Feeling the Pulse #14
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 #14 (2006) written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Gaydos with colors from Matt Hollingsworth.
In the final issue of The Pulse, writer Brian Michael Bendis, artist Michael Gaydos, and colorist Matt Hollingsworth don’t go out with an epic fight scene or random drama, but a nice, self-contained story about how Jessica Jones and Luke Cage met framed by Jessica telling the story to her one week old baby girl and pondering whether she should marry Luke Cage or not. There is no mention of the Daily Bugle in this issue as Bendis squarely focuses on telling Jessica Jones’ story, including one last flashback to her past as the vigilante Knightress and revealing why she went public with her identity way before guys, like Steve Rogers and Tony Stark did.
The Pulse #14 opens with Jessica holding her daughter and completely freaking out about Luke’s proposal before flashing back to a week ago when Luke gave his reasons for proposing to her. This includes first and foremost his love for Jessica, and the fact that they’re a biracial couple as well as being superheroes, which means their daughter will take a lot of flak so he doesn’t want people to think that Jessica is a stereotypical “baby mama”. He also sees marriage as a step of responsibility befitting his status as a New Avenger, but doesn’t expect an immediate answer from Jessica and lets her think for a while. The plot flashes forward to Jessica being with her daughter, and she decides to tell the story of how she and Luke met when she was the vigilante Knightress for a week after recovering from being mind controlled by Killgrave and attacking the Avengers and Defenders just so she could get some anger out. Knightress is kind of an homage to the post-Dark Knight Returns/Watchmen superheroes when almost every superhero was a little darker and edgier for darkness’ sake, and Superman died and Batman had his back broken.
As Knightress, she decides to take out the crime lord Owl, who is shipping some kind of genetic material , a scheme which is incidental to the main story. She ends up in a team up with Power Man and Iron Fist (in their classic costumes) and takes down Owl and his men throwing the avian gangster across the room while Luke punches his lights out. Jessica is about to run away before the police get there, but Luke debunks this superhero trope and says she should help the police fill out their report unless she’s wanted. (He explains this is the reason fights the same villains over and over.) While everything is being processed, she sees two children, who were brought by their dad to meet the Owl. Their mom isn’t in the picture, and they have nowhere to stay. Jessica offers to take them in, but isn’t allowed to because of her secret identity. She immediately unmasks, the police let her take them home for the night , and the kids fall asleep watching Toy Story on her couch. Feeling guilty, Luke drops by, and they talk for a while with Jessica saying that she took the kids in because she lost her family as child and just wanted these children to feel normal for a night. She ends up falling asleep on the couch, and the story cuts to the present day where Jessica tells her daughter that her relationship worked out with Luke because they were friends first, and that she’ll marry him.
The Pulse #14 is really the definitive answer to why Jessica Jones and Luke Cage work as a couple that is still together after ten years. (You can see her chilling out on the couch with Danielle Cage-Jones in the current Power Man and Iron Fist series.) Their relationship is built on respect, honesty, sarcastic banter, and most of all, space. Unlike Scott Lang in Alias, who kept asking Jessica if she got raped, shamed her for having a glass of wine with dinner, and even used Pym particles to jump in a cab with her, Luke is totally cool with giving her some alone time to process big life decisions. He speaks his (double page spread) piece about why they should get married and then lets her decide for herself after some quick patter about how creepy the Sanctum Sanctorum is and an amazing, frank zinger from Jessica where she says, “Who gives a fuck [about floating books in Doctor Strange’s house]. I just pushed an entire person out of a small hole in my body.”
