by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (art), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)
The Story: We meet Scarlet, our protagonist, a girl who’s had enough with a broken world.
What’s Good: As a concept, Scarlet should be applauded. It’s a bold move on the part of Bendis and Maleev and a pretty big creative risk. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comic so completely disregard the fourth wall, as protagonist Scarlet literally talks at the reader for more or less the entirety of the book.
The result is that a certain connection is fostered between reader and Scarlet that carries a strong intimacy. I found Scarlet to have a strong voice and I felt privy to the various nuances and complexities of a rounded, fully realized personality. It’s also neat how all of this dialogue between reader and character leads to a sort of relentless stream of consciousness. This led to greater immersion and an increased humanity and vulnerability on the part of Scarlet.
Without a doubt, this unique form of narration is at its very best when Bendis steers a bit from just having the character talk at us, and has her instead narrate a flashback of her life. The fact that it’s not just straight, traditional narration but an intermingling of textboxes and Scarlet talking to the reader directly makes the flashback feel more involved and laden with emotion. When we see Scarlet, in telling her story, speaking lines of dialogue from the flashback, it’s clear that Bendis is onto something special.
As always, Maleev’s work is slick and realistic. His take on Scarlet helps as well. She truly stands out and feels very much alive. Maleev take on the environments also mirrors Scarlet’s mindset: in the present, it’s dirty and grey while in the flashback, it’s golden and sunny.
What’s Not So Good: Unfortunately, having a character talk directly to the reader doesn’t always lead to excitement. Until the flashback starts up, about half the issue is a rambling monologue. And because Bendis is experimenting with the character speaking directly to the reader where possible, instead of traditional textboxes, this also means that most of this monologue is just a series of illustrations of Scarlet walking towards the reader, or staring at the reader. It’s basically several pages of images of the same person as she talks about her state of mind and it feels stagnant.
This also means that we never get to see Alex Maleev at his best. With so much time spent on Scarlet’s talking to us, he never really gets to expand his scope or really cut loose.
It’s also worth noting that this issue is really, really chatty. Even I, a Bendis fan, found it a little heavy on the meandering chatter. This also leads to an issue that, as far as plot progression goes, is truly glacial.
I still have only the faintest idea of what this book is going to be about. In fact, I don’t have much more of an idea than I had when I’d read the solicitations. The last splash is great and suggests an intriguing direction, but it’s the same message we got from the solicitation for this issue and so is hardly revelatory. Considering the amount of narration and talking, this is pretty frustrating. Basically, we get to know a little about Scarlet’s past and….that’s pretty much it. Particularly for a first issue, precious little happened.
Conclusion: A great concept, but this felt like a #0 issue stretched to 29 pages.