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Scarlet Has Us Seeing Red
Bendis & Maleev Start Another Revolution!
By Chad Derdowski
March 23, 2011
Imagine losing the person you love violently and unexpectedly. It’s not a new scenario for fans of superhero comics and pulp fiction; it’s actually a fairly routine beginning to an origin story. It’s the type of thing that happens every day, whether you live in a world full of tights and capes or, unfortunately, the one we all inhabit every day of our lives. The world of Scarlet, brought to us by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev and published under Marvel’s Icon imprint, bears a much stronger resemblance to the real world than the one we read about in superhero comics, though like the worlds of Marvel or DC comics, it does feature a protagonist who chooses to fight back against injustice after she loses everything she holds dear and finds her world torn apart.
It always surprises us when we hear readers profess a love of Bendis’ work on Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man or Avengers yet have never checked out his books that don’t take place in the Marvel Universe. Especially Powers, as it features a pretty fresh look at a superhero-populated world… but that’s neither here nor there. Today, we’re going to tell you about Scarlet and why we think it’s worth your time to check it out (but while we’re at it, if you haven’t read Powers, you really ought to – if you think Bendis’ Marvel stuff is good, Powers will leave you scraping chunks of brain off of your comic shop walls).
So anyway, Scarlet… here’s the nutshell version: Remember that movie The Legend of Billie Jean? The one from 1985 with Helen Slater and that awesome Pat Benatar song? Where the bullies smash up Billie Jean’s younger brother’s scooter and she demands payment and the whole thing spirals into a media frenzy, with Billie Jean cast as something of an outlaw martyr and symbol of youth empowerment? Well, if that movie had a baby with Fight Club and that baby was raised by V for Vendetta, that’s sorta what Scarlet is like. And if you haven’t seen any of those movies, you really should, ‘cause they’re great. Okay, the Legend of Billie Jean isn’t all that great, but it has a special place in our heart, y’know?
Back to Scarlet… it’s about a young woman in Portland who finds herself on the receiving end of a corrupt society in the form of a cop who kills her boyfriend, who happens to be innocent of any crimes. Said officer of the law doesn’t find himself reprimanded in any fashion and Scarlet, rather than taking it lying down, decides to take action. She pushes back against the corrupt police force, they push back against her and a shoving match of wills begins to take place. Next thing you know, a revolution is slowly but surely underway. But don’t take our word for it, listen to the guy who wrote it:
"This story is not a political statement, but I feel like there's such anger in the world. There're so many protests… There are people protesting all the time. Their feelings are genuine and they're angry about a variety of things, like economics, corporatizing, politics and sexuality. A protest might make that person feel good for a moment, but it's never done anything for anyone," Bendis continued. "So I thought, for my story, 'What if this person who wanted to stand up said, "I'm not protesting. I'm actually going to fight back."' So Scarlet fights back to the point that her struggle becomes what this country was built on, a revolution. So how would our country and the world react to something like that?"
Of course, in today’s charged political climate, a book like this kinda touches on a nerve or two and is bound to get the reader a little riled up, despite Mr. Bendis’ claims to the contrary. The nice thing is, Scarlet’s story is broad enough that we figure conservatives and liberals alike ought to find something in it that speaks to them. It’s a book about finding justice in a terribly unjust world. It’s also about the confusing nature of that justice: as the supporting cast (as well as the readers) will find, Scarlet is the protagonist, but that doesn’t necessarily make her the hero. Whether her cause, and the way she goes about enacting it, are just is entirely subjective. And that, in our opinion, makes it a pretty damn compelling book.
You know what else makes it pretty damn compelling? The dream team of Bendis and Maleev. While we don’t love everything Brian Michael Bendis has written, but we sure do like everything he’s done with Alex Maleev. These guys are like chocolate and peanut butter and Maleev’s photorealistic style is perfectly suited to a title like this one and even better, he’s coloring his own work here, so you get an added bonus as his art branches out in a familiar-yet-unique new direction. And in an interesting turn, Scarlet breaks the fourth wall. The book is narrated by the main character, who actually speaks to the reader during the action, assuring us that everything in the story is true (further adding to the whole “is she a hero or villain?” vibe of the book).
Scarlet kicked off in July of 2010 and has been published bi-monthly, so it’s not entirely unreasonable to assume that you’ll be able to find all four issues that have been released thus far. Or you could just wait for the first trade. Either way, if you’re a fan of crime fiction, revolution and really sweet artwork, or if anything we’ve described above appeals to you, you probably ought to give Scarlet a shot.