By Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist)
I hate Bendis Comics.
Longtime readers of my reviews are by now well-versed in my contempt for Bendis and the slew of crappy superhero comics he’s inflicted on the Marvel Universe. I hate his high concepts and mediocre executions, I hate having to sit through page after page of characters talking like morose soap opera stars when they should be beating each other into bloody pulps, and I hate the way the industry idolizes him for making Superheroes a painfully uninteresting genre to indulge in.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Truth be told, I started out as a huge admirer of Bendis’s crime fiction. Jinx, Goldfish, Torso…hell, even Fortune & Glory made me smile. In those stories Bendis had a clear passion for what he was doing. Coupled with innovative panel designs and his trademark dialogue, Bendis churned out original works that had shit to do with superheroes but were every bit as exciting and worthwhile to read. With Scarlet, I’m pleased to say that Bendis is making a return to his roots, or at least vacationing there for the summer, and finally telling a story that matters. Make no mistake about it: Scarlet is damn good.
You ever have one of those days where you’re on your way to work in the morning, fighting your way through shitty traffic, and some asshole in a Mercedes cuts you off without even thinking about it and you’re suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to speed up and cut him off for payback? You ever have one of those days where your local McDonald’s tells you to pull forward and wait so they can make you one goddamn cheeseburger and you tell them hell no, it’s called fast food for a reason, asshole? You ever have one of those days where you realize the deck is stacked against you and the world is not a nice place, but you still want to put your foot down, give the world The Finger, and tell everyone and everything that you will not be bullied and not be a victim any longer? If so, then this is your comic.
Last issue, we saw what triggered Scarlet’s rage and revolution against the machine: the unwarranted and unprovoked harassment of herself and her friends at the hands of cops and murder of her boyfriend by one Officer Gary Dunes. This month, we find out why Gabriel was murdered, and the revelation is enough to make you want to join Scarlet in her crusade without question because the indignation she endures at the hands of a system that was put in place to protect is something we all instinctively empathize with and understand on some level, because we’ve all been screwed by higher powers at some point in our lives and have wanted to seek the kind of revenge that Scarlet is hell-bent on finding, and in watching her pursue her mission, we get live vicariously through her while maintaining our lives of quiet mediocrity.
Bendis’s dialogue is at home in a long form story like this, where little actually happens from issue to issue, but the dialogue sustains the narrative and keeps the reader engaged. I’ve read critics lambast the way that Scarlet breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the readers, but I for one applaud Bendis’s decision to take the story in this direction, as I feel it creates a stronger emotional connection to Scarlet and her dilemma when she is actually talking to you about it and you’re not simply reviewing it in a series of captions in each panel. Painfully, we can’t help but watch and be captivated by this young woman as she come to terms with the injustice and cruelty that exists in our world, and as she struggles to understand and conquer the circumstances that have ruined her life, part of each of us wants her to succeed where we secretly know we have failed in similar moments in our own lives. There are real ideas in this story and themes that we can’t help but identify with. This is the kind of writing I want to see more of from Bendis.
Maleev is the kind of artist you’re either going to love or hate. I happen to rather like his stuff, and with the help of the (I’d like to imagine) stunningly beautiful model Iva, he brings Scarlet’s character to life in a way that is tragic and real. The world Maleev creates through his modeled panels is gritty and urban and real. Hell, it’s our world, and although his panels lack any significant sense of motion and action, that’s okay because the way they’re designed and married with Bendis’s dialogue creates an intensity that moves you quickly through the issue.
I like this comic. I really, really like it. I like seeing Bendis and Maleev working together again after their stellar run on Daredevil, and I like the way this book utterly pulls me into Scarlet’s tragedy makes me sympathize with her rage against the same kind of injustice in life that you and I have experienced in life to lesser degrees but hate just as much. I don’t give a shit about Avengers, but I’ll gladly support this book. Not to be missed!