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Sunday Slugfest – The Pulse #5

Posted: Sunday, September 12, 2004
By: Craig Johnson

“Thin Air, Part Five”

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Bagley (p), Scott Hanna (i)

Publisher: Marvel





Average Rating: 8.5/10

Jason Cornwell:
Shawn Hill:
Michael Lucinski:
Dave Wallace:






Jason Cornwell

Plot:
After being blown out of the building by one of the Green Goblin's pumpkin bombs, we see Jessica is convinced that the attack has killed her unborn child. As she lashes out at the Green Goblin we see Norman is able to make his escape, leaving an emotionally devastated Jessica in his wake. However, she soon learns her child is perfectly fine, but this doesn't stop a ticked off Luke Cage from paying a visit on Norman Osborn.

Comments:
This issue has itself one of the most engaging collection of characters to ever be assembled in the pages of a Marvel comic, as I'm a huge Spider-Man fan and this is one of the rare moments when the actions of the main characters were able to overpower Spider-Man's contribution to the story. >From Jessica's anguish filled assault on the Green Goblin in the opening pages of this issue, to Luke Cage's clash with the Green Goblin in the final pages of this issue, this issue is a fantastic climax to the opening arc. I'm also delighted by the idea that Jessica looks to be able to hold onto the prospect of impending motherhood as comics have not been kind to the idea of super-heroes having children, as even if they manage to come to term, most times the infant is kidnapped, revealed to be a figment of the character's imagination, or in some cases the child is killed outright. Now we're not out of the woods yet, but the simple fact that Brian Michael Bendis didn't take the obvious route by having Jessica lose her child due to the Green Goblin's attack, leaves one hopeful that he has a genuine plan for the character to keep her child. This of course begs the question of how he plans on keeping Jessica on as a member of this book's cast, as she already expressed concerns, and the first trip out of the gate Jessica is given ample proof of the dangers of her new job. I also have to say I also enjoyed the sense of vindication that J. Jonah Jameson is allowed when the truth about Norman Osborn comes out.

Mark Bagley has always been an impressive artist when it comes to his delivery of action sequences, and this issue gives him ample opportunity to show off this ability, with two very different battles. First off we get a battle with the Green Goblin high above the streets, as Spider-Man and then Jessica Jones clash with the villain, and Mark Bagley deserves full marks for capturing the look of utter rage when Jessica tears into Norman. The second encounter is also quite impressive, as it offers up the opportunity to show off what Luke Cage's 300 lbs of muscle and steel-hard skin can do when he's ticked off at you. The art also turns in some solid emotional moments from Jessica's reaction when she learn her child is unharmed, to the shot of Spider-Man after Luke Cage has finished pummelling Norman senseless.




Shawn Hill

Plot:
When the Green Goblin endangers the lives of Luke Cage’s wife and unborn child, he finds that Cage takes extreme exception, and favors preventive measures.

Of interest:
Excellent cover by Mayhew, who adopts a less photographic style to his Mystique covers, offering a decidedly old school Goblin grappling with Spidey high above the city streets, in front of a Daily Bugle sign in perspective.

Inside, Bagley’s more updated take on the Goblin springs us instantly into the action, as the raving madman seems intent on firebombing a young couple to death. The bi-monthly schedule leaves me at first at a loss as to what’s going on, but a quick check from last issue reveals that this “couple” are actually Jessica Jones and Ben Urich, who had come calling on Norman Osborn’s doorstep only to be greeted by a deadly explosion.

I could get into the specifics of the issue (like Jessica’s panic over her pregnancy, or the happy discovery with a sympathetic doctor that both she and the baby are perfectly fine, thanks entirely to meta-human “toughness”), but there are messages here below the surface. Bendis’ Osborn abandons all pretense at maintaining a secret double-life, against all conventional reason; he’s all-too happy to let his Mr. Hyde out, so frequently and quickly that, when pressed by an enraged Luke, he compromises his successful business mogul identity utterly and finally in a scandalous public display.

Troubling thoughts:
Thus, like an inverse of Daredevil’s recent challenges to his secret identity, this long-term super-villain has come out, for no discernible reason beyond that he’s just finally cracked and lost it. And, significantly, it’s not really the super-heroes who bring him down (Jessica’s too worried about her baby, Cage enacts his final solution in skivvies, taking over Spiderman’s turf forcefully), but the team of reporters avenging the death of one of their own who pushed Osborn to this extreme by refusing to let their suspicions drop.

And then when you think about the woman who died, dubbed Terri Kidder with faint irony, you realize this is Bendis’ vision of what would happen to Lois Lane in the Marvel universe. Rather than defying great odds to deliver her story, she’d be competing against such great odds that her one half-suspected lead results in her gruesome death and a rude plunge of her remains into the Central Park pond. It seems that secret identities are out of vogue right now at both big companies, and that if you want to play in or even near spandex you’d better be damn near indestructible.

Still interesting:
Bendis has mastered the ensemble concept, giving spotlit moments to each of his heroes and villains. It’s a bit like watching “Lou Grant: Homicide,” which can’t be a bad thing.




