Tag Archives: norman osborn

Back to School: Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25

USM25CoverBack to School is a weekly issue by issue look at the beloved superhero teen comic Ultimate Spider-ManIn this week’s installment, I will be covering Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25  (2002) written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert, and colored by Digital Transparency

Ultimate Spider-Man #24 kicks off with Ultimate Nick Fury (Aka the one who looks like Samuel L. Jackson.) slowly dematerializing in the counselor’s office at Peter Parker’s school. Things are very serious with the Green Goblin, and Fury says that he will get Spider-Man to try to assassinate him or Mary Jane and Aunt May will die. Peter freaks out about Fury and SHIELD knowing about his secret identity and learns some crucial backstory about Norman Osborn like that he lost a super soldier serum contract with SHIELD, which is why he tested the Oz drug on himself. Unfortunately, SHIELD can’t help Spider-Man out unless he actually threatens a civilian thanks to the rules of engagement and a prohibition on spying on Americans on American soil. Later, Norman Osborn’s limo is about to pick up Aunt May and Peter for dinner at his house, but Peter dissuades her and says he’s a creepy, bad man. Peter wants to keep her safe so he swings around as Spider-Man hoping to put an end to the Green Goblin once and for all. Unfortunately, he runs into his nemesis, who has kidnapped Mary Jane, who is Harry Osborn’s dinner guest.

After a gripping double page spread of Spider-Man and Harry’s surprise at Mary Jane being kidnapped, Ultimate Spider-Man #25 flashes back to Harry’s hypnotherapy sessions. His therapist, Dr. Warren, is a little hesitant about planting subliminal suggestions, but Norman waves him off, and then we get to see his transformation into the Green Goblin from his POV as he grabs Mary Jane and leaps into action to fight Spider-Man and a SHIELD helicopter. It’s super trippy, and he sees Spider-Man as an actual spider. They fight for a while until Green Goblin drops Mary Jane off the Queensboro Bridge, which is when the SHIELD sniper in the helicopter finally starts firing at him. In an homage to “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”, Spider-Man catches Mary Jane with his web just as she’s about to go splat, and her fate remains ambiguous as the issue ends.

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Other than a badass extended and logical to the overall plot Nick Fury cameo, the big highlight of Ultimate Spider-Man #25 is getting to see the world from the skewed scientific, religious, and very drug addled perspective of Norman Osborn. Oz truly fucks you up. Artists Mark Bagley and Art Thibert also channel their Clone Saga days and have Norman see Spider-Man as more spider than man with all kind of weird appendages and extra arms. The colorists at Digital Transparency add to the hallucinations with cloudy little goblin babies whispering the chemical formula for Oz with the help of eerie lettering from Richard Starkings.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis leaves the usual banter, quips, or villainous speeches and instead of makes the subconscious of Norman Osborn conscious with all kind of character defining buzz words. Lines like “He’s your son” for his relationship with Peter to “Fire eyes” about his abilities help flesh out Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin persona and the added angle of him as a failed military contractor and scientist makes him a more interesting foe than the non-verbal Hulk-lite of the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man. It also more than makes up for the multiple reused panels during Harry’s hypnotherapy session although that could have been a storytelling choice to show how impassive, compliant, and basically buzzed out on lithium he is.

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No they didn’t…

The Green Goblin shares blood with Spider-Man, and Peter Parker used to look up to Norman Osborn and is friends with his son. This deep connection makes him an excellent arch-nemesis, and adding SHIELD and a glimpse at the larger Marvel Universe is like having an ice cream after dinner. However, in the endgame of these middle issues, Bendis and Bagley go for the typical damsel in distress deal with Mary Jane instead of letting Peter and her have a genuine conversation about their relationship. Then, they do an homage to “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” (Except trading Gwen for MJ, and the George Washington Bridge for Queensboro.) with a similar angle and sidelines all of these relationship complications plus some fun banter with Harry at his house into a typical Peter saves MJ situation a la the entire Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy .

Even though the nod to “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” was a little too on the fanservice-y side and using a female character to just further a male character’s arc is a big problem with superhero comics, it makes story sense for Bendis and Bagley Green Goblin to come after MJ and raise “Legacy’s” tension level as an arc. The Green Goblin knows Spider-Man’s secret identity as Spider-Man and has clearly threatened Aunt May and MJ with death if he puts the costume on again. So, when he sees Spidey in action, the Green Goblin instantly grabs Mary Jane, who is a guest at his house. The constantly inviting Aunt May and Mary Jane to dinner is just a cover to basically hold them hostage and blackmail Spider-Man. Norman Osborn is pretty clever when he isn’t injecting untested Oz formula directly into his veins multiple times every day. Also, Mary Jane getting kidnapped and Aunt May being threatened cause Spider-Man to have second thoughts about being a hero, and the usual happy web swinging double page spread is having a total existential crisis about the cost his double life has on his loved ones. And Mary Jane’s kidnapping and possible death definitely throw gasoline on the current garbage fire that is his superhero life.

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So, Nick Fury shows up in Ultimate Spider-Man #24, and it’s pretty cool once Peter Parker stops jumping around and saying super goofy stuff like “I would like to see some form of identification.” Fury’s presence is an ice cold dose of reality in young Peter’s face and a reminder that he doesn’t do his superhero thing in a vacuum. Even though he’s defeated the Kingpin, Doc Ock, and Kraven the Hunter plus numerous small fry baddies, Spidey has gone about in a sloppy way so it’s been easy for them to keep tabs on him. The appearance of Fury and his little history lesson about the super soldier serum and Norman Osborn make Spider-Man seem small and insignificant in the big picture of the Marvel Universe. However, he’s also kind of a scientific miracle, which is why Fury and SHIELD would be experimenting on him if he wasn’t a minor. For once, Peter’s youth and inexperience do him some good.

Nick Fury’s big plot point in Ultimate Spider-Man #24 is that he and SHIELD can’t take down the Green Goblin unless he has physically attacked a civilian aka MJ or Aunt May. This is because SHIELD aka the NSA with ray guns isn’t allowed to spy on Americans on American soil. This made me laugh darkly because, in 2002, President George W Bush signed an order to allow the NSA to monitor telephone calls and emails of American citizens. Bendis and Bagley do some spot on political satire in the middle of a Spider-Man and Green Goblin story and continue to write Spidey and Peter as a pure example of heroism in a profession dominated by backstabbers, liars, and sociopaths like the cast of Mark Millar’s Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men. Bagley gives Peter some very angry expressions on his face when Fury keeps telling him that SHIELD isn’t allowed to attack Norman Osborn or bring him in. He’s the ordinary human who is hemmed in by a slimy web of deceit and political machinery in cahoots with corporations for mutual benefit so the slap he delivers to Fury when he lectures about “optimism” is well-earned.

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However, Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25 aren’t all about politics, and Bendis fits in Fury and SHIELD’s presence in the story like a well-placed in a superpowered jigsaw puzzle. They don’t wear out their welcome. It makes a lot of sense that a Hulk-level threat would be on their radar. Above all, “Legacy” is a crucial, personal part of Spider-Man’s heroic journey, and the hallucinations in Ultimate Spider-Man #25 plus his repeated use of the word “responsibility”  confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt my theory that Norman Osborn is the dark mirror of Uncle Ben. Spider-Man’s powers came from the Oscorp spider and Osborn’s failed experiments, but his heart and devotion to using abilities responsibly to protect society come from Uncle Ben’s words to him in the first story arc. The only responsibility that Osborn knows is to further his power and rebuild his corporate empire by any means necessary, including kidnapping his son’s friend, hypnotizing his own son, and causing general mayhem. And, in his eyes, Spider-Man is just a means to enforce his will and also physical proof that, hey, maybe this Oz thing actually worked. He thinks Spider-Man owes something while Ben loved Peter selflessly even when his nephew acted like a jerk to him. *Pause for feelings here*

The homage to “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” in Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25 is pretty obvious, and I’ve mentioned it a few times. However, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley also riff off another classic Spider-Man story, the infamous Harry Osborn is a junkie story in Amazing Spider-Man #98 that Stan Lee and Gil Kane published without the Comic Code’s seal of approval. But this time, Norman Osborn is a drug addict, and Bendis and Bagley don’t tell the typical “drugs are bad” PSA and tell the tale of a one percenter whose corporation is flagging so he turns to substance. Except instead of fine grade cocaine, his drug of choice makes him a hulked out psychopath kind of like Jose Canseco with a Marvel twist and no baseball ability. There’s this whole interplay between drugs, power, and corruption that turns the Green Goblin into Tony Montana with horns and is a more interesting, or at the very least, entertaining look at a drug addiction story in a superhero context. Sorry, Stan and Gil.

Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25 are solid middle chapters of the “Legacy” arc as Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley show the world from the Green Goblin’s POV for a few pages and add some political satire and big picture stuff in a Nick Fury guest appearance. The ending of issue 25 is very “Women in Refrigerators” as Bendis goes from developing MJ’s character to victimizing her although luckily there are two issues left to possibly improve on this…

Back to School: Ultimate Spider-Man #22-23

Back to School is a weekly issue by issue look at the beloved superhero teen comic Ultimate Spider-ManIn this week’s installment, I will be covering Ultimate Spider-Man #22-23  (2002) written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert, and colored by Digital Transparency

Ultimate Spider-Man #22 kicks off with a nice cold open as Spider-Man tracks down some roller skating purse snatchers and easily defeats them before he has to rush back to science class. This is because he’s still grounded, and his lunch period at school is the only time he can be a superhero. He and Mary Jane have a very animated conversation about his grounding and his battle against Kraven the Hunter and Dr. Octopus ending in a joke about kissing underneath the bleachers and the surprise return of Harry Osborn. Harry is excited to see Mary Jane and Peter and invites him over to have dinner with his apparently not-dead father. The limo that Norman Osborn sends for Peter impresses Aunt May so much that she puts his grounding on hold for a night. However, this dinner is very much a trap as Peter and Harry go from chatting about girl to Norman telling Peter that he needs to stop being Spider-Man and transforming into a new, improved Green Goblin, who is verbal and can glow fire.

Ultimate Spider-Man #23 goes a little non-linear opening with Spider-Man freaking out about the Green Goblin and flashing back to Norman Osborn saying he keeps Harry docile with hypnotherapy and showing Peter up and close and personal his transformation from the Green Goblin back to Osborn. He also threatens to kill Aunt May and Mary Jane if Spider-Man doesn’t do as he’s told. Then, they watch Harry and Norman’s Dateline interview where they pin the attack on Oscorp on the now dead Justin Hammer, which is Norman Osborn’s lying reason for coming back to the public sphere. This causes Peter to freak out and run home where he has a touching conversation with Aunt May about how he had a bad time at the Osborns and feels bad lying to her. May chalks up his lies to him feeling nervous about his first girlfriend, and Peter is about to tell Mary Jane about what went down at the Osborns when Gwen Stacy knocks on his door. She has nowhere to stay because her dad’s working all night, and her mother has left them. Aunt May lets Gwen stay over and makes her and Peter eggs and has a nice chat with John Stacy in the morning. At school, things are a little weird, and the issue ends with the “grief counselor” Miss Bradley talking to Peter frankly about his life as Spider-Man and Norman Osborn’s new Green Goblin form. It’s implied she works for SHIELD.

In Ultimate Spider-Man #22-23, the opening issues of the “Legacy” story arc, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, and Art Thibert show that Norman Osborn is scary apart from his Green Goblin persona. He is a master manipulator who uses a lethal cocktail of gaslighting (He tells Harry that his mother’s death warped his perception of reality.) and hypnotherapy disguised as regular therapy to keep his son Harry compliant. This manipulation extends to the Parker family as Peter accepts his dinner invite even though he is extremely uncomfortable meeting with someone who tried to kill him and greets him with video clips of his last battle with Dr. Octopus. Bagley draws Norman Osborn as towering over Peter like some kind of stern, well-built father figure, and Thibert goes to town on the thick, dark inks on his face. He isn’t off the wall crazy like he was in the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man with every move, media interview, and threatening word carefully calculated. Osborn’s transformation to the Green Goblin is still monstrous and Hulk-like, but he has power over it. This combination of brains, brawn, and general sociopathy easily make “Green Goblin 2.0” Spider-Man’s most formidable foe yet because if Peter suits up to fight him, his loved ones could die.

In contrast to Norman Osborn’s manipulative bastard of a parent, Aunt May exhibits a more even measured and empathetic approach  to parenting in Ultimate Spider-Man #23. She cares about both Peter’s well-being and privacy providing a listening ear and warm hug after he returns early from the Osborns and even goes easy on him with the whole grounding thing. On paper, that might make her sound like a pushover, or a move from Bendis to give Peter more time with Mary Jane or as Spider-Man. However, the intensely detailed close-up art of Peter and May tells a different story showing Peter as a vulnerable young man, who needs support in a world where powerful, evil men want to kill him.

May’s empathy also extends to the Stacy family, and she sees John as a good-hearted man and honest cop, who is in over his head with the whole single parent thing, especially when that daughter is the firebrand Gwen. She goes from almost lecturing Peter about having a girl over to putting on her house coat and whipping up some tasty eggs for everyone because even the Ultimate Universe Aunt May slays at making breakfast. Gwen popping in on Peter in his basement while he’s wearing his boxer shorts and giving him an attack hug right in front of MJ does make Mary Jane slightly jealous although Gwen’s line of “Hold on to this one, M.J. Solid gold.” assuages her fears a little bit. Bagley tilts Mary Jane’s last panel in Ultimate Spider-Man #23 as Peter gets sent to the principal’s office, and this silent image shows how uneasy she feels about him being Spider-Man, his grounding, and the whole Gwen Stacy showing up at his house in the middle of the night.

Before this awkwardness and the whole return of Norman Osborn drama, Bendis and Bagley give Peter and Mary Jane some fantastic romantic chemistry turning the middle part of Ultimate Spider-Man #22 into a scene from a teen comedy. (Their chat at the football bleachers is yet another example of Marc Webb taking a scene featuring Peter and MJ from Ultimate Spider-Man and using it for Peter and Gwen.) Bagley shows their budding romance through body language and positioning as Mary Jane is glued to him for seven straight pages while they discuss his superhero fight and the overall suckiness of his grounding. He does close-up of Mary Jane’s eyes when Peter talks about how he wants to respect his aunt and not have her sneak over, and it makes you feel really bad for them although Peter definitely deserved his punishment. And they have a shared moment of happiness when Harry makes his big return that is kind of overshadowed by some really juvenile gay jokes about Flash Thompson even though it’s nice to see his toxic masculinity and objectification of women (See panels where he’s pawing at Liz Allen.) taken down a peg.

Usually, Bendis and Bagley are on the same page with the quick fire dialogue and easy to follow panels featuring characters’ faces and big body movement with some speed lines to spice up action sequences. However, they really drop the ball in a fairly crucial double page spread in Ultimate Spider-Man #23 where Harry, Peter, and Norman watch Norman Osborn’s big comeback interview. Thematically, it’s cool to see yet another villain manipulate the press and spin the events of the “Double Trouble” arc in a way that makes him look like the victim unlike Justin Hammer’s inept attempts at lying to the media. However, the reading order of the page goes left to right, right to left, and some horrific panels of Peter sweating and freaking out stuck under a wall of text. Norman’s rise to power, and Peter’s return to powerless is trapped under an onslaught of a couple pages of really bad storytelling. Luckily, Bendis and Bagley salvage things with the Gwen Stacy subplot and an incredibly trippy SHIELD (without saying those words) cliffhanger showing that the Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin isn’t just a mere grudge match, but affects the big picture of superhumans in the United States.

