"Thin Air: Part 3"
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley (p) Scott Hanna (i)
Daily Bugle reporter Terri Kidder is dead: strangled and thrown to her doom by a vicious Norman Osborn. As Robbie Robertson rallies the Bugle staff together we see how this newspaper looks after its own as, each struggling with their own individual problems, The Pulse team sets off in search of the reasons behind this untimely death...
In giving the reader the solution to a mystery before exploring the mystery itself, Brian Michael Bendis has set himself an uphill struggle in maintaining tension as The Pulse team themselves try and find out what happened to their fellow reporter. Fortunately, the footwork of three intrepid reporters is rendered as entertaining as any simple whodunnit, as Bendis returns to the roots of what made his Alias series so popular with a studied ensemble character piece which observes what it's like to be a normal person living in a city of "capes".
As the issue progresses, we get a look in on our various heroes as they unite to piece together the mystery, each showing off the investigative attributes which make them a perfect team. Bendis' own creation Jessica Jones, pregnant ex-superhero struggling with her boyfriend Luke Cage, stands out in a diner sequence which manages to be tender, funny and realistic as well as providing some solid character motivation and plot development. It's refreshing in a world of rebooted heroes to see a series which is intent on letting its characters grow and change as they react to trying circumstances. As long as Jessica is in Bendis' safe hands, she'll always be worth a read.
Further sequences with Ben Urich and Kat Farrel show a good grasp of what makes investigative journalism attractive to casual readers without getting bogged down in any of the indulgences that might be expected when a writer writes about writing. If the characterisation can be questionable at times - Ben Urich seeming a little blasť about breaking a police cordon to leave fingerprints all over the scene and Kat lacking some of the confidence-lacking neuroses that made her character so appealing in the "Deadline" miniseries - there are so many great moments that we forget about these minor inconsistencies. The Iron Man flyby, the discussion of just how many flying people there are in New York anyway (with a beautifully-coloured splashpage that illustrates the many possibilities that come with living in a superhero universe) and the final, chilling cliffhanger are the moments that will stay with the reader when the comic is put down.
If there is any criticism that can be levelled at the title, it is that Mark Bagley's art can seem a little too cartoonish to be suited to a more adult-themed story. The big-eyed, caricatured faces strip some of the female characters of their age and maturity and - despite the heavier inking - the moodiness of Alias has not been carried over into this title. A happy coincidence, then, that Alias-penicller Michael Gaydos will be on hand to illustrate the next story arc. Regardless of these criticisms, Bagley can deliver on key moments such as those mentioned above, with special mention due to a claustrophobic final few pages as the reality of the situation dawns on Ben Urich - a character who is canny enough to appreciate, like the reader, that something big is on the way next issue. Suffice it to say, fans of Spider-Man who have been teased by three cover appearances thus far are likely in for a treat.
The Pulse is really finding its feet as a title, managing to capture the point of view that made Deadline such a fun and original read whilst maintaining the strong roots of characterisation that have made Bendis' name in the field. The artwork, whilst cartoonish, is solid and professional with credit due to colourist Pete Pantazis for his excellent, atmospheric work. A good read.
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