And their love and respect for each other is rooted in a past friendship that we unfortunately haven’t seen in Alias or The Pulse even though it’s hinted that Luke knew Jessica before they had sex in Alias #1. This is a big difference between Jessica and Luke’s relationship in the comics versus the TV show as they hooked up the day they met at Luke’s bar. The final issue of The Pulse is actually an opportune time to uncover this last bit of Jessica’s story on the eve of her making a potentially a big life decision. Luke is impressed by Jessica as a crime fighter as Gaydos puts a beat panel of him admiring tossing bad guys technique mid-panel before he KOs The Owl. But he is even more impressed by her as a person even though him dropping by unannounced at her apartment is a little on the creepy side. But he ends up being a perfect gentleman, checks in on the kids, and even stitches a cut on her back. It’s all completely platonic and kind of adorable as Jessica just ends up slumping on the couch after a high adrenaline night of crime fighting, secret identity But what did Luke make for breakfast for her and the kids?
And it’s these scenes of interpersonal relationships that are right up Michael Gaydos’ alley with his naturalistic style as Luke and Jessica chat, or Jessica monologues to her baby. However, he can also do a nice homage to Frank Miller’s Batman work by giving Knightress a mask that looks like the Sons of Batman’s as well as Alex Maleev’s art on Daredevil with its crime fiction take on superheroes. Matt Hollingsworth was also the colorist on Bendis and Maleev’s Daredevil run and creates a nice sense of continuity by drenching everything in gritty shadows while having little pops of colors from the superhero costumes, like Jessica’s red mask, Luke’s yellow vest, and Iron Fist’s yellow mask/rag thing. He and Gaydos play the scene completely straight with iconic superhero poses and Knightress floating through the air Batman style while Bendis undercuts it with some snarky Jessica narration about supervillains with animal themed names (I blame that on Stan Lee in the 1960s.), why being the next Kingpin is a terrible career move, and dark costumes being the superhero equivalent of legwarmers. It looks like Baby Cage-Jones will learn about sarcasm and self-awareness from a young age.
One character trait that has been a part of Jessica Jones throughout Alias, most of The Pulse, and even in the Jessica Jones Netflix show with how she treats Hope and later Malcolm is empathy. And Bendis and Gaydos make Jessica’s empathy the key reason why she decided to stop being a superhero and lose the secret identity in direct contrast to the big publicity stunt that Spider-Man would pull a few months later in Civil War #2. As an orphan and foster child, Jessica understands how terrible it is to lose a parent in front of your own eyes and pleads with the police to have them stay somewhere else other than basically jail for the night. The scene where she unmasks is quite powerful as she goes from being a wannabe Frank Miller character to the regular Jessica we know and love with a sad expression on her face as she feels for the kids of this clueless gangster. And her past experience with loss helps her in this babysitting assignment as she doesn’t really bring up the situation with the Owl, but just lets the kids have fun until they fall asleep on her bed. Throughout Alias, Jessica wasn’t a person, who would come in barreling in a situation (Except the whole Mattie Franklin thing.), but gave people space, like when she was okay with a young lesbian girl skipping town when she knew her family wouldn’t accept her. (Also, the irl’s mom killed her dad.) With her cynical attitude towards more traditional superheroes and their loud, noisy ways, Jessica might seem cold, but she really is one of the most caring people in the Marvel Universe.
The final page of The Pulse #14 is beautiful as Hollingsworth dims the lights on the page while keeping his palette neutral because Jessica is in her home with her baby. Gaydos gives Jessica the body language of caring as she picks up her baby and soothes her while sharing a quiet, kind of sappy moment where she tells her daughter that Luke is really a great guy, and that she’ll marry him. After 42 issues of police interrogations, supervillain attacks, mind control, and all matter of creepy shit, Bendis and Gaydos give Jessica Jones a happy ending as she finds love and a place to belong with Luke Cage and her daughter.
It’s a real happy ending, but unfortunately in the ten years between the end of The Pulse and the present, she hasn’t really evolved as a character. I’ll look at that in next week in “Whatever Happened to Jessica Jones” looking at her post-solo series appearances. The Pulse ended on a “to be continued” (Jessica and Luke actually got married in New Avengers Annual #1) so why can’t I.