The Pulse: The Return of Jessica Jones

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This is a beautiful cover. Wonderful use of negative space. Issue #8; Cover Artist: Mike Mayhew; Source: Marvel.com

Following the success of Marvel Max’s Alias run, Jessica Jones creator, Brian Michael Bendis brought the character back in a non-Max title. This time, with more accessible topics and language choices (read: fewer F-bombs), Jessica Jones would navigate her way into the larger Marvel continuity monster. This was achieved by her getting pregnant at the end of Alias, and winding up with Luke Cage, who was, by now, a rising star in the New Avengers title, also penned by Bendis. Her new series, The Pulse, is so named for her new column at the Daily Bugle, where she will work with Ben Urich to tell superhero-themed stories to increase paper sales. This gives Jessica a good excuse to become involved in some of the central plot lines of the early 21st Century Marvel event calendar, which was also largely orchestrated and often written by her own Brian Michael Bendis. Being a pet project of the leading creative force at Marvel certainly helped Jessica Jones to quickly rise from a no-name side project into a real member of superhero community and an important supporting character to the New Avengers.

Though not as innovative as Bendis’ earlier Alias series, The Pulse does still give some valuable insight into Jessica Jones as a character and serves the primary focus of further elaborating her relationship with Luke Cage, Ben Urich, and a few other key Marvel characters. *Warning* since The Pulse is a direct sequel to Alias, a key event at the end of Alias The 14-issue run encompassed only a couple of different arcs, but the plot developments of each were really secondary to Jessica’s emotional evolution and the further development of hers and Luke Cage’s relationship, along with the birth of their child. The story arcs are far less cutting edge than they were in the Alias run, some of which is inherent in the shift from an R-rated (Max) title to a PG-13-ish normal Marvel title. Regarding the art, it was above average, but not cutting edge. It was exactly the quality you would expect when penciling duties were handed between superstars Mark Bagley, Michael Lark, and Michael Gaydos.

Plot-wise, the first arc was solid, but not amazing. It set up the reason for Jessica’s integration into the mainstream universe: a job at the Daily Bugle. The Green Goblin arc the followed wasn’t particularly engaging, but it did serve its purpose as an intro to the idea of Jessica as an investigative journalist. The next arc, a tie-in to The Secret War, actually did work pretty well, especially since Luke Cage was such an important character in these main events. Her quest to find Luke and uncover the covert operation behind The Secret War made The Pulse the most significant tie-in to that event. Though the story progression seemed somewhat limited by the progression of the main event, it did provide some well-articulated supporting plot-lines for Jessica Jones and Ben Urich. The single issue House of M tie-in was odd and out of place with the rest of the series. Then the final arc *mini-spoiler* followed the birth of Jessica and Luke’s baby and the next steps in their relationship, which would lead into the New Avengers title by the end of issue #14, the final issue of The Pulse.

Overall, Bendis’ work on the Pulse served its primary purpose, which was to bring Jessica into the mainstream universe. Transitioning such a brash and complicated character from the Max line was no easy task, and definitely did feel somewhat abrupt at times — especially with her harsh language being absent in The Pulse. Though it is a testament to Bendis that he managed to transition Jessica without diluting her beyond recognition. The character is still there, even if her story arcs lost some of their edge. The Pulse is still a good solid read for fans of the character and makes a nice bridge between two of Bendis’ finer works: Alias and New Avengers. It’s still an above average comic, even if it falls short of the inventiveness and iconic storytelling of its predecessor. Rating: 7 of 10

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Alias: Introducing Jessica Jones

Though now popular from the Marvel/Netflix show: Marvel’s Jessica Jones, this Max title by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos in 2001 came out of nowhere. Jessica Jones had never appeared in any comics before, but even by the first page of the first issue of Alias, she had made her mark. The brutally honest, crass, tough girl that smoked, drank, and swore her way through every adventure made a quick and lasting impression on the Marvel community. Her success in this solo line eventually brought her into main continuity with follow-up arcs in The Pulse and eventually New Avengers, as well as the incredible Netflix show, years later.

