Bendis’ Avengers: The Pulse

I admit, during the time of its release, the Pulse completely flew under my radar. I barely heard anything about the series, other than that it had something to do with the Daily Bugle. If I was going to read about the Daily Bugle, I thought, why not just go read a Spider-Man comic? The strongest impression that the Pulse left on me was its gorgeous cover art by artist Mike Mayhew. Images of Spider-Man swinging off of the front page of a newspaper, reading the Daily Bugle from a lamppost, and fighting the Green Goblin are all burned into my brain. Otherwise, I have to say, I greatly overlooked this short-lived series. The Pulse didn’t have the flash and brightly clad superheroes which attracted me to Bendis’ Avengers comics. Yet this title still holds an important, underappreciated place in the early days of Bendis’ Avengers saga.

Coming at you in color!

The biggest contribution which the Pulse brings to the greater context of Bendis’ Avengers narrative is its protagonist, Jessica Jones. Bendis created Jones in an earlier title of his, Alias. Starting with the Pulse, he gave Jones a strong role in Bendis’ overall Avengers run. In the future, Jones plays a major role within titles such as Young Avengers and especially Bendis’ New Avengers. Additionally, the Pulse itself ties in to several major mini-series, such as Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Secret War, House of M, and New Avengers. Bendis uses the Pulse to supplement all of these blockbuster comic books, providing further insight which the main events did not have the space to explore. The Pulse is also just a great reminder of Bendis’ strengths. Amidst the earth-shattering battles of Avengers Disassembled and Secret War, Bendis shines in his more street-level, character-focused stories. The Pulse harkens back to his early days of Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil, acting as a connective tissue between these works and his emerging run on Avengers.

Looking at things through fresh eyes…

Indeed, the premise of the Pulse addresses a grounded perspective of Bendis’ larger events. The Daily Bugle’s publisher, J. Jonah Jameson, hires Jessica Jones to work with reporters Kat Farrell and Ben Urich on reporting major events, such as Secret War or House of M. Jones is on the team to provide her personal insight on these events, as an ex-superhero herself. This premise certainly plays to Bendis’ strengths as a writer, making for a grounded, character-driven look at superheroics. Smaller, overlooked corners of the Marvel Universe are examined, from the Night Nurse’s clinic for wounded superheroes to lower-tier superheroes like D-Man. Viewing these street-level aspects of the universe from a journalistic standpoint makes them feel more emotionally grounded and realistic, to Bendis’ credit. Simultaneously, Jones struggles to live a normal life, experiencing the stressful trials of pregnancy alongside her boyfriend, Luke Cage. The relationship between Jones and Cage serves as the heart of the Pulse, providing a great deal of pathos. Jones and Cage go from struggling partners to newly engaged parents throughout the series.

Handling chaos from the ground

Jones herself is characterized incredibly well. Bendis writes Jones as a smart-mouthed, tough-as-nails ex-superhero who has experienced her fair share of trauma. For once, however, Jones has something to lose: her new life with Cage and their incoming baby. Bendis uses this fear to the story’s advantage, building tension around Jones’ pursuit of danger while trying to protect her newfound happiness. Jones is the perfect protagonist for lending human insight to major events in the superhero community. As an ex-superhero, Jones has lived in both the “normal” world and the colorful heroic world, balancing the grounded with the fantastical. As the series progresses, the stories also become more focused on Jones as a character, as she develops from a scared former superhero into a proud, fearless mother. This development is quite well-written, yet it also pulls the series away from its central purpose. Near the end, most of the focus is on Jones, Cage, and their baby, rather than the big events that Jones was meant to cover. Still, Bendis writes Jones’ character arc quite well, understandably sacrificing the original premise of the series.