However, Ultimate Spider-Man #22-23 don’t fall into the trap of the “interconnected universe” like Iron Man 2, and Norman Osborn works as a villain because of his personal connection with Peter, who is in a way his son because he got his powers from his Oz formula. Norman also still admires his scientific mind and intellect that was much greater than his biological son Harry, who he sees as weak and spoiled so he makes him docile with hypnotherapy. Spider-Man doesn’t fight the Green Goblin in any of these issues, but the fact that he can be Norman Osborn, ruthless and corrupt businessman, and a more powerful version of the Green Goblin definitely increases his threat level. As both Norman and the Goblin, he towers over Peter and taunts him with his new powers. Like the Kingpin in the second arc of Ultimate Spider-Man, this is a man, who thinks he’s untouchable, and he might be able to back it up with those creepy flame abilities.

After “Double Trouble” introduced three villains (Two were jokes, to be honest.) in rapid succession, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley go for a more focused approach in “Legacy”, which is influenced by the classic Spider-Man/Green Goblin stories of the late-1960s when Harry Osborn was a drug addict. They use the board clearing plot of the last arc to pave the way for Norman Osborn’s triumphant return and immediately put Peter on the defensive spoiling the return of his friend Harry. A villain with the Hulk-like brawn of the Ultimate Green Goblin and the mind of Norman Osborn is much more formidable one than the non-verbal Green Goblin that appeared in the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man, and it’s exciting to see Peter cope with a foe that knows the people he cares about. And speaking of those people, Bendis and Bagley are careful to include scenes with Mary Jane, Aunt May, and even friend/potential love interest/general wild card Gwen Stacy, and with his grounding in Ultimate Spider-Man #22, there is plenty of time for interactions and character development.

With the exception of a goose egg of a double page spread in Ultimate Spider-Man #23, Ultimate Spider-Man #22-23 is a fantastic start to the “Legacy” arc with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley setting up Norman Osborn as Spider-Man’s physical and intellectual superior. It’s also nice to see a genuine heart to heart between Peter and Aunt May as well as the slow build romance between Peter and Mary Jane, which gets complicated by his double life, grounding, and the return of Harry Osborn.

Ominous Parallels: a Comparative Analysis of Donald Trump & Norman Osborn

modakWe’re going to make America Great Again!”  – Donald Trump

” I want to weed out the malcontents. I want an army of men and women ready to take back the world. And those who are not ready will be replaced….I want you to take this Starktech Golden Goose of a Helicarrier and I want it scrapped .. You use my designs. You put them into full production. I want this red and gold out of sight” – Norman Osborn

In 2012 I was fortunate to contribute to Blackwell‘s pop culture and philosophy volume on the Avengers. My essay compared the controversial rise to power of Norman Osborn to an arrogant Athenian Noble named Alcibiades in the Socratic Dialogues. Much like Alcibiades, Osborne, was obsessed with accumulating state power for his own benefit, conflating his need for power with national security. To borrow Socrates’ leaky jar analogy, the egos of both men were markedly fragile, causing both to seek an endless abatement of their superficial desires and validations. As a Canadian I have been following the 2016 presidential election quite closely. And I am always given pause when I find instances of art imitating life or vice versa. More and more I am realizing that the current politic drama playing out with my neighbor to the south, seems very much like a landmark story from Marvel called Dark Reign.

donald_trump_by_gage_skidmore_2As of this writing Donald Trump has been formally nominated as the candidate for the Republican Party. This has been achieved despite a campaign with thinly veiled overtones of bigotry, threat exaggeration, Ad hominem argumentation, insecure bluster and unabashed demagoguery.  During Marvel’s Dark Reign, we a saw a similarly unlikely rise to power, one that put the “bad guys” firmly in power, and had most of our heroes on the run. It’s important to note that the Dark Reign came about off the heels of alien invasion, qualifying as a threat on existential terms. Though this threat was credible and resulted in the breakdown of many of the Earths’ protective institutions (i.e. SHIELD, SWORD, the Avengers) the fact still remains that this threat was politicized and weaponized to the benefit of the new established  political and security order. Through five points of comparison I would like show some striking similarities between Mr. Trump and Norman Osborn, in order to show why these similarities should give both Americans and the rest of the world pause. Although I enjoyed the subversive Dark Reign event and the political commentary that came with it, seeing life imitate art so closely in this political election has been a bit disturbing.

Showmanship

Both Norman Osborn and Donald Trump have demonstrated an incredible knack for showmanship. During his stint as the director of the Thunderbolts, a rehabilitating  initiative that employed super villains for heroic tasks, Norman slowly and calculatedly fashioned an image of himself as a trustworthy civil servant. This was  despite his monstrous alternate persona the Green Goblin and his dubious intentions. This showmanship culminated in his strategically timed execution of the Skrull Queen during the final throes of the Skrull invasion, an act taking place before many cameras and ultimately cementing his place at the head of national security.

Similarly Donald Trump’s thirst for fame has become a central pillar of his career. Trump slowly evolved from the real estate mogul symbolic of the 80s to reality personality we know today. That Mr. Trump chose to announce his political ambitions, through his media ventures was of no surprise, as he became quite adept at using any platform afforded to him to further his own goals. In a short span of a few years the currency of Trump’s rise slowly transitioned from real estate to notoriety. What I find so fascinating about Donald Trump’s untrammeled ambition in the mediascape appears  to be sourced from a deep lack of confidence. A classic “Trumpian” mindset seems to be the following whatever promotes or aggrandizes me is trustworthy and good, and whatever criticizes or challenges me is flawed, envious and bad. His recent comments on SNL indicates this, a show he was happy to host recently, which is now unfunny in his eyes and in need of retirement now that he is being parodied. Similarly after Osborn’s rise to power, any degree of opposition or challenges to his order was met with draconian authority. Both Osborn and Trump suffer  from a deep insecurity which brings me to the next point of comparison.

Insecurity

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Trump brought the election to new lows, using his newfound political soapbox to defend not only his vaunted wealth, and business acumen but also his physical attributes like the size of his genitalia, fingers, and the authenticity of his hair. This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t have insecurities, however his choice to use his political campaign to chronically redress this that is remarkable. Most politicians can cultivate a degree of thick skinned resolve that allows them to maintain a presence and agenda consistent with campaign objectives. Trump has routinely been veered off course, falling for bait that would typically fall beneath the attention, and stature of your general presidential candidate.

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Norman Osborn also shared this personality flaw. In my essay I argued that Norman’s enmity towards the newly outlawed super heroic community, stemmed from his insecurity about independent and self-derived sources of power. Instead of working with those who were seemingly on the other side, Norman worked tirelessly to oppress and subdue them. For Norman this may have been tied to his fragile ego, and dove tailed into his exaggerated view of the world’s threats. The mini-series Dark X-Men explicitly touches on Norman’s inner psyche where super powered opponents are concerned.  It explains a lot of his heavy handedness throughout his tenure as the head of national security.

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Threat Exaggeration/Inflation

Both Donald and Norman exhibit an exaggerated understanding of national security threats, however where Osborn’s stems from his insecurity and ego issues, Trump’s is a more opportunistic variety, rooted more in his showmanship.  At the end of the Dark Avengers title we get a final panel of an incarcerated Norman, meandering over all the threats that may take place without his oversight. It’s a telling insight into his fragile mind, a plausible set of scenarios, but obtuse and over the top. This isn’t to say that Norman’s assessment of things was never opportunistic (See blurring personal vendetta with national security) it was just that his reaction to super powered opposition (actual and imagined) overwhelmed him and perhaps fed (and spurred) his Goblin persona.

Donald Trumps’ variety of threat exaggeration, is rooted in bigotry but more heavily on spreading doubt and lack of confidence in the established governmental order. I say this highlighting Trump’s lack of understanding of geopolitical issues (see vague platitudes and agenda) and his complete dearth of viable or coherent alternatives. Trump knows people are scared and he has seized on that fear to bolster support for his campaign.

There are striking parallels here with what took place during the Dark Reign. Both Skrulls and the specter of ISIS are existential threats, both of which can appear as anyone (The Skrulls being shapeshifting aliens) and infiltrate borders and institutions. Both also use religious ideology for a mission of conquest. Although there were peaceful Skrulls living on earth before and after the invasion, and peaceful Muslims who are not radically indoctrinated, conflations are made in both cases. Where Trump has used this to deride immigration policy and pander to the ignorance and fear of his base, Norman used this to take out a clear and apparent threat cement his place as a trusted government official, while eventually moving on to other threats by defining them in a sense.

