Brain Michael Bendis is last years news. And the year before. He's also this years news. The guys at Marvel love him because he breathed fresh life back into their big-ticket properties like Spider-Man (with Ultimate), and Daredevil. Others love him for his more intimate work on Elektra, Alias, and Secret War. Marvel fans who don't like Bendis are like people who don't like chocolate. There must be some out there, but very few of them will stand up and be counted.
Bendis is having a dream run. But sooner or later, that has to change. Eventually, people will have enough of his dark and dreamy pacing, of his quirky, human characters, and of his subversive plot-lines. Even his willing accomplice, popular artist Mark Bagley must eventually tire of the Bendis formula. Perhaps "The Pulse" is the occasion where Bendis strikes out. Let's lift the cover, and see for ourselves, eh?
The Daily Bugle. Long-timer Daredevil ally and Bugle reporter Ben Urich stands by a paper stand and scans the headlines. A "Kat Farrell" Spidey story made the front page, but Ben's story covering the attack on Daredevil by over a hundred Yakuza killers rated page 17 in section C. Seems like Ben is a little out of favour at the Bugle.
Meanwhile, there's a body floating in the water at Central Park, and Jessica Jones (alias "Alias") is hauling herself out of the bed she shares with Luke Cage. If you don't know by now, Jessica is a former super-powered part-time hero, now turned private eye. She saved Jonah Jameson's niece (Mattie "Spider-Woman IV" Franklin) from a very sticky end, and Jonah is has called her in to offer her a job with the Bugle, one which comes with much-needed health coverage.
Now, Me, I live in a country with a halfway decent public health system, so I don't get this big deal about healthcare - but I hear that the U.S. system goes something like this. First, the country gets rich. Then the lawyers move in. Then they encourage everybody to sue whenever they get half a chance, or even no chance. That drives up malpractice cover and hence medical costs to the point where nobody can afford healthcare, in the richest nation in the world. Kind of ironic, really.
So, now that we've got the non-American readers up to speed, we can see why Jessica is prepared to take Jonah's new job, even though it's a bit of a sell-out.
Actually, it's not just Jessica selling out. Let me tell you about the job. See, Jonah has finally twigged that a fair proportion of his readers aren't actually vigilante-hating bigots like him. Some of them even like some of thes "heroes". So, Jonah's gonna start running a supplement named "The Pulse", which will feature all sorts of in-depth super-hero stories. Jessica is (a) somebody he owes a favour, (b) an investigator by nature, (c) a super-tough type with a higher-than-average chance of surviving the stories, and finally (d) a super-hero, hence an insider, giving her both insight AND media interest herself.
What's more, Jessica reveals that she's pregnant - to Luke Cage no less. That's instant story for Jonah, and a chance to own "an angle" that will help make a difference if other papers try and do a "me too" on the whole concept.
So, Jessica takes the job. Jonah gives her this big schtick about how she's gonna be working with Urich, but "This is all about you, Jessica". Then he meets Ben and gives him the same spiel - how Jessica is "B-Grade", but this is Ben's chance to come back in from the cold (after he pissed Jonah off big-time by holding back on Daredevil's identity for all these years).
As for the body... when it's finally pulled out, it's some well-known chick. But exactly who, we will not find out until next issue!
Firstly, the good. The story has depth, edge, and originality. Bendis takes characters we know, and effortlessly finds new ways to use them. While other writers take old stories and tart them up again and again, or desparately try to add freshness by creating new super-villains named "The Exterminator", and "DeathMax 9000", Bendis just deals Aces like he was pulling them off the bottom of the deck.
More good with continuity. Remember how Byrne and Mackie came up with the incredible co-incidence that Mattie was Jonah's niece? Of course, two issues later, they had forgotten that fact, as soon as they realised they might be obliged to write a story around it. Well, Bendis didn't forget - far from it. What Bendis does is find ways to combine all the current plot threads in both the titles he writes, and stretching back into recent and not so recent events, and weave a story that actually reminds us why once upon a time Marvel comics were "the continuity comics".
Still on the good side. Bendis' pace feels slow, but irresistable. There's a ceaseless rhythm which is relentless. There's little sense of motion, but at the end of the comic, you realise you've traveled some distance, and you're hanging out for more.
If I was impulsive, I would give this book the full five webs. But I'm not going to do that, for three reasons:
Firstly, it's Bendis, so the bar has to be set higher.
Secondly, I want to see where this story is going - it's just begun, and until I get a better sense of the direction, I'm reluctant to max out the rating.
Finally, from five webs, the only way is down. And I don't think this story is going to head downhill. Quite the opposite, I think a cautious reviewer like myself would be well advised to offer, say 4 webs, and leave some headroom for the next few issues when we really get moving!