It has been a good long while since we’ve seen the likes of “Scarlet” in shops, but I’ll say this: the way we “do” Pick of the Week here at MC is in a rotating position, with one writer having the task of picking that week’s book and then talking about it. Had this been my week, I’d have given it to “Scarlet” #6 hands down, no questions asked.
So, you know, that’s kind of a summary of the review in a way, isn’t it?
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Alex Maleev
Scarlet’s call to arms has been heard all over the world. And the world reacts. Can a modern revolution gain traction? And what will the government do to shut her down?
Those who remember “Scarlet” when it first launched may remember a slightly different book. “Scarlet” was one of those titles that was supposed to hail a return from Bendis to the realm of the creator-owned in par with his superhero work, something that went closer to his roots as a creator while offering him the chance to work with some of his comic book BFFs. Having Bendis and Alex Maleev together again in a full time gig was like getting monthly doses of Christmas, or whichever holiday you prefer, and it gave us the tragic tale of Scarlet Rue, spurned by the system and rising up against the corruption she sees in her every day. It’s the kind of book you’d expect to see from some young upstart creator looking to make a dent, yet came off as a sleek and refined book full of not-so-subtle commentary and gorgeous visuals.
Now it’s back, and it is decidedly back with a vengeance. In fact, “Scarlet” has come with a brand new shade of dark red attached to it, and while it was never particularly a tame book with its commentary, it seems more willing than ever to cut to the heart of the issues it seeks to address. The first page alone, a giant splash of black with Scarlet’s thoughts attached on the far right, brings us back into her world in a way much darker than before (no pun particularly intended). What’s different now is that the narration has become much more angry, and the passive recollection of events that had brought us to where we were had come from someone interested in telling a story; when a comic basically chastises you on its first page, it’s easy to see what daggers are being weld here.
Truth be told, the first five issues of “Scarlet” came out in a different cultural landscape than the world we currently live in, and the book has evolved to the point that it’s actually a bit surprising it isn’t billed as Volume 2 #1. The backmatter to the issue helps illuminate the ideas of the book even further, as Bendis takes the time to discuss the role that the Occupy movement played in his and Maleev’s lives, mentioning specific instances that the movement in Portland had an effect on him and the writing of the book. You might not necessarily think of Bendis or Maleev to be particular champions of the Occupy movement or even revolutionaries themselves, but “Scarlet” is filled with such passion and the path is illuminated so clearly that the end product very much stands out from the other offerings in Bendis’ current catalogue of comics. It’s now, to some extent, on the same level that a book like “Channel Zero” was, where it has some dark things to say and it’s not afraid to drop all subtext and get generally dark. This book is ready to become dangerous.
This isn’t to say that the book is completely without fault. It’s a great issue, definitely one of the best of the week, but there are quite a few moments that don’t play out as strongly as the creators may have hoped. One of the new characters, for instance, has a story that seems like it was picked right out of the big Ultimate crossover from Marvel that Bendis partook in, for better or worse. That and, to a certain extent, the ethos of the book seems ramped up to the extent that it is no longer as believable as it was once was. The first few issues of “Scarlet” told a story that seemed very grounded in reality, however weird or dark that reality might be, where all of the things that ramped the book up to eleven with its revolution seemed like it could very well happen in our world (and, well, did, to an extent). Now the events of the book seem more fictional, much less grounded, and more of a storybook revolution than a plausible one; things happen so conveniently for the titular heroine now, whereas before it was played off as a struggle, and while its still making very specific commentary related to the world we live in, the sequence of events don’t seem like anything we may actually see. It makes for an entertaining read, no doubt, but it also does change the digestion of a book to a rather large extent.Continued below
Suffice it to say, you should expect no less than A-Game from Bendis and Maleev. They’ve proven it time and time again when working together, with “Daredevil” and “Moon Knight,” but these are two creators who very much get each other. Presentation wise, this book is very similar to a lot of Bendis’ early work with titles like “Alias” in the way the book employs many rapid pace panels with hyper-emphasis on Mamet-esque dialogue (which, mind you, is present in his superhero work, but not to such a stylized fashion). Maleev, meanwhile, plays up the painted photo-realism of this book much stronger than before. His work has become so fine-tuned over the years that now with “Scarlet,” it almost appears that the book consists of photos that have simply been run through a Photoshop filter; they’re that on point and Maleev has clearly used the availability of a model to his advantage within the confines of the book. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
The return of “Scarlet” is definitely something to be celebrated. This was and still is a great book, and there’s honestly never been a better time for a book as dark or politically charged as this one. The America that exists in 2013 has grown to such a place that its nice to see two prominent creators creating a book that is not only a fine piece of fiction but a locked and loaded rifle, ready to fire. While it could certainly stand to ground itself more back into our world versus just getting lost in its own, this is certainly a can’t miss comic.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – Buy