid journalist comes to a halt halfway through the issue and becomes the tale of Hawkeye Crossover Event Explainer Man. He doesn’t even let Kat get in a word edgewise, threatens her with his arrows, and blabbers on about what’s happened to him in the previous issues of House of M. There is a payoff to all the chatter, which isn’t bad to read as Bendis makes Clint a real salt of the Earth fellow as he quips about only reading the sports page of the newspaper, with the earlier mentioned destruction of the Sentinel memorial, but the issue just ends. There’s no reflection on Kat’s part just a silent scene as the police pull up. It’s like this House of M tie-in was supposed to be a two-parter with Kat writing the story in the second half and trying to get it past editorial, but it only ended up being one issue. It’s an example of what not to do with an event tie-in as Bendis and Lark set up story-worthy themes, like the difference between journalism and PR, and intriguing situations, like Mystique being interested in print media for some reason (She’s been a high school principal too so this isn’t her weirdest form of employment.), but fail to explore them and just explain the events of the main series.

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But, if The Pulse #10 has you down, The Pulse #11 is the breath of freshest air. And one thing that surprised about me is the comedic timing of Michael Gaydos despite his rougher hewn style compared to say, this series’ original artist Mark Bagley. And it’s on display from the opening page where Jessica Jones can go right up to see the Fantastic Four in the Baxter Building after being escorted out by security back when she needed their help in Alias with the FF’s receptionist still having that creepy rictus. Next, there is his and Bendis’ riff on the fights between the Thing and Human Torch that seemed to happen during Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run on Fantastic Four. Gaydos’ realistic style shows the serious side of their battle as the Thing almost falls into a very pregnant Jessica Jones (who is saved by a last second force field from Sue Richards). But it ends being a great set-up for a line by Sue about Franklin and Valeria being more well-behaved than these grown men and superheroes in their twenties and thirties. And the comedy comes back in the final pages as Gaydos nails Luke’s painful reactions to the various superhero costumes that Janet Van Dyne is trying to interest him in as Carol and Jessica giggle in the background. It’s also a larger meta joke about Luke Cage not having an iconic costume since his days as the tiara wearing, yellow silk shirt sporting Power Man back in the 1970s and just wearing jeans and a t-shirt in Bendis’ New Avengers run. (Maybe Sanford Greene will change this in his Power Man and Iron Fist run.

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The lunch with Jessica Jones, Carol Danvers, and Sue Richards is another showcase of Brian Michael Bendis’ ability to craft characters through dialogue and conversation. Gaydos’ faces are key too as he can do subtle really well, like Jessica spacing out when Sue gets a little bit too earnest about the Fantastic Four’s mission, and how her children “live a life without superficial judgment”. But most of their talk is dealing with the cold, harsh realities of motherhood, and Sue doesn’t sugarcoat things for Jessica saying that her superhero status could leave to villain attacks and kidnapping and that it’s super freaky to be entrusted to take care of another human life. But in the end it’s all worth it, and Jessica is actually pretty refreshed to see how “normal” the Richards kids are as Franklin adorably touches her pregnant stomach and gets scolded for saying “butt”. Bendis continues his tradition of writing mothers well (Aunt May in Ultimate Spider-Man comes to mind.) and gives Sue a warm voice as she loves her kids, but also can get exasperated by them. It’s unfortunate that the Fantastic Four and their family dynamic is one team he hasn’t been unable to write so far.

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And because this is a comic about journalism and not just Jessica Jones, Bendis and Gaydos give us a pretty interesting journalism subplot about Ben Urich and Kat Farrell investigating the re-emergence of D-Man as a vigilante and thief. Gaydos and Hollingsworth initially sell that this is a Daredevil story by using plenty of shadows in the art as well as touch of red in the background as a gun goes off. But, then there’s a cut to D-Man ambling around the store with his gut hanging out and moving a little slower than the Man without Fear. The store owners that he save don’t paint the most flattering picture of him saying that he had a smell and took some jewelry. And thus begins Ben Urich’s investigation into superheroes, who don’t have the benefit of a well-paying job as a lawyer or the sponsorship of a billionaire philanthropist or bald guy.

The Pulse  #10-11 features one example of how not to write a tie-in for a company-wide and one example of how to tell use superheroes to tell a story about a real life situation in this case, becoming a mother. It encapsulates the uneven nature of The Pulse as a series, which didn’t know if it wanted to tell Jessica Jones stories or and found a balance between both in the “Fear” arc just as it was being cancelled. At least, the art is consistent with Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, and Michael Gaydos finding a sweet spot between realism and cartooning with a side of natural facial expressions and the awkwardness of superhero costumes. (Honestly, only George Perez, Jack Kirby, and the animators of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes can pull off the “Purple H” Hawkeye costume.)

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