Friday, January 08, 2016

Finale (Marvel)
The Pulse #14 When: May 2006
Why: Brian Michael Bendis How: Michael Gaydos

The Story So Far...
Married life has been good for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. With a new born child, the pair are reminiscing about the good old days - like the first time they met!
Jessica was in a dark place at that time in her life. Her ordeal with The Purple Man had left the former Jewel despondent and clinging to life as a costumed protector by the thread of her need to hit something.
Adopting a grim new identity for her final shot at being a superhero, Jones became Knightress! Prowling the city by night, she sets her angry fists on the criminal called The Owl. Little did this bird of prey know, his deal is in danger from a pair of Heroes for Hire as well!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Jessica Jones 5 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Draw 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Jessica Jones 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Jessica Jones 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)

There's a slim chance you might be wondering who this Knightress character is. If you are - you may know her better as Jewel aka; Jessica Jones.

After a very nasty run-in with The Purple Man; Jones turned her back on a brief career in the superhero game, but not before taking one last stab at it under the guise of Knightress. This was her dark and moody eighties period, inspired by similar costume changes of the time, eg; Spidey's black threads.

How'd she become a superhero? Oh, you know how it is. An accident involving radioactive chemicals killed her parents and put young Jessica in a coma. A while after she woke up - she discovered the accident also gave her super-strength, endurance, and the ability to fly. Flight never quite worked out so well, but her other powers have meant mixing it up with super-villain bruisers has never been a problem. Bad news for The Owl!

Leland Owlsley once lived large as "The Owl of Wall Street", but a penchant for criminal dealings ended his days in trading, and spawned a career as a would-be master of organized crime! To facilitate these criminal aspirations he invested in a serum, which granted him a limited ability to glide.

Continued body modification and self-inflicted mutations have given The Owl increased gliding ability, sharpened teeth, lighter bones, improved reflexes, greater strength and physical resistance, keen hearing and vision, and a taste for mice. The Owl also favors wrist-mounted talons as his weapon of choice.

Neither character has had an overwhelmingly stellar career, but it's fair to say The Owl has had significant staying power as a player within the urban criminal underworld. It's the very domain Jessica Jones turned her back on, but she wasn't out of the game at the time of this encounter -- and she's looking for somebody to hit!

Jones' impressive strength puts her in a class above The Owl. To combat that, Owl's best bets are relying on goons, environmental hazards, and dirty tactics. Since it's hard to find good help any day, and this fight's taking place during a meeting with tetchy rivals, Owl is on the back foot. Jones is emotional here, which could make her reckless. Lets see if that's an equalizer...

The Tape: Knightress Ranking: Draw (Not Ranked)

What Went Down...
Stalking the night for something to hit: Knightress follows the sirens to a high-speed chase with The Owl. He may have given the cops the slip, but his secret rendezvous will never the less be interrupted! Knightress favours the warehouse skylight as a means of entry. Owl's contacts blame him for the trouble. Both sides look for a way out while Knightress starts swinging at goons.

Power Man & Iron Fist crash the party to hold down the fleeing crooks. In the commotion, Knightress doesn't notice The Owl sneaking up behind her from within the shadows...

Blade drawn, Owl slashes Knightress across the back! A dirty move, but effective. For a moment, she drops to her hands and knees. Owl orders his men to stop fighting and run. His opportunity has past. He shouldn't have poked the bear. Now he's going to get the claws!

As Owl attempts to make his getaway - Knightress catches him by the hair. The swooped look may have worked for Wolverine, but Owl's probably regretting it as he's tugged and launched into the air by his fanned follicles!

Owl comes back down to earth safely - presumably thanks to his gliding abilities - and throws a forearm in Knightress' direction. She blocks it and lets out a blood curdling roar of anger. Owl is running so scared, he doesn't even notice he's charging headlong into the waiting fist of Power Man!

Good thing he's called The Owl, 'cause his face is gonna be flat for a while!

The Hammer...
With a surprise one-two finish, I'm calling the winners Power Man and Knightress!

Iron Fist isn't chopped liver, but he'll have to wait for an unlikely spotlight on his and Power Man's secondary struggle (with the other mob goons) to pick up any stats. It ain't easy being green (and yellow), man.

Meanwhile, did anybody enjoy that as much as I did? Wow! There's just something about going back to the Marvel streets that really hits the spot! I love a good recurring B-grade villain and Owl is about as B (or C) grade as it gets. Hope we can get back to him again.

