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The Pulse #2
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Mark Bagley

Alias was a damn gutsy book. It followed a broken b-level superhero who'd been about as psychologically raped as it is possible to be and bravely swept us along her twisted road to redemption.

For all his crimes against fandom, former Marvel president Bill Jemas' own redemption came with his unwavering support of this book; a story one might expect from DC/Vertigo, but Marvel? Not on your life. Hell, according to Bendis, Jemas created the Marvel MAX line just so they could put the book out.

However, like all good stories, Alias had an ending, and a great one at that.

But Bendis wasn't about to give Jessica Jones the axe just because the original arc was over, so her story continues now as The Pulse, following the now pregnant full-time girlfriend of Luke Cage as she and Ben Urich go to work reporting for a new section of the Daily Bugle, focusing on superheroes, called… well, "The Pulse."

For those who haven't read the first issue (and there seem to be many, since people keep complaining about it selling out), a woman's body was found in the Central Park reservoir, police surmising that it was tossed there from midair. That issue really seemed aimed at new readers more than anyone else, so most of it was devoted to Jessica getting hired and J. Jonah Jameson justifying why a mask-hater like himself wants to print stories on heroes, all of a sudden. The body in the water was more of a sly parallel plot used to keep Jessica's hiring from being too joyous and cliché of an event. Almost worked, too.

This issue, however, flashes us back to the day before the body was found and focuses on a new reporter for the Daily Bugle named Terri Kidder (clearly an amalgam of actresses Teri Hatcher and Margot Kidder, aka cinema and TV's Lois Lanes), who, as you might easily guess, is the soon-to-be dead woman in question. She frets over her inability to find a story by deadline and how different the Bugle is from the big national paper she used to write for. She tells herself over and over that she'll be fired by the end of the week, which seems pretty damn likely when she turns in a story on the Avengers and nearly gets her head taken off by Jameson. Then, while she's sulking, a call comes in that Spider-man and The Vulture are brawling in the streets. Rushing to the scene, Terri finds TV news vans, cameramen, and reporters littering the streets beneath the grappling foes. And then it's over. Spider-man and The Vulture move on, the TV reporters wrap up, and she's left with a story that she's already been beaten to by every TV, radio, and internet reporter out there.

Like Jonah said in the first issue and Terri echoes in this one: people just don't buy papers any more. They get their news elsewhere, and they get it faster. Motion picture is just better suited to certain stories, and all-out power battles are one of them. Ah, but the printed word is still king when it comes to facts, and how could this be Lois Lane if she didn't stumble into that big story, lurking around the corner, and then put all her skills as an investigative reporter into weeding out those facts. Unfortunately for Terri, the Lois Lane comparison doesn't hold out: Lois had Superman to rescue her when she dug too deep.

So, now, let's bash this next chapter in the life of Jessica Jones, which may put the fear of God into some hardcore Alias fans for two reasons: Jessica can no longer cuss her hungover head off, since the title has moved to Marvel's main line, and the art is no longer in the hands of Michael Gaydos, but Mark Bagley.

This is in no way intended to say Bagley is an untalented hack (I reserve that distinction for the more Leifeld-esque scribblers still running around), but his character designs are very similar. In fact, I'd go so far as to say he only has a couple of female face templates he uses (for close-ups, at least), altering the nose and cheekbones a bit for variety. Not a huge problem in male dominated books, but this is Jessica Jones, man. You know? The one who slouches around town, squinting at any light bright enough to show the bags under her eyes and sneering through cigarette smoke at anyone dumb enough to pick a fight? I can understand that she'd quit smoking now that she's pregnant, but she just looks like a bit too much of a babe, now. Bagley certainly has adapted his style to be somewhat true to the pug-nosed, thick-lipped look of Jessica, but there's one thing drastically different about her, and that's the eyes. Bagley's eye designs are nothing like the darkened, sly looks Gaydos bestowed upon her, but rather resemble the big, bright eyes of just about every woman in Ultimate Spider-man. That said, she hasn't morphed into Ultimate Mary Jane Watson, and Bagley is drawing her better than he did in his sections of Alias so things aren't as bad as they could be.

The setting of the story, on the other hand, seems to have altered drastically. Oh, we're still in New York, but there can be no doubt that this is a different New York. Not the gritty, dirty, dark place from Alias and Daredevil, but much more akin to the bright metropolis of Ultimate Spider-man. The feeling that something's gonna lunge out of the shadows and eat you is gone. Bagley's city has personality, but it's different. Not necessarily bad, but different.

And maybe that's what I'm getting at: this book IS different from Alias. It's too early to tell, but it seems like Bendis may be on to something. I mean, he killed off Lois Lane, for God's sake! Then he had J. Jonah Jameson relax his view on superheroes (but just a bit), announcing that the "old way" of telling the news is through.

But is Bendis really saying that the old way of doing the superhero/reporter book is dead, and that he's going to re-invent it? Looking at Bagley's New York, it does faintly call to mind those images from Action Comics and Amazing Spider-Man where you knew a photographer was perched just around the corner, waiting to say "What a scoop!" before popping a flashbulb. A dark, gritty New York works great for noir stories; detectives living in the shadows and blending in with the filth, but the reporter story was always more about living in the light and occasionally popping your head into those shadows to see what's scurrying around in them.

With Peter Parker no longer reporting and Clark Kent eternally taking a backseat to Supes, maybe Bendis has sniffed out a new way of filling that superhero/reporter void. Maybe this is a shadow in the superhero genre worth investigating. This is, after all, the "Information Age." The news has changed a lot in all these years, so why shouldn't the newspaper oriented comic change, as well?

It may not sound as groundbreaking as a former superhero rape victim defeating the mind-controlling monster who crushed her, but when you consider she's now pregnant with her black boyfriend's baby, the comic no longer has adult warnings to chase the kiddies off, and the ride's JUST getting started, The Pulse looks pretty damn gutsy, after all.


Jason Schachat

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