Feeling the Pulse #12-13
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 #12-13 (2005-2006) written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Gaydos with colors from Matt Hollingsworth.
In The Pulse #12-13, which concludes the three part “Fear” storyline, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos continue to have a two plot structure with Ben Urich investigating and writing a story on D-Man while Jessica Jones goes into labor, gets discriminated against by an anti-mutant hospital administrator, but gets swooped up in the nick of time by the New Avengers. (Luke being on the team is super helpful.) Getting Gaydos and colorist Matt Hollingsworth back for this pivotal moment in Jessica Jones’ life is a true coup as her raw emotions are on display while they show just how much Luke cares for her as he runs through the streets of New York (breaking up a drug deal along the way) and leaps into a Quinjet just to be with his girlfriend, who will hopefully become his wife.
The Pulse #12 opens frantically with Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel at this time) flying Jessica to the nearest hospital where she is peppered with questions about her mutant and radioactive status. This is while Luke Cage is stuck in the New York traffic and can’t catch a cab so Wasp does the old “Avengers Assemble” thing so he can be with Jessica. While this is happening, Ben Urich continues his titanic struggle with J. Jonah Jameson, who finds D-Man’s name and backstory to be amusing, but quickly backpedals when he thinks that this story is a cover for trying to keep Daredevil safe because he is currently being investigated by the feds after his secret identity is outed in Daredevil. Urich does end up doing the story, finds out that D-Man (whose real name is Dennis Dunphy) has been arrested for vagrancy multiple times, and ends up meeting him in the sewers after one of the shopkeepers he’s robbed tells him that he uses it for travel. Back at the hospital, an administrator basically says that Jessica can’t deliver her mutant abomination under her care, but the New Avengers show up in the nick of time and take her to the best doctor around, Stephen Strange.
The Pulse #13 deals with the birth of Jessica and Luke’s daughter as well as Ben Urich interviewing and helping D-Man. Bendis and Gaydos show that Jessica and Luke are non-conventional parents when Jessica keeps swearing and also makes a leaning on the fourth wall reference to Alias when she tells Dr. Strange about her mouth “a few years ago” while Luke asks for Public Enemy and not soft music to be played in the delivery room. And then the press decides to show up overwhelming Dr. Strange’s valet, Wong so Captain America takes over the PR duties and lets Kat Farrell come through because Jessica signed an exclusive with the Daily Bugle to cover the birth of her child. However, Jessica refuses to talk to Kat and let the Bugle have the story because they lambasted Luke Cage in the paper back in New Avengers #15.
Speaking of the press, D-Man takes Ben Urich to his sewer home after complimenting his news stories about Daredevil and offering him a stale cupcake. There is some voiceover narration (Ben typing the story) about D-Man refusing to join the Avengers to be a hero for the homeless, but now he is just alone. Ben confronts him about stealing the jewelry, and it is clear that D-Man isn’t in his right mind as he thinks that the pieces of jewelry are Infinity Gems. And finally Jessica has her baby while J. Jonah Jameson is furious that he got scooped by the Daily Globe and printed a story about D-Man instead. Urich says he shouldn’t have disrespected her, and it flashes back to Urich getting in contact with Daredevil, who gets D-Man the help he needs. The issue closes with Jessica and Luke holding their baby when Luke proposes to her.
The D-Man and Jessica giving birth plotlines in The Pulse #12-#13 aren’t super suspenseful, but they tie together nicely through the shared theme of empathy or the lack of it. Whether they are homeless petty thieves or celebrities (Superhero news stories are the celebrity gossip of the Marvel Universe.), these superpowered beings are human beings, who just want to make ends meet or start a family while helping others. Ben Urich chooses to listen to D-Man’s problems and not just use him for a story about a fallen story or as a joke, finds out that he respects Daredevil tremendously, and uses his connection with Daredevil to find him some kind of help or shelter.
And I don’t recall reading any of D-Man’s appearances in the past ten years, but currently, he is an important supporting character in Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Sam Wilson so perhaps Urich did some good. His actions are one final example of his belief that superheroes (even masked ones) are a force for good in society that is the complete opposite of his editor J. Jonah Jameson and fellow Pulse reporter Kat Farrell’s view that they’re good front page fodder to sell newspapers. Jessica Jones drives this point home more emphatically when she yells on the phone that Jameson is a mustache sporting Nazi while giving birth. Ouch, indeed.
On the other hand, with Jessica’s pregnancy, The Pulse #12-13 is a true example of superheroes cooperating to help one of their own even if they have different backgrounds from the retired Avenger Janet Van Dyne making the initial call to Carol Danvers being an amazing friend and holding Jessica’s hand and literally carrying her through this ordeal and finally to the New Avengers and Doctor Strange. Each New Avenger or guest hero (With the exception of Spider-Woman even though she and Jessica teamed up back in Alias.) has a great moment or line in support of Jessica.