My selection is, of course, inspired by Marvel's big year of Netflix series - specifically Jessica Jones. The breakout 2015 live-action show stars Krysten Ritter as today's featured heroine, with Mike Colter making his first appearances as Luke Cage. Cage is next on the slate for his own Netflix serial, with Iron Fist somewhere not far behind, so there's some nice symmetry to it all, even if Ritter never appears as Knightress.

As is (sadly) customary, the live-action version differs from the original in a variety of ways. It's interesting casting. I like Ritter in general, but she strikes me as a significant departure from the everywoman of the comics. Ritter seems to bring a natural 'tude that's just a bit too punk for the Jessica Jones of the comics. She isn't a traditional beauty, but has a striking quality that makes her stand out from a crowd. Even her hair tells a very different story.

Casting comic book characters in live-action is almost always a divisive exercise. Comics are an indulgently visual medium. Visual codes and iconography are valuable tools. The image holds a great deal of importance. No matter the justification, this doesn't change in the conversion to the so-called "real world". Sometimes it's just a matter of whether or not the new idea is good enough to subvert the old. Audiences have become very forgiving toward the formula. We used to loathe Hollywood for its lacklustre representation of our characters. After decades of distortion, some now demand this approach.

For me, the appeal of Jessica Jones relies a lot on the superhero world that movies still aren't fully comfortable with. Creator Brian Michael Bendis has earned a bit of a reputation for the things he destroys, or tears down, but in Jessica Jones, he made a worthy contribution.

The character as originally conceived was nearly a revamped Jessica Drew. That could've been a valid relaunch for a languishing character of limited appeal. As I write this, I wonder if the raven-haired Krysten Ritter wouldn't look more at home in Drew's skin. It hardly matters. The two Jones are different sides of the same scenario -- a resistance to superheroes. In live-action, the character is a budget conscious, unintimidating, costumeless figure that asks a minimum of the audience's suspension of disbelief. In the comics, Jones is a failed superhero of no consequence, who's been provoked to reclaim her humanity. She exists to confront the superhero concept from another perspective. At once wanting to escape the Marvel Universe, yet constantly finding it thrust upon her.
The Knightress persona seen in the final issue of The Pulse represents one of the interesting little flicks of the wrist that allow Jones to participate in the very world she comments on. Always just a bit ordinary, her costume choice looks like the kind of Kitty Pryde tribute cosplay a well meaning adolescent might come up with. That sash, screaming of a touch of Phoenix. Dorky cosplay ala; John Byrne. A sly comment on an era, fans, and creators who're somewhere overlapping the three.

I see a lot of Phil Sheldon (Marvels) in the basic concept. Created in 2001, Jones was stitched into Marvel's history through a series of secret events. She had a high school crush on Peter ParkerTony Stark was indirectly responsible for her Daredevil-like origin. The coming of Galactus impacted her recovery. Spider-man influenced her career as a superhero. Another view, somewhere beyond and more lasting than Sheldon's Eye of the Camera. More individual, too.

I also can't help but think of another character with a 'secret history' created just a year before Jones: The Sentry. Readers of Bendis's New Avengers know the hoax hero for his bumpy "return" to the Marvel Universe, but long before that he was presented as a lost Stan Lee creation unearthed in 2000. In truth, it was a high concept gimmick by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee, which spawned a string of one-shots and a mini-series detailing the lost adventures of Marvel's answer to Superman.

The Sentry differed from Jessica Jones in Alias in that he was the opposite end of the spectrum - an escalation of the superhero universe. His secret history had a similar array of ties to established figures, but his connections were presented in senior terms. He was an inspiration to, or best friend, to the likes of: Hulk, Mr. Fantastic, Spider-man, and the X-Men. Dr. Doom's better, the ultimate hero - save for his 'Marvel headache' of mental illiness and a villainous alter-ego called The Void. It was a lot of fun in isolation, but doomed to fail without the finesse, characterization, and social commentary that buoyed Jessica Jones to lasting significance beyond the initial Marvel MAX series.

Bendis has said using Jessica Drew in the MAX series would've condemned Alias to be non-canonical. Were it not for the quality of work and the balance of ideas -- I think that could've been the case, regardless. Instead, Marvel gained an interesting, well realized new character introduced the right way, who endures to this day. A still recent example to be taken note of, particularly if you're the type concerned about gender politics.
The Pulse #14 was the final issue in the Alias follow-up. You can find it collected via the Amazon link provided [right].

Winners: Luke Cage & Knightress
(+2) #14 Luke Cage
(new) #275 Jessica Jones
(new) #767 The Owl

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