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The Pulse #1

Posted: Friday, February 20, 2004
By: Shawn Hill



ďThin Air Part 1Ē

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley and Scott Hanna

Publisher: Marvel

Plot:
Jessica Jones gets a timely job offer, one that reflects the positive effect sheís had on at least one vigilante-phobe. Meanwhile, hundreds of New Yorkers ignore a telltale shape in the water.
Comments: What an excellent first issue. Literally acres of story are set up here, with a custom-built Marvel Universe supporting cast already in place. While Bendis found a good stopping point for Alias, there was definitely a sense of stories left untold. This shift in focus is not so broad as it might seem; Jessica was pretty much part of an ensemble in every story arc of her own title already, and The Pulse only foregrounds that ensemble while maintaining the same universe if with a slightly broader focus.

There are brilliant antecedents to every aspect of this book, as Bendis has assembled a dream cast of Marvel supporting players in a natural and convincing way. J. Jonah Jameson stepped out of the Spidey-verse to lord it over Jessicaís friend Carol Danvers in a similar way back in the 70s (where he also bowed to a trend of the times he didnít officially approve of, in that case allowing a feminist magazine to be edited and published under his watch). Grizzled (but never grumpy nor gruff) reporter Ben Urich is borrowed from Millerís Daredevil, where he played a brilliant everyman audience to DDís exceptional troubles. Robbie Robertson, his Sidney Poitier charm on full steam, is as ever the perfect apologist for JJJ. Even Luke Cage has reached a new level of maturity in his fatherhood-to-be.

The premise sets the book up to be guest-star du jour, which is something Bendis already proved was his forte in the previous title. There we saw the other Jessica (Spider-Woman 1), Kazar (to comical extremes), the Avengers, Spiderman, various agents of SHIELD, Ant-Man II and probably others Iíve forgotten. Oh, right, how could I forget Speedball, who provided HI-larious comic relief in a deadly serious story about Spider Woman III?

The set-up reads like a cross between Busiekís Marvels (as Jessica, despite her powers, lives life pretty much as an Average Jill reacting to the deeds of others) and the Mary Tyler Moore show. Which I guess makes J. Jonah Lou Grant, with Luke as Rhoda and Robbie as Murray. Iím sure a Sue-Anne Niven will show up at some point as well!

Itís true that mellowing out J. Jonah to the extent that he can pass for Lou Grant is a change, but thereís definitely a feeling of that characterís titular drama in the air as well. If it seems off that Jonah will tolerate a pro (or at least not anti-by-mandate) pullout section on superheroes in his paper, itís a development that Busiek has grounded deftly in a previous arc. And seeing Jonah clandestinely playing Urich and Jessica against each other shows that he hasnít converted the man into an unlikely saint.

Speaking of the art, though the cover is a washout (whatís up with plastering Spiderman on books he barely appears in these days?), Bagleyís a great match for Bendis on the interior. Heís one of the few classic-style pencilers left in the business. Not a hint of manga, no Image-ized fussy ink lines, just solid penciling with subtle stylization that places real figures in believable worlds. Jessicaís nervous entry into the maze-like newspaper bullpen is an especially gorgeous two-page spread, one that depends on sequential storytelling to unfold.

This is a rock-solid winner. Dialogue-driven Bendis writing a story set on an urban newspaper? A no-brainer.



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