Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

14 July 2010

The Pulse, v. 2: Secret War

Collects: Pulse #6-9 (2005)

Released: Marvel (July 2005)

Format: 96 pages / color / $11.99 / ISBN: 9780785114789

What is this?: Luke Cage is injured and missing, and his girlfriend, Jessica Jones, looks for him.

The culprits: Writer Brian Michael Bendis and pencilers Brent Anderson and Michael Lark

I enjoyed writer Brian Michael Bendis’s work for a long time, although looking back on my reviews of his work, it sure as hell hasn’t seemed like it.

Still, the last Bendis book I reviewed, Daredevil, v. 13: The Murdock Papers, was a definite step up from some of his other work. Plus, I had read the first volume of The Pulse and enjoyed it enough to keep an eye out for it. So when I saw the book cheap at Edward R. Hamilton, I decided to pick up The Pulse, v. 2: Secret War.

Pulse, v. 2: Secret War coverThis is what is known, in technical terms, as a big f@&$& mistake. Secret War is a four-issue deluxe decompression crapfest.

The Pulse was Bendis’s successor title to Alias. In Alias, former superhero Jessica Jones worked as a private investigator. It was a great concept with an engaging character and strong plots. In The Pulse, Jessica works the superhero beat for The Daily Bugle — a sensible plot idea, but what is the actual plot?

Jessica and Luke are blown up, then taken to the hospital. Luke is kidnapped? Maybe. Jessica looks for him, gets kidnapped by Hydra … why? Who knows. The Bugle’s crack staff is nearly useless. Nick Fury is to blame, because he’s done bad things. What kind of bad things? Bendis won’t tell us. Wolverine cries like an automated mutated crying machine to a woman he doesn’t know. Evidently it’s all gotten to be too much for him, what with starring in five or six books rather than the three he headlined in the ‘90s. Iron Fist is a bit of an ass to Jessica because … because he doesn’t keep in contact with Luke Cage? That’s what he says, but that sounds half witted, and Misty Knight later tells him so.

I’m sure this would make more sense if I had read Bendis’s five-issue Secret War miniseries, which started before the issues in this volume were published but ended after this TPB came out. The story involves a covert, unapproved invasion of superheroes into Latveria, led by Nick Fury; Fury wipes the memories of the heroes involved. This volume describes part of the Latverian counterattack. Not having read Secret War, I can’t say why an invasion of Latveria is a big deal; the Fantastic Four used to do it every week in the Silver Age (twice a week in months in which oysters were unsafe to eat). The Avengers invaded Latveria. Cloak and Dagger, for God’s sake, invaded Latveria. And there have always been counterattacks by villains for what the heroes do, but until Bendis started plotting Marvel’s books, it was an accepted fact. I can’t get worked up by it, even though Bendis asks me to do so without telling me why I should get worked up.

I can get worked up by his dialogue, which seems, for most of the book to be expressly designed not to actually reveal information. It’s all false starts and stammers and ostensibly witty comments that fall as flat as the page they’re printed on. Information comes out in dribs and drabs, with actual communication between human beings seeming like an accident rather than the way the story is designed. For instance, it takes three pages to deliver the information that Nick Fury and SHIELD can quash any story in any newspaper, like the Bugle. Keeping in mind that Jameson continually knuckling under to that sort of pressure is asinine, that’s still a lot of time required to get across a simple piece of information. (Also: in the exchange, Robbie Robertson sounds less like a veteran newsman of a previous generation and more like Brian Michael Bendis.) This is not uncommon from Bendis, of course; in fact, it’s the hallmark of his worst work.

Art is supplied by Brent Anderson (#6-7) and Michael Lark (#8-9). I like Lark’s work, although I don’t think it’s his best; it’s gritty, its rough look is appropriate for a book in which people are supposed to be hitting the streets and investigating crimes, and it’s reminiscent of the work of Michael Gaydos, who was the artist on Alias. His combat scenes — especially the SHIELD agents rappelling into the Hydra base — are a bit stiff, though. Anderson … I don’t have anything to say about Anderson, really, except that in a few panels he reminded me of Sal Buscema, and that made me smile.

The art is the best thing about this book, but to be fair, any art better than Bart Sears on Captain America and the Falcon was going to be better than the writing. The plot is weak and wandering, the dialogue is straight from Unbearable Bendis Book #3, and people are mysterious about things for no apparent reason. I paid $5 for this, and I think I paid about $6 too much.

Rating: Half Marvel symbol (0.5 of 5)

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