Friday, July 09, 2010

Scarlet #1 – A Review

Scarlet #1

Publisher Icon

Writer Brian Bendis

Art Alex Maleev

Format 29 Pages of Story and Art
Price Point $3.95

I’m very conflicted about this book and I’m not sure if this is just incredible pretentious crap or whether this is the beginning of a unique book that could turn into a very strong series. Sometime a first issue is the absolute nadir of good series as they are just starting to find their voice and the rhythm of the book. Since Bendis in the back material stated that he was trying something different it would make sense that as the series progresses the book could be better. That does not solve all of the problems I have with the series, but it does at least give hope that this series will get better.

Before I get into the heart of the issues I have with the book, let’s talk about the look of the series. Alex Maleev is bringing his “A” game and since he is a photo realist I appreciated that he acknowledges who modeled for the series. As I am with the book, is how I feel about Maleev’s style. He knows how to tell a story and his work certainly has a noir quality to it that matches the tone of the book, but at times it feels like he does too many “computer effects” with his work and not enough pure art for my taste. No matter what it catches you eye, tells a good story. I wonder if this style of art will stand the test of time and be held in the same esteem many fans hold his work today.

The concept of the book is that Scarlet has learned that the world is broken and she wants to change it. Apparently the long term plan is that she starts a revolution in her city and it grows from there to being a worldwide event. The anarchist in me loves the idea and the old sixties/seventies hippy part of me thinks cool power to the people, the pragmatist in me thinks this is fanciful tripe and will not work for a long term series.

Now breaking this book down we start with her killing a man in an alleyway. She steals his money and finds out he was a cop. She apparently starts talking to herself perhaps, someone with her; no she is talking to us and breaking the fourth wall. 20 years ago it was an original idea in this book it came off as annoying. Comics eschewed the thought balloon years ago. It was mocked by many writers, but the narrative part of storytelling often demands we understand the thought process. We have seen the thought process return as when a character acts as a narrator or as their thoughts, now in caption boxes since the balloons are so silly and archaic. Using this gimmick all the way through the book is just another way of getting into the characters head and I guess making her seem real. At the end she tells us that she is going to stop it but we need to help her. Oh goody, goody, maybe if we clap our hands Tinkerbell will stay alive. I get that Bendis was trying something different, but this came off as phony, but I bet that the sycophant fans will laud this technique as ground breaking or some crap. It was used as a device to get us into her head and avoid thought balloons. It is contrived and should be dropped going forward. Bendis can do better by focusing on telling the story and bringing us into her head in other ways.

Let’s get back to the actual story she kills a cop because he grabbed her ass. In Baltimore we had a cop shoot someone nine times while off duty because he said the guy grabs her girl friend’s ass. He is in jail and the consensus was he over reacted. Next she sees some guy stealing a bike and she knees him in the face and whacks him with his chain cutting tool. As we go forward and learn more of her back story there is no explanation for the level of her violence against this people. I can only imagine her taking out grandma when she accidently litters in the street.

Then we learn why she figured out the world was broken. Subtlety was lost by Bendis in telling this story as he constantly made sure we knew why she thought everything was frelled up. The short version is her boy-friend gets killed by a bad cop. He is of course a white guy and drunk at the time or something as egregious. She is a happy bohemian type gal and also gets shot, but lives. Now she is back to start a revolution.

Even typing this up I’m starting to dislike this book even more. Based on what I read of the interview in the back Bendis wants to have her start the revolution and it grow into a worldwide event. I guess the idea is what happens if a grass roots revolution starting sweeping the world. How would that play out in today’s society?

I like the concept, the execution and foundation of this character sucked. Hell I want to start a revolution. I think the US has gone down a bad road since the last half of Regan’s second term and the two party systems in our country has continued to inure power while simultaneously selling out to corporate interests. I’m sick and tired of playing by the rules and feel like I get screwed by taxes and everything else, while the people who play the system get rich. We have a government which picks and chooses what laws to enforce and is mired in corruption. Our elected officials see themselves as rulers and not servants of the people. I could go on and on, my point is that her boy friend and her getting shot is not a real motivation for what she is starting. Her brutality to random strangers seems to be a behavior way out of line with trying to fix a broken world. The character of Scarlet is a hot chick with a gun being drawn by an artist with a name; otherwise she is house of cards and a shallow person seeking revenge on everyone for any perceived injustice. She is a vigilante of the worse type and it is masked with leather outfits, strong artwork and a good rack.