Classic Jess

Speaking of the original premise, Jones is given a great supporting team, including Ben Urich, a veteran reporter. Urich is another good example of the Pulse as connective tissue between Bendis’ earlier work and his Avengers saga. Featured prominently in Bendis’ Daredevil run, Urich is an experienced reporter who has seen quite a bit in the superheroic community. Urich embraces his connections with street level heroes such as Spider-Man and Daredevil, coming to them for help with stories. It is Urich’s support for heroes which makes him a nice contrast to Jonah Jameson’s anti-vigilante attitude, showing a diverse set of perspectives within the journalistic community. Urich’s contrast with Jameson also makes him a friendly face for Jones, serving as a friendly mentor and journalistic expert when covering news stories. Bendis excels when it comes to grounded, everyday journalists such as Urich, reminding readers of his fantastic work on Daredevil.

Ah, sweet vindication…

On the other side of Jones’ supporting Daily Bugle cast is Kat Farrell, albeit in a more minor role. Bendis writes Farrell as an anti-vigilante reporter, who feels that heroes get too much attention. While Farrell despises superheroes, she is still shown as a ruthless, ambitious reporter. Farrell exemplifies the qualities of a young, go-getting reporter in the big city, and her snarky attitude bounces off of Jones’ smart-mouthed wit quite nicely. Writing Farrell into the Pulse, Bendis rounds out the Daily Bugle cast with a less than approving stance on superheroes. Balancing out the overall perspective of the Daily Bugle makes for a more well-rounded view of big events such as Secret War or House of M. For example, during the House of M event, when reality is altered and Hawkeye is resurrected, Farrell is the reporter who encounters the avenging archer. Even though she does not particularly like superheroes, Farrell objectively inquires about Hawkeye’s thoughts on his nightmarish death and resurrection. This one issue places a nice spotlight on Farrell, which she does not often receive. Given a longer run on the series, Bendis definitely could have written more for Farrell, as she does not often get as much attention as Urich or Jones.

Always the skeptic…

Last but certainly not least is the father of Jones’ baby, Luke Cage. Knowing what a large role Cage is going to play in Bendis’ Avengers saga, it’s funny to see him in a supporting role. Yet the Pulse sets up a lot for Cage’s character. Cage becomes a true family man in this series, doing whatever it takes to protect Jones and their baby. In one scene, after Norman Osborn attacks Jones, Cage walks up to Osborn’s limo and lifts it into the air, screaming, “you do not mess with Luke Cage’s family!” It’ not much of a wonder that Cage will soon become the central figure of Bendis’ Avengers run, as Bendis clearly loves writing for the character. Cage is grounded, relatable, and full of potential to be a modern day Avenger. For example, while Jones is retired from crime-fighting, Cage is still in the game, tackling street-level crime in his neighborhood. Often, Bendis writes scenes of Cage going around the neighborhood warding off drug dealers, yelling “What’s my name?!” The endearing characterization of both Cage and Jones, and their whole family dynamic with the baby, is the strongest part of the Pulse.

You tell ‘im, Cage

While the Pulse is quite short-lived as a series, its story arcs serve a unique purpose within the larger frame of the Marvel Universe. The first story arc, exposing Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin, is a fantastic use of the series’ central premise. Jones tackles a sinister, dangerous corner of the Marvel Universe, yet still manages to come out on top, with the aid of Spider-Man and Cage. Even though a big name superhero like Spider-Man comes in to help save the day, it is the grounded characters of Jones and Cage who do most of the work, setting up the format of the series very well. The next arc, covering the consequences of the Secret War event, is where this series really works as an event supplement. This arc deals with a lot of unanswered questions and concerns from the mini-series. For example, in Secret War, Cage is caught in an explosion and sent into a coma. Since the main event did not have space to deal with the ramifications of Cage’s situation, the Pulse gives readers additional material. Jones’ reaction to Cage’s condition, her panic when he goes missing, and her investigation into the events of Secret War fill in a lot of blanks from the event. Arcs like this one make me think that a series like the Pulse would have been beneficial as a supplement for Avengers Disassembled. Exploring the human emotions and consequences of such an earth-shattering event would have made a big difference for Bendis’ short-lived first event.