Carol’s shining moment comes straight out of the gates as she flies between New York skyscrapers and ensures Jessica checks into a hospital as quickly as possible and is followed by Wasp saying “Avengers assemble” as she immediately goes from chit chatting about fashion with Luke Cage to getting him a ride to the hospital. Wolverine gets to basically tell the anti-mutant hospital administrator to go to hell, Spider-Man makes awkward, badly timed jokes about the Vision and Scarlet Witch’s kids, and Iron Man flies the Quinjet moving Jessica from a hospital run by a bigot to the Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange. And Captain America pays forward Jessica’s saving of his reputation back in the first arc of Alias by being a literal shield for the hordes of press surrounding Dr. Strange’s house.
Cap gives a measured speech as Gaydos zooms into the star on his chest showing that he’s a champion for his fellow heroes whether they’re facing aliens, mind control, or journalists. Matt Hollingsworth’s color palette is usually pretty faded on Alias, but he makes the panels just a tad brighter when the various superheroes show up even Daredevil, whose red acts as a light to lead D-Man out of squalor and into a better life. Hollingsworth’s colors also stand out when Luke Cage is running to be with Jessica as she’s in labor and the street around him is all yellow because of the taxi cabs. Yellow has been Luke’s color since his Power Man days in the 1970s, and the use of color in both his shirt and surroundings shows his determination to be with the women he loves as she brings his daughter into the world. Their relationship continues to be the center of the story as he helps her get through the pains of labor holding his hand as she starts her contractions. (It was vice versa, but the unbreakable skin did more harm than good.)
As I mentioned last week, Michael Gaydos’ return was super timely as he draw the dark corridors of the New York City sewers as well as the emotions that are running high as Jessica Jones has her daughter. Most of his facial expressions are pained as Jessica goes into labor while being hounded by doctors and various hospital people, who are asking about her mutant status, her superpowers, and kick Carol Danvers out because of her energy based powers. However, it gets better in The Pulse #13 when Carol, Luke, and Cap are there to soothe her as the pain increases, and the censored profanity increases. Even though he’s not allowed to show the actual words because this is a comic set in the mainstream Marvel universe, Bendis uses profanity in a manner similar to Alias to show Jessica’s raw feelings as she is about to experience a life changing moment. And Gaydos’ depiction of Jessica with her newborn daughter is quite touching as he goes away from the grid filled double page spreads that he uses to show the verbal tete a tetes that Jessica, Ben Urich, J. Jonah Jameson, and other characters have engaged in throughout Alias and The Pulse to back to back full page spreads. Also, the final page with Luke and Jessica is pure bliss with well-earned smiles everywhere. Of course, we don’t hear her answer to his proposal because Bendis has to leave one thread untied for next issue’s finale. (Jessica’s reaction to the proposal is priceless and ambiguous though.)
J. Jonah Jameson detests it and mentions taking legal action while continuing to denigrate Ben Urich as less than a reporter, but the D-Man story that Ben Urich writes is what Jameson had in mind for The Pulse when he first came up with the idea. These articles that are in-depth, analysis pieces on superheroes that every day people can connect to, like human interest stories with a side of colorful costumes and punching. And this is the kind of story that Urich excels at writing even though he’s best known for investigative journalism about the Kingpin and Norman Osborn as D-Man talks about the “layers” he gave Daredevil, and how his writing style brought the Man without Fear close to a struggling superhero and wrestler, like him.
I’m not saying that Ben Urich is a self-insert character for Brian Michael Bendis, but it is handy to have a writer character in your story to expound your ideas on a certain topic: superheroes in this case. In his superhero comics from Ultimate Spider-Man to Daredevil, Avengers, and way too many event miniseries, Bendis finds a kind of middle ground between deconstruction and reconstruction. He can write a character like Jessica Jones, who rejects the superhero life as painting too much in broad strokes and not looking at the big picture, or he can write Ultimate Peter Parker, who is the embodiment of heroism mingled with teen angst and optimism. Bendis’ best work and characterization has definitely come with the solo street level heroes, like Spider-Man, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, and he does better at telling dialogue driven stories focusing on the human side heroes with splashes of action even though he has a couple of cool concepts in him, like House of M alternate reality, Nick Fury’s Secret War, and bringing the original 1960s X-Men to the current time period.
The Pulse #12-13 has plenty of emotional payoff for the characters of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage as they overcome discrimination and just the usual fears of bringing a child into the world with the help of their superhero friends. And in the B-plot, Bendis and Gaydos continue to show why Ben Urich is one of the most underappreciated supporting characters in the Marvel Universe as he uses his skills as journalism to not only tell the truth about the world around him, but also to create empathy for his fellow human beings even smelly, homeless Z-list superhero dropouts, who happen to be people with dreams, aspirations, and ideals too.