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Voracious Branding 

Both Donald and Norman true to their sizeable egos, need to see their names on everything. During his Dark Reign, Norman usurped and subverted many franchises and established institutions. Norman overhauls S.H.I.E.L.D. replaces it with his H.A.M.M.E.R. and creates “Dark” versions of the Avengers and X-Men staffing them with  controversial villians. The overcompensation here is noteworthy and seems to be subtle taunt to the old heroic guard he was once answerable to.

One doesn’t have to look far to find a litany failed Trump ventures, whether Trump Air, Trump University or his casinos. Trump’s past business ventures, and past grievances attached to them show one who is not just hungry to see his name everywhere, but someone with dubious ethics and integrity. The egos of both men in this regard are strikingly similar here.

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Vague Platitudes & Agenda

A noteworthy observation about Norman’s agency H.A.M.M.E.R. is that it was never quite revealed what his agency stood for. I argued in my essay that Norman’s vagueness here was deliberate as he wanted an agency that would latch on to the current zeitgeist of insecurity and lack of confidence in the previous regime’s protective institutions.

This is the main strategy of the Trump campaign.

What I find so striking about Trump is his complete lack of alternatives and general understanding of geopolitics that we’d expect of any person running for the office of POTUS. Another tried and true “Trump-ism” is documented here, when pressed about legitimate foreign policy concern Trump tacit reaction is to deflect and distract, a disturbing behavior for one seeking such a high and important office. Although unprincipled Norman had some concrete objective and policy, Trump apparently has none and this should give everyone pause.

Blurring Personal Vendetta with National Security

“A man that you can bait with a tweet, is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” – Hillary Clinton

The Dark Reign mini series called “The List” documented Osborne’s draconian tour of the MU, taking out his perceived threats. If my memory serves me well this takes place soon after two of his inner cabal members Emma Frost and Namor, publicly defect from his regime. What follows is a calculated yet somewhat petty show of force. He creates a biological WMD to slaughter Atlantean terror cells, among other affronts to the newly downtrodden heroes of MU. I was reminded of the list Donald claimed very brazenly claiming he would arrange “special prosecution” in order to prosecute Hillary Clinton. Given the rest of the characteristics I used for comparison between the two men, it should come as no surprise that their personal grievances impinge so much on their handling (or approach towards) National Security.

In my analysis of Norman Osborn I wrote that the moral of the Dark Reign was to show the consequences of what happens when people who are unfit for power get it. Osborn’s Dark Reign ended during the Siege crisis, an event that saw a mentally weak Osborn goaded into sparking an international incident by unilaterally attacking Asgard. This wasn’t just done as a show of strength, but to prove to the world that Osborn was not to be trifled with. It was a disastrous outcome that ironically put the world in danger, in the name of protecting it.

Although the prospect of a Trump Presidency remains to be seen, I argue that the consequences  of such an outcome would similar if not more dramatic. Sam Alexander’s chastisement of the fictional POTUS, (after the Dark Reign) would also speak the system and individuals that paved the way  for Trump’s rise should he secure the presidency.

“….You sacrificed honor for expediency. You traded intent for quick action. You were wrong and we all suffered for it”

Whatever Happened to Jessica Jones?

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Unfortunately, Jessica Jones hasn’t had a solo series since The Pulse was cancelled in 2006, except for a special one-off for 2015’s New York Comic Con. She’s had stories featuring her as the lead character in Brian Michael BendisNew Avengers, had a solo story by Bendis and her co-creator Michael Gaydos that is all but a pitch for Alias II in the Marvel 75th Anniversary Special, and even was a co-headliner in Chris Yost and Mike McKone‘s Spider-Island: The Avengers with Carol Danvers, but there have been no ongoing or miniseries with her as protagonist.

Also, even though Bendis gave her the semblance of an arc through six years of New Avengers as she went from mom to superhero and back to mom, Jessica has sadly become defined by her relationship with her husband Luke Cage and her daughter Dani. However, along the way, he has developed her relationships with Carol Danvers, Daredevil, and even Spider-Man, who she used to have a crush on back in high school and inspired her to first put on the Jewel costume. (This story is told in a wonderful backup drawn by former Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada.)  And when Bendis was running the Avengers (and by extension) and the main Marvel events, she made appearances in such high profile storylines as Secret Invasion, Siege, and Fear Itself and the tie-ins to Civil War and Avengers vs. X-Men. With Hickman in charge of the Avengers the past couple of years and Bendis focusing on the X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy, she hasn’t appeared in any recent Marvel events, but this is going to change with Bendis penning Civil War II with artist Dave Marquez. Finally, Jessica is a consistent source of sarcasm and one-liners in the Marvel Universe making her a natural fit for the quip-heavy back and forth of the New Avengers team.

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The first defining post-Pulse event in the life of Jessica Jones as a character is her marriage to Luke Cage in New Avengers Annual #1, which acts as kind of an epilogue to The Pulse. Also, it ensured that thousands of more readers would be exposed to the relationship between Jessica and Luke, and it gives their wedding an “event” feel, like the previous high profile Marvel weddings between Reed and Sue Richards, Vision and Scarlet Witch, and Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson. Luke and Jessica were separated once when she decided to sign the Superhuman Registration Act to protect her and her baby, but they still remain married after 10 years. Bendis also doesn’t give into cliche in this issue and has the New Avengers fight the Super Adaptoid before the big day instead of having Black Widow’s replacement ruin the fun. Jessica also makes her own vows and says that Luke has inspired her and helped her not be stuck in her own head all the time, like the early arcs of Alias. It is touching climactic moment in their relationship, and artist Olivier Coipel captures it in usual clean art style and gives her a really poufy dress.

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The next big Jessica Jones moment (Sans her final guest spot in Young Avengers as team mentor where she gives Hawkeye’s bow to Kate Bishop and a couple appearances in Black Panther with Luke) is in New Avengers #22, which is a Civil War tie-in focused on Luke Cage deciding to not sign the Superhuman Registration Act. Bendis uses lots of loaded language and metaphors about the KKK and Jim Crow laws, but basically Luke wants to protect Harlem on his terms, not the government’s. Plus Jessica gets to call SHIELD, “the United States of corporate sellouts”. She shares a sad moment with Carol Danvers as it looks like the superhuman Civil War is going to fracture their friendship for a while, and she ends up not taking part in it going to Canada with her still unnamed daughter in tow for the duration of the event.

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After the war, Jessica ends up on the run with the New Avengers, but instead of going on cool missions with them in Japan and fighting Japan, she stays cooped up in the Sanctum Sanctorum with Dani. Wong or Luke even does her shopping for her because of the Registration Act. Of course, this leads to some major cabin fever, and she snaps in New Avengers #33, which kicks off “The Trust” arc when the New Avengers decide to work with the Mighty Avengers to take on the Hood and a consortium of supervillains, who want to blow up Stark Tower. As a stay at home, she feels like she is suppressing who she really is, and this is confirmed in New Avengers #34 when Doctor Strange does an “imagery” spell on the team to see who they really are on the inside (and if they’re Skrulls.), and Jessica’s image is her in her Jewel costume. Bendis is foreshadowing her possible return to the superhero life, but she won’t join the New Avengers for quite a while. She does get to name her daughter, Danielle, after Danny Rand even though she jokes that the baby was named after Danny Partridge and empathizes with Luke’s paranoia that Dani is a Skrull in light of Elektra being outed as a Skrull in a previous arc.

