ďFearĒ (Part One)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Iím docking this issue half-a-bullet for its cover. The blessed event it depicts, the birth of Jessica Jonesí and Luke Cageís baby, does not happen in this issue. Jessicaís water breaks on the last page. Second, itís got the ďmystery AvengerĒ that hasnít been introduced into continuity yet! Marvel needs to knock this shit off! Either bring him in next month, or publish a one-shot that retcons him into the recent past. And finally, itís inspired by Kevin Maguireís famous Justice League #1 cover. Not a big deal, really, except Jessicaís standing where Guy Gardner would be saying, ďYou wanna make something of it?Ē Kind of has the same look on her face too.
But enough of that. The story itself is pretty good. Jessica talks with Susan Storm about the fears and dangers of super-motherhood. Mrs. Richardsí advice sounds like it was written by a parent. A man writing a female character discussing motherhood sounds inappropriate, but most of what Susan says could also be said by a father. Luke Cage goes shopping for a new costume designed by Janet Van Dyne (possible ďHouse of MĒ after-effect?), setting up some nice comedy. Meanwhile, homeless superhero D-Man might have robbed a jewelry store while stopping a robbery. Man, does Bendis love obscure characters or what?
Itís great to see the Alias team of Bendis and Gaydos working together again. I really havenít missed Gaydosí art, having read Powerless and Daredevil: Redemption. His gritty style has enough weight for realistic stories, but is flexible enough for the emotions and drama called upon in superbooks.
So itís a solid issue, overall. If youíre not a regular reader, this is as good a time to pick it up as any.
On the one hand, we get Bendis playing to his strengths with a wonderful scene as Jessica Jones chats with Sue Storm-Richards (or is it just Sue Richards now?) about impending superhero motherhood; the dialogue is genuine and heartfelt and realistic (apart from that bit about Reed being a good man, because we all know that Reed Richards is a C**T), and it fits this book perfectly, because The Pulse is a behind-the-scenes look at the Marvel Universe. Itís when he tries to force this stuff into the front stage action of House of M or New Avengers that Bendis slips up, but here it works wonderfully.
On the other hand, this issue also shows off one of Bendisí particularly acute problems as a Marvel writer, and thatís his shaky grasp of continuity and the shared universe. The main subplot here concerns the apparently criminal activities of a mysterious superhero that we immediately recognise as D-Man even if none of the characters do. Since D-Man has been long established (and not in obscure titles either) as the guardian of a struggling homeless community, I wonder for what possible reason he could be stealing jewelry (he wrote sarcastically)? Itís perfectly possible that Bendis is going somewhere unexpected with this, but given his past record as regards the shared universe, itís also perfectly possible that heís about two steps behind his readers on this one.
I haven't read an issue of The Pulse since the end of the first arc, and itís good to see that in the intervening time, Gaydos has ďreturnedĒ on art duties, as the natural look he brings to his art works perfectly for this title and these characters. There are a couple of the usual strange panels and odd poses here and there (like Sue Richardsí screaming monkey face during lunch), but this is good work all in all, and a good fit for the understated tone of the story.
See? Iím not always nasty to Bendis. This is exactly the kind of good solid character work that makes him popular, the kind of stuff he should be concentrating on instead of getting out of his depth on epic superhero stories that he just doesn't have the mindset for. Okay, that there was a bit criticalÖ
Plot: Jessica, reasonably concerned over her impending motherhood (considering the company she keeps), consults an expert on the subject. Did I mention Bendis writes the classic Carol Danvers (who sets up this lunch date)? Meanwhile, Ben Urich (remember him?) pursues a new plot thread involving (of all people) D-Man.
Comments: Well, itís only taken a year or two for the book to finally get back to doing what it should have done all along, which is continue the story that Alias began. Secret War and House of M (and thank God not The Sentry, too) have all impinged on this story, which was supposed to have a broader canvas than a solo title but wasnít ever supposed to lose sight of the reason it all came to be.
This title is at its best when Jessica is the everywoman who guides us through her world of marvels, and her view of the Invisible Woman is highly amusing. I love Carolís big sister attitude towards Jessica, and this is one case of Bendis heightening the realism in fantastic lives in a manner that deepens their dilemmas, rather than simply making costumes seem foolish.
Less interesting: He saves that for the end of the book, when whipping girl Janet van Dyne (a character he completely misunderstands on a fundamental level) tries to gussy Luke up in some totally weak suits. Iím loving that old friend Gaydos is back, but the joke here isnít worth it. When it comes to designing costumes, Dave Cockrum he ainít.
