Published Nov 01, 2005The Pulse, a smartly written comic that centres on The Daily Bugle and the life of newspaper people that figure prominently in the Marvel universe, has done something that no other comic has managed to do. Its creator, Brian Michael Bendis, has been able to make people care about a comic that doesn't revolve around superheroes, but real people and families. While comics aren't thought to be the most progressive of mediums (independent publishing aside), this little-known Marvel title is about to unleash something that should have been done years ago. Although there are some questions as to why now and in this particular book, the fact remains that Bendis is (hopefully) taking comics in a radical new direction.
Bendis's widely popular title Alias centred on a hard-talking private investigator (and former superhero and Ultimates associate) named Jessica Jones. When that series finished, Bendis still wanted to involve the character in his work, so he decided to incorporate her into the comic he was writing about the daily newspaper that employed Spider-Man's alter ego, Peter Parker. Jones was written as a strong, independent spirit, flawed and brave both a characterisation that's notable in a comics world of giant-breasted Amazons and meek damsels in distress. Beginning in Alias, he also wrote for her a realistic and dynamic romantic relationship with another hero, an African-American named Luke Cage (aka Powerman). Now carried over to The Pulse, Bendis has added a new family element for the pair: this month, Jones gives birth to the first interracial child in the world of comics.
That it's the first seems notably archaic in the 21st century, but Marvel's timing for the event is even more curious. Clearly, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are not Spider-Man or Wonder Woman; this event has been relegated to b-list characters in one of Bendis's least popular, least known books. (The extremely prolific Bendis writes at least half a dozen titles monthly, including Daredevil, New Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man.) Instead of making it a showcase event which would warrant more popular characters in a higher profile comic Marvel is essentially letting it just slide by. Considering that Marvel is currently consumed by the hype surrounding its massive crossover House of M series, The Pulse is practically assured to go completely unnoticed.
The family unit as a plot device has been prominent since Marvel launched Fantastic Four; married couple Reed Richards and Sue Storm are the mould upon which most contemporary comics family units are based. But until recent years, when Sue Storm has been given updated powers and a stronger sense of self, her greatest power seemed to be getting kidnapped jeopardy that would invariably be resolved by her more powerful husband. (She's known as the Invisible Woman: how much more transparent could her lack of presence be?)
The comics world has never been progressive in terms of heroes of colour. The handful of black superheroes has remained a token presence; black women X-Men's Storm aside are even scarcer. Other ethnic groups are simply non-existent, make only highly stereotyped appearances, usually as throwaway villains, or are parcelled as spin-offs of existing white heroes (like last year's Indian Spider-Man). Bendis's take is interesting for bringing family and race into high relief in an intelligent way; too bad he's not being given a high-profile forum to be heard.
Comics have long been thought to entertain, but many people forget their initial genesis. Originally created to deal with political and social issues, comics were used as an educational tool to highlight such concerns. Comics used to be progressive and thought-provoking; it's time for large companies to realise that they have to do more with their talented staff rather than just redraw superheroes.