This review was an exercise for me to determine what I thought of the book and I think I have figured it out, a good base concept, great art, but the core of the concept is paper thin and poorly executed. Let’s see if they can make this book better in issue #2, I still have hope that the overall concept can make this book rise above its birth.

Overall Grade – F. Scarlet is a great concept that failed to hit the mark.


  1. Guys, don't listen to Ron Paul. This book is the jam.

  2. The jam between your toes at best.

  3. I kind of got that since she was shot in the head that she might be a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

    OR that the cop had something to do with the OTHER cop.

    It might not be your "thing" but as a first issue I thought you were a bit harsh.

  4. I did get harsh and believe it or not I did not start out wielding a knife. It was a case of the more I logically started thinking about it, the more I realized that I thought it missed the mark by a wide margin.

  5. Whether or not she's a bit off, the cop was trying to forcibly coerce her into having sex with him. Its fair enough to argue how extreme the act was, but its a bit worse than him grabbing her ass.

    Regardless, I think this was a excellent book and I don't think Bendis gets enough credit for his willingness to experiment. (Yes, yes, I am a sycophant fan I suppose) The fourth wall breaking is not simply an aside and in addition to exposition, it is being used to communicate how off kilter Scarlet is. I would also hope the last page indicates that Bendis is planning on doing more with it than just a cute narrative device. The way he tells the story of her life was also fantastic. It summed up her character in like 2 or 3 pages, and I don't think I've ever seen anything like that technique before.

    With the exception of Grant Morrison, I honestly can't think of a mainstream comic writer of today's generation who experiments with the form and function of comics as much as Bendis.

  6. Greg - Re-read the first few pages. She never said he was trying to forcibly have sex with her. His actions were crude, but even she never said he tried to rape her.

    I think you are mistaking excellence for good art and a slightly different way of writing a book. Logically strip it down and I think it falls apart.

    Experimentation is fine, but some succeed and some fail.

  7. "He told me he was going to bust me unless 'I did him a favor.'"

    That's not coercing someone into having sex?

    I think this is a really good, entertaining book and it really reminded me of alot of Bendis' earlier work.

    I'm not sure if the main character is supposed to be a bit crazy after the gunshot or not (both are entirely likely), but after what happened in Oakland this week, I'm not sure the world this creates is that outrageous or illogical. Certainly the book is internally consistent. Obviously alot of it will depend on where he goes with the 4th wall breaking, but I am hoping the last page indicates he is planning on doing more with it than just narrating to the reader.

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  9. A threat of arresting you for not having sex is bad and an abuse of power, not something I would see as an offense that you should kill over. If by Oakland you are talking about the cop shooting the person in the back, well that is a lot further down a bad road then asking for sex or I will arrest you. Then her actions with the guy stealing the bike were way out of proportion also. Can't wait till she nails you for the rolling stop at the stop sign.

    I can see why you thought it was entertaining because I was almost with you and then I started to write up a review to resolve my conflicted feelings towards the book and I ended up on the side that says it was a failure.

    I will say there is enough in the first issue that it could get better and become an interesting series. Some of the concepts and ideas are interesting, but the fourth wall stuff was overdone.

    Compared to Killer, Scalped, Criminal, Echo, Locke and Key, American Vampire, Northlanders, Daytripper, Stumptown and others this book is far from being a good book.

  10. Ha.

    The more I read it the more I liked it.

    More Scarlet now please.

  11. Shawn - To each his own I guess, but do you rank it with Scalped, Killer and others of that ilk or just think it is good?

    Ultimately how the series develops will make or break the series, but I can't hang out very long unless I see improvement immediately.