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Issue #23; Cover Artist: David Mack; Source: Wikipedia.org

This 28-issue run collected an interesting array of arcs, covering various cases that Jessica had been hired to solve. One cool and creative thing about these stories was how Bendis wove them in and out of the larger continuity of Marvel, but without requiring Alias readers to be hugely avid readers of concurrent titles. Jessica is very much at the fringes of the larger Marvel superhero community, but she is still a part of it in her own way. Her cases involve everything from accidentally discovering Captain America’s secret identity, helping a strung out guy claiming to be Rick Jones, finding a runaway in a small town who claimed to be a mutant, rescuing the newest and youngest Spider-Woman, and eventually confronting her deepest and darkest fear, the psychotic super-villain, Purple Man. These arcs ranged from psychological thrillers to crime dramas to even off-beat comedies, but they all felt really genuinely Jessica Jones.

There were two single issues in this run that perfectly encapsulated the beauty of what Bendis and Gaydos accomplished here. In #10, JJ Jameson hired Jessica to track down Spider-Man’s identity. After JJ insulted her and acted like his typical self, we see him reviewing expense receipts she submitted, where she scammed him by doing charity work instead of working the case. The art was great and the whole thing was really funny. In #15, Jessica had two really honest and frank discussions with other superheroes about relationships and how difficult life can be as a powered person. The second one in particular, while on a date with Scott Lang (Ant-Man II) was a great dialogue showing a different side to superhero dating.

The most iconic arc, though, was the final one. It featured the Purple Man and his horribly messed up treatment of Jessica. It also presented the first real explanation of Jessica’s origin in issue #22. This arc is definitely the primary influence for the plot of the Netflix show, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, in its first season. They definitely pulled from the whole series for tone and emotional arcs, but the Purple Man plot is entirely self-contained in the final 6 issues of Bendis and Gaydos’ run.

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A scene from Jessica and Scott Lang’s first date. Artist: Michael Gaydos; Source: Marvel Comics, via sequart.com

Overall, this series is the most honest superhero comic series I have ever read. Bendis and Gaydos brilliantly show the underside of being a superhero in the Marvel universe, the self-doubt and emotional struggles that accompany life as a powered individual. Jessica isn’t a great person, so she doesn’t rise to the challenge and become a hero flawlessly like so many Marvel characters do. But she’s also not a bad person, so she never does anything evil or that takes advantage of non-powered people. She’s somewhere in the middle, like the rest of us. She wants to be good, but it’s hard to be brave and selfless all the time. Sometimes, the biggest obstacle to doing the right thing, the hard thing, is ourselves. That is what Jessica Jones knows and it makes for such a unique and groundbreaking story that it is no surprise Marvel chose this for the Marvel/Netflix team-up. She also confronts some very real, disturbing, and gritty problems like abuse, drugs, alcoholism, and the most graphic sexual encounters I’ve ever seen from Marvel. What is most impressive about Alias is that these topics aren’t just added for shock value. They are built into a real story that genuinely cares about character development and depicting believable reactions to these unbelievable circumstances.

Somewhat along the vein of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Alias is a natural comparison to that seminal work from the mid-1980s. They both seek to break down some of the overly romanticized tropes in superhero comics, and show its readers what kind of flawed individuals can be found behind them. The big difference here is that Alias provides some hope and human decency to ground the story in a truly likable character, even despite her very apparent flaws. Watchmen, on the other hand, is a deconstruction of the genre so complete that its characters flail helplessly against the unrelenting onslaught of reality. Their power is powerless against this pessimistic world view, and most characters are so flawed that they are unlikable. Somehow, despite her many mistakes, her combative personality, and multiple acts of selfishness over the course of the series, Jessica Jones rises beyond her flaws and becomes an instant favorite.

Alias is an incredible read for a mature comic fan, though it is not for the faint of heart. I highly recommend it to adult fans of the superhero genre. It is definitely one of the better comic runs I have ever read. An instant classic.

Rating: 9 of 10