You’ve read us yakking about Alias enough on here by now, I’m sure. But a comic that you might be less aware of, one that got even less of a chance to fully establish itself, was Bendis’ follow-up series, The Pulse. After inadvertently bringing Alias to a natural end point, he shuffled Jessica Jones and Luke Cage over to a new series and setup, where Jessica would work alongside Ben Urich and Kat Farrell at the Daily Bugle. It was a nice idea – not least because it involved putting Jessica and Urich, two of Marvel’s best characters, in the same comic – but managed to find itself caught up in crossovers and tie-ins (not to mention stuck with a rotating cast of artists – all strong in ability, but it led to an unconsistent “feel”) for almost the entirety of its run. Only with its last arc, Fear – which culminated in this, the penultimate issue of the series before the lead couple would move over again to New Avengers – did it really manage to do the kind of story you suspect it was always designed to.
By this point, however, Jessica had already angrily quit the Bugle, meaning that the series’ setup lasted for an even shorter time than its publication. As such, although there’s a linking thread involving the paper trying to cover Jessica and Luke’s baby’s birth, the issue’s pretty much split down the middle between the “main” plot – that of said birth – and one involving Urich. The Jessica scenes – wrapping up a story that is essentially a little coda to Alias itself – are good, particularly a nice moment where Ms. Marvel is made to recount the circumstances of her own… offspring (a neat bit of meta-commentary by Bendis on a controversial and best-forgotten moment in Carol’s history), but if truth be told, it’s not the primary plotline that makes this such an unmissable issue. Rather, it’s the subplot, involving Ben Urich tracking down a rather pathetic, fallen C-list hero called D-Man, and learning just how far it’s possible for the heroes that the MU’s citizens take for granted to fall.
I didn’t know the character before this arc – his schtick is that he’s a former wrestler and massive Daredevil fan, who dresses in a replica of DD’s old yellow costume and a Wolverine mask – but his story as portrayed in this issue is devastatingly touching. Ravaged by a mental illness that leads him to believe he’s on a “quest” to retrieve seven “Infinity Gems” (actually trinkets almost unwittingly stolen from jewellery stores), he’s living in a sewer off scraps of food. His earnestness in the face of his horrendous situation is deeply poignant – and rendered quite superbly in the facial expressions drawn by the welcome-returning Michael Gaydos, who’s possibly never been better than in these scenes – and Bendis’ mastery is in having this poor, wretched soul be discovered by Ben Urich. Not only does this allow for a splendid piece of pontificating narration from the journalist, but it makes for a warm – yet still quite sad – conclusion as he gets his friend Matt Murdock to intervene. Maybe this wouldn’t get everyone the way it seems to strike at me – I suppose different “issues” are meaningful to different people – but by gum it’s difficult reading, yet at the same time a rare and welcome musing on a topic rarely explored in this medium.
There are many who write off Bendis purely on the strength of reading the type of comic he’s generally weakest at (i.e. Marvel’s big summer crossovers, or his first attempt at “doing” the Avengers). But it’s hard to deny, when he writes a story as moving, powerful and rooted in humanity as this, that he’s capable of standing up there with the best of this generation of creators. It’s partly the fact that he does something that so few other writers would have thought to do, as much as it is the compassionate and innately empathetic execution. It’s a shame that The Pulse was so short-lived, considering the story potential it held, but I’m thankful that we at least got another quick shot of that Bendis/Gaydos magic.