Dang, Cage, even Spidey’s shocked

Indeed, Bendis continues his dive into the human emotions behind earth-shaking events such as House of M. During this single issue story, Hawkeye’s perspective and personal reactions to his death, resurrection, and betrayal at the hands of the Scarlet Witch are all given a very intimate examination. A big event such as House of M juggles so many characters, making it difficult to focus on one character’s emotional journey. Bendis uses the Pulse to do what he cannot do in a big event, fleshing out character emotions. Despite the Pulse‘s initial success, the final arc tends to lose its way, focusing its last few issues on Jones’ delivery of her baby. While this story is an important emotional point for the characters, it feels as if the main premise of the series is sidelined. Specifically, Ben Urich is given a subplot of going down to the sewers and interviewing homeless superhero D-Man. While Bendis uses this as a fascinating look at an often-ignored character, it feels tangential to the new focus of the series: Jessica’s baby. I suppose it makes sense, then, that Jones quits the Daily Bugle by the end of the arc, leaving the original premise behind. Bendis concludes the series with a final issue focusing on Jones and Cage’s first meeting. This issue is quite heartfelt and character-driven, reminding the reader of the true heart of the series. Concluding the Pulse with an engagement between Jones and Cage carries the two characters over into Bendis’ New Avengers run, where their relationship is a central feature. It’s a shame that the Pulse was so short-lived. By the end, however, it became apparent that Bendis became more interested in Jones and Cage than the titular “Pulse” feature of the Daily Bugle.

By the end, this was what we got…

Overall, Bendis’ run on the Pulse succeeds where some of his bigger “event” comics fail. In fact, the Pulse recovers a lot of lost character moments from these big events, adding new layers to Bendis’ larger stories. Simultaneously, the Pulse is the first time where Bendis seems to be writing characters which he enjoys writing, such as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Both characters receive excellent characterization and fun moments, making for a very engaging read. The biggest issues I had with the Pulse were its length, since the series is only fourteen issues, and the lack of focus near the end. Clearly, Bendis wanted to write more for Jones and Cage than he did a tie-in for Secret War or House of M, which shows in the last few issues. I admit, while the tie-ins are great supplements to the large events, it does take away from the independence of the series, relying heavily on understanding the plot of another series. Still, it’s nice to get another perspective on a big event, especially from a smaller-scale title. Ultimately, while not the most earth-shattering series that Bendis ever wrote, the Pulse is a nice, grounded, character-focused read.

Getting the full story…

Going forward, the Pulse does have a few ramifications on Bendis’ larger narrative. First and foremost, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage play probably the biggest roles in Bendis’ Avengers saga. Specifically, during Bendis’ New Avengers run, Cage and Jones’ relationship is the heart of the series. The characters go on to get married in New Avengers, and throughout the constantly shifting status quo, experience some wild ups and downs. Through all of Bendis’ New Avengers, Cage and Jones are the feature of the story. Additionally, Norman Osborn, after being exposed as the Green Goblin by Jones and Cage, returns in a major way. Not only does his exposure play a major role in the beginning of Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights Spider-Man, but his vendetta against Jones and Cage returns during Bendis’ Avengers saga. The sinister, manipulative, and unhinged manner in which Bendis writes Osborn is just a warm-up for the character’s unexpected role down the line. Finally, the Pulse is full of the witty dialogue, human connections, and smaller focus which become a central part of his New Avengers run. In fact, these aspects are going to be some of the best parts of his overall Avengers saga. Grounding events and focusing on character is something at which Bendis thrives, much more so than larger than life events such as Avengers Disassembled. Combining the high stakes action of big events with witty dialogue and grounded characters from the Pulse is going to be where Bendis hits his stride.

Luke Cage, celebrity and soon-to-be Avenger

That’s all for today. What’d you think of the Pulse? How does it compare to the rest of Bendis’ work? Feel free to share your thoughts on Twitter @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Come back tomorrow for my coverage of Bendis’ next big event, Secret War!

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