Michael Lucinski

The Plot: Norman Osborn viciously attacks the Daily Bugle/NYPD entourage who were to confront him about his murder of a Bugle reporter. Jessica Jones, after being saved by Spider-Man, thinks the attack killed her unborn child. Luke Cage, the baby’s father, publicly (and violently) confronts Osborn for attacking the mother of his child. The Bugle is vindicated as Osborn is finally revealed to the world as the Green Goblin.

Comments: In addition to being well-scripted and well-drawn, the concluding issue of the first story arc of “The Pulse” also carries the cathartic punch of “right makes might.” Those wronged by Osborn – Jones, Cage, Ben Urich, J. Jonah Jameson – get their piece of Osborn, literally and figuratively. Even though Marvel Knights “Spider-Man” may have unintentionally spoiled some of the surprise, watching Jones and later Cage assault and take down Osborn is immensely satisfying. If anybody deserved such treatment, Osborn does. It’s equally satisfying seeing the Bugle staff enjoy the fruits of their dangerous quest to bring down this powerful, dangerous man using only words.

What more can be said about Brian Michael Bendis? His work is frequently the best Marvel offering of the week. At this point, Jones easily wins the title for best new Marvel character of the decade. Also at this point, Cage easily wins the title of best-revitalized character of the decade. Both are strong-willed in their own way and equally sensitive in their own way. Any writer in the future who handles these characters will have a high standard to meet.

Reading this, I was surprised that regular folk in the Marvel Universe don’t know that Osborn is the Green Goblin. Looking back on it though, most of Spider-Man’s confrontations with Osborn usually occurred in deserted factories or mansions or office buildings and certainly not in front of a press gaggle. This demonstrates Bendis’ uncanny ability to exploit nooks and crannies of a Marvel Universe that is over 40 years old. Like Urich’s now-obvious explanation how he deduced Peter Parker’s secret, Bendis infuses his stories with the detailed observation of a realist and the moral force of an optimist.

Penciler Mark Bagley is perhaps the most under appreciated artist in comics. More than any other artist (with the possible exception of John Romita Jr.), Bagley has defined Spider-Man for a generation of comic readers. His Spidey is lithe yet powerful. Bagley nails the other characters in this issue as well, though Cage’s head is oddly shaped at times. The panels flow smoothly. It’s easy following the story when Bagley draws, unlike other artists.

Final Word: “The Pulse” combines the bright, shiny regular Marvel Universe with the strong characters from Marvel MAX’s “Alias.” The result is the best of both worlds – well-developed characters doing what’s right in the right way while we get to watch.




Dave Wallace

As a book, The Pulse had a surprisingly rocky start considering the pedigree of its creators and the characters they get to play with in the Marvel Universe. The first couple of issues failed to really gel, it was difficult to see where the book was headed and some of the characters (namely Kat Farrel and especially Jessica Jones) seemed robbed of the subtleties of character of their previous appearances. However, in the last couple of issues Bendis has worked hard to make this a more interesting take on super-heroes which retains the grounded, cynical viewpoint of J. Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle’s latest crack journalistic team.

That run of good work continues here, as we get a conclusion to this first arc which brings some strong character moments mixed up with some pretty exciting action scenes. As the Green Goblin launches his attack on Jessica, Ben and Peter Parker, we get to see just how deeply Jessica’s pregnancy is affecting her work and her relationships – notably between her and Luke Cage. Whilst the initial Goblin confrontation is a little anti-climactic, this sets up a fantastic denouement outside the courtroom which will have fans of Power Man cheering in the aisles, as well as reinforcing the strength of his fatherly commitment to Jessica and their baby. It’s an all-round well written issue, but the real star of the creative team is Mark Bagley. I wasn’t convinced by Bagley’s early work on the title, and it’s still the case that his talking heads are a little too cartoony and wide-eyed to work in a more serious book. However, they don’t pose a problem here as the artist gets to shine with some action scenes that make you wish he was drawing a regular MU Spidey book again. It’s top-of the range stuff for which much credit should also be given to Scott Hanna, as the normal pencils/inks relationship is here modified to Bagley providing breakdowns with Hanna as finisher.

Granted, there are a couple of weak spots in the plotting – it’s not really up to Norman’s usual criminal mastermind standards to start revealing his identity so blatantly after having successfully covered it up for so many years, and it could be seen as a shame to have such a pivotal Green Goblin story which doesn’t really revolve around Spider-Man. There are also some confusing continuity issues with Osborn’s appearance in Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights Spider-Man that take some thinking about, but they don’t spoil an otherwise enjoyable issue.

So whilst I wasn’t sold on The Pulse with its first issues, it has definitely grown on me. Bendis-penned superheroics are almost always great fun to read, and the fact that he’s been allowed to pursue a fairly logical status-quo changing plot which advances the Marvel Universe for the better is refreshing. Not only that, but we get a return to his splendid characterisation of Jessica Jones (who has until now been flailing in this title as a pale imitation of her former self) and some knockout action from Luke Cage, Spidey and the Green Goblin. It’s a fine end to the arc, and has ensured that I’ll be tuning in again in a couple of months to see how he follows up his Secret War series in this title.






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