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If New Avengers Annual #1 was the happiest moment for Luke and Jessica’s relationship, then New Avengers Annual #2 and its followup issue New Avengers #38, which is drawn by Michael Gaydos, is its darkest hour. In a frightening sequence of events, the Hood, who is majorly overpowered, overcomes the defenses of the Sanctum and Sanctorum causing Jessica to give Dani to Spider-Man while she runs away. She and Dani almost get sniped by Punisher villain Jigsaw, but Spidey saves them with his webs. The trauma of this attack causes Jessica to go to Avengers Tower and sign the Registration Act to protect Dani from both supervillains and Skrulls. She and Luke have a long argument where she tells him that he put his principles before being a father, and that all she cares about is Dani’s safety. He even almost gets arrested by the Mighty Avengers, but Carol does Jessica a solid and lets him go if he “thinks” about registering. Because Luke put his ideology before his family, Jessica and him separate with her staying in Avengers Tower, and him in an apartment owned by the Rand Corporation with the other New Avengers.

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However, thanks to a Skrull invasion and crossover event, Jessica and Luke reunite as she joins the fray in Secret Invasion #7 leaving Dani with Jarvis in Avengers Tower. This is the first time Jessica has been in action since she fought Norman Osborn in the first arc of The Pulse, and there’s nothing like a big group superhero fight to rekindle a relationship. Unfortunately, Jarvis is a Skrull and kidnaps Dani. In spite of this momentous event, Bendis even takes some time away from the action to tell a flashback story in New Avengers #47 with Michael Gaydos from her days in Alias Investigations when Luke hired Jessica (His third P.I. choice after Jessica Drew and Dakota North.) to find his dad so he can tell him that he’s not a criminal, but a hero. The flashback part is paced much like an issue of Alias with silent opening sequence and a dialogue heavy interview sequence shot with Luke emoting while Jessica is quiet and listens. Jessica does track him down and meets Luke’s step mom, who reads about his exploits as Power Man in the newspaper, and tries to show his father Luke’s good side. Sadly, they aren’t reunited, and Gaydos puts a literal screen door between them. However, Luke and Jessica grow closer and share a joke about Luke’s costume choices during the Bronze Age, and it cuts to the present where they talk about how Dani won’t have a normal life because they’re both superpowered people, but at least she’ll see the world.

Bendis uses Dani’s kidnapping as an opportunity to make Jessica and Luke the focus of the first post-Secret Invasion arc of New Avengers during 2009’s Dark Reign when the US government thought it was a good idea to put Norman Osborn in charge of SHIELD. After being just a mom and wife for most of his New Avengers run, Bendis and artist Philip Tan give her a more active role in the plot as she, Luke, and Wolverine interrogate a SHIELD agent, who is a Skrull after Jessica gets a Skrull detector from Invisible Woman. Then, Luke shows that he is willing to put Dani first and teams up with Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers to get her back from the Skrulls. However, he beats up Venom and Bullseye with a crowbar to show them that he doesn’t work for Osborn, which creates a tension leading to a conflict between the New Avengers and the government sanctioned, yet utterly evil Dark Avengers.

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At her new abode of Bucky’s apartment (He’s the current Captain America.), Jessica doesn’t get to play superhero, but she has more input in the New Avengers plans, like telling them to keep their battle with the Dark Avengers out of the apartment, and starts to forge a platonic relationship with Spider-Man after he reveals his secret identity to the team. Bendis and Tan mine a lot of humor out of Jessica’s high school crush on Peter, Luke’s feigned (Or is it.) jealousy, and the fact that he only knew her as “coma girl”. Bendis and Joe Quesada explore their relationship in more depth in a backup story in Amazing Spider-Man #601 retconning a background girl in Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man #4 to be Jessica Jones as she watches Spider-Man beat up Sandman. She also gets a great line about Spider-Man starting his own religion with  “With great power comes great responsibility” and says she’ll teach Dani about that. Spider-Man talks to Jessica about showing Dani her best side, and maybe that means a return to superheroing. It’s a great backup that gives Jessica another relationship outside of Luke and Carol, but Quesada’s art is overly posed and not his best work. Jessica Jones also looks like Mary-Jane Watson with brown hair for some reason.

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And Jessica does return into action when the Dark Avengers kidnap Luke, and Stuart Immonen ups New Avengers‘ visual quality when he becomes the new artist on the title towards the end of 2009. After shaking off some criticism from her mother, who is keeping Dani, Jessica spearheads Luke’s rescue by saying, “You don’t fucking mess with Luke Cage.”, a one-liner that should definitely be said some time in the Netflix Defenders show. And, in New Avengers #59, she assembles her own Defenders lineup of Daredevil, Hellcat (First canon meeting between Patsy and Jessica.), Dr. Voodoo, Misty Knight, The Thing, Valkyrie, and of course, Iron Fist to spring him from Norman Osborn. They rescue him easily, but in action movie villain fashion, there’s a bomb on Luke’s chest. It doesn’t detonate when Spider-Man plays it cold and blows up Osborn’s summer home again. (He probably did Harry’s homework there.) These events cause Luke and Jessica to consider their mom’s advice about finding a more normal life about Dani, and they daydream about walking through the park with Dani in her stroller and finding a place to live where they don’t have to be in hiding.

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Continuing the tradition of big Jessica Jones moments in New Avengers annuals, New Avengers Annual #3 features the return of the Jewel costume thanks to artist Mike Mayhew, who did the covers for The Pulse. The setup is reminiscent of DC’s Birds of Prey as the female members of the New Avengers: Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, and Mockingbird plus Jessica Jones team up to rescue Clint Barton from the Dark Avengers. They infiltrate Osborn’s helicarrier, kick around Mentallo aka the wannabe version of Mastermind, and grab Clint in a majestic fashion thanks to Mayhew’s painted art style. The successful mission has Jessica even more interested in being a superhero again and also features the return of Steve Rogers back from the dead to throw a wrench into everything as he becomes the head of SHIELD after Norman Osborn is arrested after the events of Siege, and the Superhuman Registration Act is repealed. This has a huge effect on the life of Jessica and Luke as they are no longer fugitives and take Dani on a simple walk in a New York City park in a gorgeous splash page from Bryan Hitch in New Avengers Finale #1.

But even if the happier times of the Heroic Age are upon Jessica Jones, she drew the short straw as Luke Cage got his own four issue miniseries called New Avengers: Luke Cage, written by BPRD‘s John Arcudi and drawn by Eric Canete (Martian Manhunter) and Pepe Larraz (Kanan). While Luke is off busting a crime and drug ring in Philadelphia, Arcudi writes Jessica Jones as a stereotypical nag constantly calling about him being back home instead of being sarcastically empathetic as a former superhero and private eye. To add insult to injury, Canete draws her like a teenage girl in a manga instead of an adult woman adding an air of creepiness into her all too brief scenes. Arcudi can spin a crime yarn, and Anete’s Philadelphia has real character, but their depiction of Jessica Jones is one note.

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But even as she is turned into a sitcom wife in New Avengers: Luke Cage, Jessica Jones fared much better in the Heroic Age relaunch of New Avengers where Luke Cage bought Avengers Mansion from Tony Stark for $1 to house and support the New Avengers, who received a paycheck from SHIELD. Luke was still wary of getting a government paycheck because of his desire for independence, but Jessica accepted the check on his behalf and made a great quip about him being the original “hero for hire”. And she almost immediately jumps right back into battle when the Eye of Agamotto possesses Luke in New Avengers #2. Jessica punches it off him, and there is a lot of magic and possession genre stuff going like The Exorcist meets a standard superhero comic. She does get to punch ghosts and fly in Luke Cage to stop Agamotto (He’s a guy, actually.) opening a portal to scary dimensions along the way and rescue Carol Danvers from being incinerated by magical energy. You basically just want her to join the team.

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And she does take another step to being a full-fledged New Avenger by searching for a nanny in New Avengers #7, which features some funny Marvel D-lister cameos as Bendis and Immonen show they can deftly balance humor and action. She and Luke eventually settle on Squirrel Girl even though she has a bushy tail and a weird past with Wolverine because she can easily control her powers and is interested in working in childcare while she is a student at NYU. Getting Squirrel Girl as a nanny allows Luke and Jessica to go on their first real date possibly ever in New Avengers #8 as Daniel Acuna draws her at her most gorgeous. Luke thinks that Jessica would make a great Avenger as well as a mom and suggests the moniker “Power Woman” for her, which of course, she vetoes. In the issue, Bendis shows her torn between wanting to be present for Dani while wanting to inspire her as a superhero. And there’s a battle between her, Luke, and Doombot where she take the robot out with a fire hydrant. This is the spark that she needs to decide to join the New Avengers for real with Luke adorably saying, “Boo yah.” New Avengers #8 is the lighter counterpart to New Avengers #31 as Bendis focuses in on Jessica and Luke’s ever changing relationship and takes a break from villain plots or magical mumbo jumbo to give her a real milestone as a character even if she is technically a supporting character in the title.

