SCARLET #1 by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Joshua Reed, and Curtis King Jr.
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Bendis and Maleev bring back their creator-owned, anti-authority revolutionary at an interesting time in the world. The art is gorgeous and Scarlet's voice is very well defined by her writer.
90 %
Viva Revolution!
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Back in 2010, when SCARLET debuted for Marvel’s Icon Comics imprint, life was different. America was recovering from an economic crisis, and Occupy Wall Street would start up a few months later. SCARLET came about while Brian Michael Bendis was at the height of his writing prowess and locked in with the zeitgeist. A lot has happened in the near decade since Bendis introduced us to Scarlet Rue. Including the fact that Mr. Bendis is now a DC writer. A good artist adapts to changes in the world, and Bendis has done so in this new SCARLET #1.

Portland Vs. the World

SCARLET #1
SCARLET #1 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

SCARLET #1 starts off where the previous volume left off: our heroine has declared war on the corrupt American government. Her foes respond by cutting Portland off from the rest of the country; shutting down electricity and blowing up bridges. The issue begins with a haunting look at the world of SCARLET. We follow three Portlanders in the new world. One of them is shot, and a short skirmish ensues. These are normal people, having to fight a guerilla war, and they’re fully aware of it.

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We then follow Scarlet as she breaks the fourth wall (a staple of the series), informing readers new and old on what’s been happening in Portland and how the people are dealing with the change. Most who stayed behind are supporters and followers of Scarlet’s cause, while some are Portland citizens who merely didn’t want to abandon home. The government isn’t just ignoring the city though, as a nearby missile strike proves. Scarlet’s army is eager to fight back, and they shoot down a drone tracking them. Just as that happens, a paratrooper shows up — pleading not to be shot — with a phone in hand and a message from the US Government: “We want to negotiate.”

The Times They Are A-Changin’

As I said earlier, SCARLET first arrived in a time of social unrest and societal difficulty. The world she comes back to has progressed past that moment, and not necessarily for the better. Regardless of where we each stand politically; most people still stand somewhere, and very definitively.

We live in a time of emotionally charged politics; the discourse is highly vitriolic, and sometimes I feel like there’s another civil war coming given how adamantly people are digging metaphorical trenches around their beliefs. One could argue that Scarlet’s Portland is an allegory for this sort of entrenchment, made literal by this fictional version of a real-life city. Scarlet herself is supposed to represent the “woke” SJW activist protester. Early on in her monologue, she talks about watching LINCOLN and having the realization that the country has been rotten since it’s inception due to the hypocrisies of its past.

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It just comes off a bit forced. Like Scarlet just cracked open a history book and realized what was going on a few short days ago; suddenly she’s a modern-day revolutionary guerrilla hero with thousands of admirers ready to fight and die for her, like some modern-day Joan of Arc. There are people who have been fighting for civil rights for decades, and this young 20 something doesn’t even acknowledge that. That’s one of the downfalls of being new to this series; it would probably read different if you started from the first volume. A new reader (or someone who hasn’t read the original series in a while) gets some sense of what happened before this issue, but not a full understanding of the character’s history.

The Revolution Will Be Illustrated (Gorgeously)

The artwork of Alex Maleev really stands out. The gritty realistic style meshes well with the environs of a wartorn Portland. The photo referencing is spot on and works well for a series like this, which is based on real-life locales. Brian Michael Bendis has always been great with dialogue, which proves true here. Scarlet’s dialogue flows naturally, and we get to know her character very well through her monlogue. Bendis gives us a great look into her mind as she prepares to fight an intractable enemy.

SCARLET #1
SCARLET #1 page 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The creative team suggests in a letter at the end of SCARLET #1 that this is a great jumping on point, I disagree. I highly recommend seeking the first two volumes to give yourself a better context and history of the character. It’s a credit to the team that, after reading this issue, I lamented the fact that I couldn’t easily access my copies of the original run. I’m eager to put all the pieces back together and enjoy the series as a whole.

Final Thoughts on SCARLET #1

SCARLET #1 does a very good job of being a first issue: it establishes Scarlet Rue, the world she lives in, and her cause. We get a few exciting moments and an excellent cliffhanger. The art is gritty, dirty, and realistic, which is what a series like this needs. It’s not completely standalone from the rest of the series, but I think you’ll finish this book and be eager for the next issue. You’ll probably want to track down the rest of the series, which is a compliment to both Bendis and Maleev. The series is highly political; so if that’s not your thing, I suggest steering clear. Otherwise, it’s a fantastic read!

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