This was also billed as the issue we actually see the baby, but instead itís another cliff-hanger on that front. Thatís perhaps the most frustrating thing about Bendis-world; to produce so many books, they all end up on such wonky schedules, and his plotting doesnít seem to ever take publishing dates into account.
A very special new element to the book is noticeable from the very first page of this issue of The Pulse, and itís something which makes this installment feel infinitely closer to being a continuation of Alias than any of its other issues have managed to feel. Yes, Alias artist Michael Gaydos is back to pick up where his final issue of that title left off, and continue to render the adventures of Jessica Jones as she edges ever closer to motherhood. Gaydosí Jessica is like Ditkoís Spider-Man or Kirbyís Fantastic Four Ė itís the definitive original by which all other takes on the character are measured. And whilst Iíve enjoyed seeing some different visual takes on Jessica in this and other titles, Gaydosí work is just such a perfect fit for the tone that Bendis is trying to set for this character that Iíd be happy to keep him around as regular artist forever. He lends a realistic edge to Jessicaís world that helps to ground the central thread of her pregnancy even as larger-than-life characters like the Fantastic Four push their way into her life, and it really goes a long way to cement her as the emotional core of the book.
Bendis opts to tell a less superhero-centred story here than in the last few issues, and thatís due in part to the fact that - for the first time since issue #5 - there are no clumsy crossovers with other Bendis-penned titles to accommodate. This book is at its best when dealing with relatively normal, regular people reacting to a fantastical Marvel Universe, and thereís a lot of that subtle integration of realism with the unreal here. I particularly enjoyed the candid conversation between Sue Storm and Jessica which added comic-book detail to an otherwise perfectly normal conversation between a mother-of-two and a woman whoís expecting for the first time. That such an extended and mundane conversation can be kept interesting is admittedly thanks in part to Gaydosí expressive artwork, which adds an extra dimension to every line of Bendisí script and provides character nuances far more eloquently than text ever could. However, one canít discount the skill of the lately oft-maligned writer in crafting this exchange, as Bendis explores the very real concerns and worries that a first-time mother might have through the eyes of a character that he clearly cares for as a writer. The dialogue between the two women is sometimes funny, often touching, and always very honest, as Sue Storm doesnít pretend that motherhood is a walk in the park. In a way, Jessica almost seems more reassured by Sueís honest take on motherhood than she would have been by someone telling her that sheís got nothing to worry about, and the final heartfelt statement by Sue shows an understanding of the subject that many will find moving, without feeling that the script has descended into mawkish sentimentality.
A secondary thread about an ex-Avenger possibly turning to a life of crime is an interesting subplot, and the fact that Bendis has chosen such a third-tier character (I had to google him to check that he was for real) to develop in this way gives him a lot of latitude with where this story could go. It also gives the underused Ben Urich something to chew on, and his character is always at his best when given some kind of superhero morality issue to deal with, so I look forward to seeing how this part of the story continues. However, itís Jessica whoís really the star here, and a final sequence with Luke Cage and an exuberant Janet Van Dyne shows that thereís still a lot of comic potential in Luke and Jessicaís relationship. As Janet starts to show off some costume design ideas for Power Manís new look - and I just couldnít help reading all of her dialogue in the voice of The Incrediblesí Edna Mode (try it, it works) - something very significant happens (complete with realistic sound effect - EW) which pushes Jessica and Lukeís relationship into what looks to be a must-buy next issue. The look on Jessicaís face in that last panel says it all: this isnít going to be your average rosy superhero-having-a-baby story. Bendis appears set on rooting this tale as firmly in the real world of motherhood as possible, and the complexity and detail he seems to be applying to such a massive event for these two characters seems bound to serve this story well. The real Jessica Jones is back to reclaim her position as the most compelling female character in the Marvel Universe, and I canít wait to read more.
(The final few pages of this issue feature a 4-page preview of a new Marvel series: and whilst Nick Furyís Howling Commandos may find a niche somewhere, itís certainly doesnít grab me on the strength of these pages. Putting this trailer in the back of The Pulse could well backfire for Marvel advertisers, as I couldnít imagine a starker contrast between the skillfully-executed and intelligent nu-Marvel of Bendisí issue, and the hollow 90s-throwback that this new title seems bent on providing.)
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