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Jessica’s first mission is a pretty fun espionage tinged one fitted for Mike Deodato‘s photorealistic, noir style of art as she and the New Avengers hunt down Superia, who they later find out has a briefcase with the Infinity Formula that Nick Fury alive, not too old, and strong. She gets a pretty fun moment as she actually drives a truck to take down Superia while Luke carries his with his super strength with Iron Fist in it because Danny doesn’t have a driver’s license. Later, as a tie-in to Fear Itself, Jessica gets to punch Nazi robots controlled by the Red Skull’s daughter Sin, who has godlike status. It’s nice to see Jessica have an active role in a Marvel event for once instead of running away to Canada in Civil War, or staying in some kind of domicile like in Secret Invasion and Siege. She also gets a mini-team up with Squirrel Girl, who surprises Jessica with her squirrel summoning abilities, and successfully sets up the Avengers Mansion safety protocols to protect Dani. Nothing climactic happens to her in New Avengers Annual #1, but Bendis remembers she has a friendship with Daredevil from his days as her lawyer in Alias and client for her bodyguard services in his run on Daredevil. This is why it’s fitting that she gives him an Avengers keycard and welcomes to the team for a short duration as Bendis basically gets to make the New Avengers a clubhouse of all his favorite characters.

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However, Jessica Jones’ Avengers status is less than permanent, and she completely unravels as a superhero in New Avengers #16.1, a special issue drawn by Neal Adams. Jessica is part of an escort to transfer Norman Osborn to the Raft when he becomes the Green Goblin again and threatens to kill Dani until Wolverine forces him to stand down with his claws. However, he ends up escaping, and a few issues later, Jessica confides in Luke that she is afraid to leave Dani’s side because Norman Osborn on the loose. Jessica’s concern for Dani’s safety causes her to sit out of the team’s next mission even though Squirrel Girl is there to watch the baby. Later, she uses her status as a relatively unknown superhero and tries to speak to protesters who decry the destruction left in the wake of the Avengers’ battle, but gets called a spoiled princess. This causes her to go on the run yet again with Dani and Squirrel Girl and argue with Luke for putting their daughter in harm’s way by being at Avengers Mansion. This is basically a rehashing of what went down in “Dark Reign”, but with Deodato instead of Immonen art except with Jessica quitting the Avengers team. Bendis and Deodato also make a clumsy parallel between Luke’s participation in Avengers vs. X-Men with a soldier going to war and leaving his family behind.

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Michael Gaydos makes his final (for now) return drawing the character of Jessica Jones in New Avengers #31, which is mostly a conversation between Jessica Jones and Carol Danvers, who has taken on the identity of Captain Marvel. Jessica feels like she has driven Luke to quit the New Avengers and is a “bad wife”, but Carol reassures her by telling her that it just took him a while to understand his responsibilities as a father and husband. Jessica is really happy with Carol’s new name and costume saying that it suits her as a great superhero and friend as she gets sarcastically sentimental. Even though some of the writing makes Luke seem flighty or a deadbeat dad, Bendis and Gaydos really capture what is great about Jessica and Carol’s friendship, and it’s a pity that they haven’t had much time to interact in issues after this arc of New Avengers. This is probably because Carol’s solo books, especially the past two volumes of Captain Marvel, are more concerned with cosmic threats and adventures than earthbound things. With Bendis on Civil War II, their lack of interactions will likely change, and it will be interesting to see if they resent each other after such a long absence.

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After a magically caused battle between the New Avengers and Avengers team, Jessica Jones finally says her goodbye to the team in New Avengers #34 as she, Luke, and Dani are there for the unveiling of a statue of Victoria Hand, who went from Norman Osborn’s stooge to government liaision to the Avengers, and dying heroically. It’s a pretty touching issue filled with lots of jokes about the events of previous issues, and she even gets a warm hug from Spider-Man. Deodato draws a beautiful double page spread showing all their big moments from Alias onwards as Bendis tries to make an argument that they were the heart of his New Avengers run. I could maybe see that Luke Cage was the focal point of his nine years on the family of books as he went from being a barely used supporting character in Daredevil and Alias to a team leader of both the New Avengers and the Thunderbolts. (He was more of the Tbolts’ babysitter.) However, Jessica Jones, despite her showcase issues, ended up mainly being a mom and sarcastic comic relief. For every scene where she got to punch a Doombot or joke around with Spider-Man, there’s another one where she’s standing silently with Dani on her arm with a baby bottle.

But, at least, while Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers was a key book in the Marvel Universe and led to or tied into the big summer event books, Jessica Jones got panel time. This hasn’t been the case since Jonathan Hickman and other writers have taken over the books titled Avengers and New Avengers. Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn, and Mike Hawthorne use her as a nagging wife stereotype in a couple of stories dealing with Deadpool’s team up with Luke Cage and Iron Fist against the racist supervillain, White Man. It’s a pretty funny parody of the old Power Man and Iron Fist comics, and Jessica Jones does get one great moment when she punches Deadpool out a window when he remarks on her “post baby body.”

Jessica later becomes a supporting character when Luke Cage starts yet another Avengers team in Mighty Avengers, but Al Ewing is careful not to tread on old Bendis plot points and has Luke have the team meet in an old theatre while Jessica and Dani have their own apartment. She doesn’t factor into the plot much except for a great scene where she gets to clock Superior Spider-Man (When Dr. Octopus’ brain was in Peter Parker’s body, and he was a pompous ass.), but continues to be occasional support and comic relief and gets past Blue Marvel’s hard shell to chat about his college age daughter. Jessica plays a similar supporting role in David Walker and Sanford Greene‘s Power Man and Iron Fist where she exists to say funny lines and get on Luke’s case for not spending enough time with Dani. Again, she hasn’t factored into the plot so far in the first three issues.

On a brighter note, Jessica made an appearance in the epilogue of Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat #5 in an homage to her friendship with Patsy in the Jessica Jones television show, which is the equivalent of her friendship of Carol Danvers in Alias without the extra Avengers and cosmic baggage. Jessica Jones is a P.I. for Alias Investigations in Hellcat and is actually working for Patsy’s rival, Hedy, which should stir up some real drama as the comic continues. And hopefully this portrayal continues to seep into the other corners of the Marvel Universe as Jessica is supposedly playing a role in Civil War II and getting her own solo series in its aftermath, written by Bendis with art by Michael Gaydos and covers by David Mack.

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Thanks to the high status Brian Michael Bendis has had in the Marvel stable of writers since in the mid-2000s, Jessica Jones had consistent appearances in the New Avengers titles as well as appearing in Avengers when she became a New Avenger during the Heroic Age. Because of her friendship with Spider-Man, she also appeared in some issues of Amazing Spider-Man, like when the New Avengers helped in the whole “Spider-Island” situation when random New York citizens all got powers, including Dani Cage-Jones, who promptly stuck Squirrel Girl to the wall. But her myriad appearances were mostly in support of Luke Cage or the New Avengers team with the exception of the occasional “solo” issue of New Avengers that Gaydos drew, or special annual that gave her a semblance of an arc.

Fans of Jessica Jones can only hope that Marvel’s heroic character who doesn’t want to be a superhero, overcame PTSD to be a great mom and Avenger, and might have the sharpest wit in all the Marvel Universe, but cares for the little guy and often helped out civilians while the rest of the New Avengers were punching things, gets a story of her own in the years to come and doesn’t have to play second fiddle to Luke Cage. The other Jessica gets a nuanced portrayal as mother, friend, and superhero in Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez‘s Spider-Woman, and I hope Jessica Jones gets a series like that soon, especially with the critical and commercial success of her Netflix show.

Feeling the Pulse #2-3

The_Pulse_Vol_1_3Feeling 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 #2-3 (2004) written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Scott Hanna, and colored by Frank D’Armata, Brian Reber, and Pete Pantazis.

In The Pulse #2-3, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Mark Bagley and Scott Hanna abandon the whole half-assed murder mystery angle to tell the story of the Daily Bugle trying to expose Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin. It’s high concept and definitely a tough story to break, but is definitely the kind of hard hitting journalism that J. Jonah Jameson wants in The Pulse section of the Daily Bugle. Something that would usually be a subplot in a Spider-Man or Daredevil comic (or TV show) ends up being the main plot of The Pulse as up and coming reporter Kat Farrell, teams up with supposedly long in the tooth Ben Urich, and Jessica Jones to prove Norman Osborn is the Green Goblin after he killed the young Daily Bugle writer Terri Kidder.

The Pulse #2 is the kind of super focused character study that Bendis excels at as he and Bagley turn a woman, who was just a body at the end of The Pulse #1 into a flesh and blood human being with passions and weaknesses. The issue’s protagonist is Terri Kidder, a new reporter at the Daily Bugle, who transferred from a “major metropolitan newspaper”. (Perhaps The Daily Planet if sharing the first name and surname of two actors, who have played Lois Lane, is any clue.) She is trouble finding her place at a paper where the publisher is up in everyone’s business and gets laughed out of meeting when her first article pitch in a couple weeks is a puff piece on The Avengers. However, this lights a fire under her, and after talking with her friend, who is an Oscorp employee, she decides to interview Norman Osborn about multiple people at Oscorp, who have gone missing. She gets an interview with Osborn and plays to his pride first before pivoting and asking about the people. The issue ends with him strangling her to death, transforming into the Green Goblin, and killing her.

We finally catch up to the present day in The Pulse #3 as Robbie Robertson gives a big, motivational speech that wouldn’t be out of place in Newsroom, The West Wing, or hell even Friday Night Lights about the Daily Bugle having the best, most connected and giving Terri’s family a clear answer about why their daughter is dead. He puts Ben Urich, Kat Farrell, and The Pulse on this story/case. After showing a short tiff between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, we get to see Ben and Kat in action and the difference in their reporting styles. Ben has a lot of skeletons in his closets from past editorials and gets told off by a NYPD homicide detective when he says he wants to help with the case. On the other hand, Kat makes friends easily and gets all the details about Terri’s death from her medical examiner buddy, who is on his coffee/look at Iron Man break. Along with Jessica, they put their heads together and think about flying superheroes/villains, who may have dropped Terri in the lake. The issue ends with Ben being a tenacious, dogged reporter and digging in Teri’s desk (aka an active crime scene), finding a recording of a phone conversation with her friend at Oscorp, making the connection to the Green Goblin, and calling Peter Parker. Because a Spider-Man cameo is always great for sales.

Even if the exposé of Norman Osborn is barely starting to pick up steam three issues in, The Pulse #2 stands alone as a “day in the life” type story about an ordinary journalist in the Marvel Universe, which happens to end with her getting dropped into a lake by the Green Goblin. This is a dangerous place to hold a job because the corporation that gives you a nice pension package and healthcare could be run by an insane supervillain. Before you try to go after a powerful billionaire, you should probably be able to call Spider-Man, Daredevil, or another superhero for backup But Terri is just an intrepid reporter, doesn’t have any of these connections and ends up fish food.

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However, Bendis gives Terri a full character arc in The Pulse #2 as he and Bagley use a kind of “hypercompression” and the “illustrated play technique” that was used in Alias #10 to show how much of a damn chatterbox J. Jonah Jameson was. There is text off to the side showing how stressed out Terri is at the Daily Bugle while Bagley draws yet another full page cutaway diagram to show the bustling newsroom. Bendis’ writing also reveals her motivation for working for the Bugle: she wants to be part of every day people’s conversation by writing for a tabloid newspaper. (And once and for all, Bendis through Teri dispels the idea that the Daily Bugle is the Marvel Universe equivalent of the Daily Mail because the tabloid is the form and not the content in this case.) And this stress combined with J. Jonah Jameson’s insults propels her onto a deadly path, including an interview and death at the hands of Norman Osborn.

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Bendis and Bagley are definitely on the same page when Osborn goes loony. Terri and Norman’s encounter just starts as a usual talking heads scene with a decent amount of panels as he adjusts his suit while she lobs softball questions. But when she asks about the missing people, something snaps, and Norman Osborn becomes the Green Goblin even before he puts on the Halloween costume. Bagley’s layout turns into a strict eight and then six panel grid, and he and Hanna progressively give Osborn more wrinkles in his face while colorists Frank D’Armata and Brian Reber give his eyes a full green color that they previously hinted at in the hue of his chair. The ever increasing close-up is a successful device at showing Terri’s horror and surprise and reminds readers that Green Goblin isn’t a cheesy villain, but a psychopath, who kills for kicks.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, the warm chemistry that they shared has mostly left the building in The Pulse #3. Neither character appears in The Pulse #2, and they share a short conversation in issue three, which is mostly contradictions and arguing for the sake of arguing. And, of course, Jessica cries because she’s pregnant while Luke sits and acts stoically. They do get one genuine spark as Jessica lands a great one-liner about hiring a guy to tell Luke he’s the “mutha&*%in’ best” superhero as a random Luke Cage fan wanders by and gives him a high five. The conclusion of their conversation isn’t half bad either as Jessica talks about hating her body, and Luke just gives her hug and kiss. Some interesting ideas are thrown about Luke not liking Jameson or the fact that he’s an obscure superhero, but they don’t really come into play. Basically, Luke and Jessica’s arc is stupid fight, not the best characterization of a pregnant woman, and then a kiss and makeup. They definitely both play second fiddle to the Daily Bugle reporters so far.

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And we get to see Kat Farrell and Ben Urich’s journalistic process and philosophy in The Pulse #3 as they try to get to the truth in different ways. Kat doesn’t hate superheroes, but she knows her editor does and isn’t a big fan of both Terri’s piece about the Avengers as well as Ben withholding his knowledge about Daredevil’s secret identity. Therefore, she is more in-line with usual, non-fantastic journalistic practices, like having a source in the police station, similar to Terri, who has a friend that works at Oscorp. Their conversation is the kind of upbeat banter found in the good police procedurals and connects the plot dots a lot quicker than Urich mouthing off to an NYPD detective.

For some reason, Bendis gives her some insane Buffy-speak (“Did the guy have the super duper? Was he whacky on the junk?”) maybe to show that she is younger than Ben even though it’s impossible to tell her age relative to Jessica or anyone because again Bagley draws adult women like teenagers with slightly different fashion and an extra line or two from his inker Hanna. Ben Urich is the aging loose cannon to Kat’s fresh faced, company woman, and it shows in his not so friendly chat with Police Detective Gans, who has turned Terri’s desk into a crime scene. Bendis’ dialogue really sings when it’s used combatively, and the detective and Ben’s sniping shows the often antagonistic relationship between the police force and press of a major city. However, it’s his connection with Peter Parker that could be their only chance at exposing Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin and simultaneously providing a successful first story for The Pulse.

The Pulse #2-3 is trying to tell a non-superhero story in a superhero universe, and it should be commended for that even if it’s not as groundbreaking, visually interesting, or as nuanced as its “mother” series Alias. It might have Spider-Man on the cover, but it’s really about ordinary journalists trying to break stories and find the truth in an extraordinary world.

Review: Spider-Verse #3

Spider-Verse003Of all of the big crossovers to tie into the Secret Wars event for the summer, Spider-Verse is maybe the strangest of all of them.  The theme of Secret Wars has been to resurrect the old crossovers and to put them into the Secret Wars context, but Spider-Verse was in itself a very intricate and layered crossover as well, one which employed the use of every Spider-Man that had ever been written from across the multiverse.  It gave us a new version of the old Spider-Woman and two new Spider-Womans (all of whom are absent here) but it was also sometimes confusing and overly complicated.  It is also the most recent of crossovers, so the memories of it are still pretty fresh in the collective minds of the readers, which means it has a lot to compete with.

If this series has anything going for it, it is that it at least doesn’t dwell too much on all of that, neither of the ties to Spider-Verse nor of the ties to Secret Wars.  There is still a lot of Spider-people in this book, from regular Peter Parker all the way to Spider-Ham, but the focus remains on the threat posed by the Sinister Six.  As they came up against these villains, the heroes realize that they are ill-equipped to deal with them.  Although Spider-Man has handled them alone on several occasions, this proves that less might be more, as six Spider-Mans are ineffective in taking them down, and they are subsequently brought before Norman Osborne.  This segment ties in more closely to the Secret Wars crossover, yet still leaves it at a safe distance.  Instead the issue goes back to focusing on Gwen Stacey, one of the fan favorites of the past year and one of the characters pretty much guaranteed to return to the post-Secret WArs landscape at Marvel.

Secret Wars has been really effective at times in putting together fun takes on old stories, but it has also fallen a bit flat with others.  That Spider-Verse is so fresh hinders it, but the series doesn’t really dwell on it either, instead giving us what is essentially a fairly average comic, except for a few deeper moments with Gwen.  The first half of the issue might have easily been lifted from a comic from the 1980s, and it is only with Gwen towards the end that there is any redeeming material here.  It is fun at times, and a bit of a disappointment, but it at least provides some hope for an interesting resolution with the plot development at the end.

Story:  Mike Costa Art: Andre Araujo 
Story: 6.8 Art: 6.8 Overall: 6.8 Recommendation: Pass

Catching Up on Reviews, Part 6 — Osborn & Thunderbolts

Osborn #3 (Marvel) – The story here seems to stall a bit after the promise of the first two issues and the issue is also weak because of the art, which just isn’t that good.

Story: 6.5 Art: 5 Overall: 5.75

Osborn #4 (Marvel) – The art once again drags down what could’ve been a great series. Norman Osborn was such a great villain and has so much of a story built up after Dark Reign that it’s sad to see this series wasted.

Story: 7.5 Art: 4.5 Overall: 6

Thunderbolts #153 (Marvel) – Kev Walker’s art is good with potential to grow into something even better, but the key to this issue is the action-packed tale of revenge that takes place inside. The characters in Thunderbolts are always more complex than in just about any other comics and the Juggernaut’s battle with Hyperion in this issue is epic.

Story: 8.5 Art: 8 Overall: 8.25

Thunderbolts #154 (Marvel) – Jeff Parker continues to do a good job writing the various characters on the Thunderbolts team and while Declan Shalvey’s art falls a little bit short, it’s more than adequate.

Story: 8.5 Art: 7.5 Overall: 8

Thunderbolts #155 (Marvel) – Walker’s art begins to show some improvement and could develop into something really good, I think. Parker’s writing continues to impress and there are some cool new elements introduced in this issue, including the development of the new generation of Thunderbolts.

Story: 8.25 Art: 8.25 Overall: 8.25

Thunderbolts #156 (Marvel) – The series continues to bring in new characters and make them an interesting part of the overall mix while at the same time managing to tell fun and action-packed stories. Parker and Walker seem to work well together and they are producing one of the most consistently good comics Marvel publishes these days.

Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.5

Thunderbolts #157 (Marvel) – Another solid story that helps develop the characters and add to an ongoing narrative about the team. Walker’s art is the worst amongst this run of issues I’m reviewing today.

Story: 8.5 Art: 7 Overall: 7.75

Thunderbolts #158 (Marvel) – This Fear Itself tie-in is the first to deploy the new Thunderbolts B Team in action and the story is handled well. Juggernaut’s character is also one of the best characters in the Fear Itself stories, even if he is a bit overused.

Story: 8.75 Art: 8.25 Overall: 8.5

Thunderbolts #159 (Marvel) – There are four Fear Itself-related stories here, all of which seem to fall a bit short both in terms of art and story. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t great, either.

Story: 7.5 Art: 7 Overall: 7.25

Thunderbolts #160 (Marvel) – This might be the best issue of this run of Thunderbolts. It starts off as a continuation of the great tie-in from Fear Itself that started two issues earlier, and it is a well-executed tale. But late in the issue it has this shift to a surreal tone and art style that is just plain awesome to read and view.

Story: 9 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.25

Thunderbolts — From the Marvel Vault (Marvel) – I can forsee an instance when going back and completing a proposed issue that was never published could turn out to be a good thing and add something to the published material about a character or team. This isn’t one of those instances. The art in this issue isn’t great and it’s easy to see why this issue wasn’t published earlier.

Story: 5 Art: 5 Overall: 5

Around the Tubes


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VCU is going to the Final Four.  That’s be a college basketball thing for folks out there not in the know.  The team didn’t even pay attention to the seeding and took out the number one ranked Kansas.  Congrats!  On to this weekend comic book news.

Around the Blogs:

Bleeding Cool – Racebending With The X-Men – Do these products give you super powers too?

Comicvine – Breaking: Amy Adams to play Lois Lane – That’s a good looking cast.

Kotaku – Sunday Comics – Kotaku wraps up what they consider the best of webcomics.

Around the Tubes Reviews:

Good Comic Books – Ultimate Spiderman #156

Choice Quotes:

Osbron #4

Norman Osborn – Politics.  The struggle for power.  It always comes back to politics.  And these people, my people, their lives are the casualties of that struggle.

and

Norman Osborn – Gray, green or blue — if they were born on American soil, those little devils have rights!

Friday Five: Emma’s 30 Days of Marvel, Pt. 1


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Emma over at Girls Read Comics Too is doing “30 Days of Marvel” where she gives various superlatives about the Marvel Universe. It’s good reading and since I’m a fan of both Marvel and Girls Read Comics Too, I’m going to steal the idea and give my responses as well. I’ll do 5 today and more later… (Go to the links to see Emma’s choices).

1. Favorite Character: Spider-Man. Peter Parker started out as the perfect geek fantasy of “revenge” on the bullies and idiots that badger the smart kid in high school. Pete gets what anyone in that situation would want — strength and power — and instead of using it for revenge, he uses it to make the world a better place. And as perfect as that situation is, he still has problems — money, family, women — that we all have and they frequently are bigger problems for him than the villains he fights. Yet he still manages to keep his sense of humor and a constant stream of awesome jokes and pop culture references. Even when joins the Avengers, he’s the fun one. In the middle of another universe-shattering crisis, he’s the one that breaks the tension. And yet he still has trouble paying the rent. That’s just awesome.

2. Favorite Villain: Norman Osborn. He starts off as the greatest of Spider-Man villain of all-time, the Green Goblin, a character that he is fine as for decades. Then through his days with the Thunderbolts and eventually Dark Reign, he kicks it up to a level that few characters ever reach. His reach is broad and his menace outshines many more powerful villains. Plus, he has the greatest hair in Marvel comics.

3. Your Favorite Diva: I’m not a fan of the term “diva,” but if it is going to apply to a Marvel character, Emma at Girls Read Comics Too is right, it has to apply to Emma Frost. The costume, the history, the personality, the powers, they all fit.

4. Favorite Mutant: Cyclops. I’ve talked about this a number of times before, but clearly Cyclops is the key character in the history of the concept of the “mutant” in Marvel comics. The first X-man and the leader of the X-nation now, he has clearly shown that he is the baddest ass in the X-comics and maybe in all of Marvel.

5. Favorite Team: The obvious answer is the X-Men, but I write about them all the time, so I’m going to go with a second choice here and go with the current version of the New Avengers. Spider-Man is my favorite character of all-time and Wolverine is Top 5. Luke Cage, as written by Brian Michael Bendis, is rising up the list quickly. Jessica Jones and Ms. Marvel are becoming my two favorite non-mutant female Marvel characters and you throw in solid characters like the Thing, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist and others and you get a great line-up that has a lot of versatility in terms of characters and personalities, but also in possible stories. I hope this run lasts for a long, long time.

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