Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by co-creator Alex Maleev
A corrupt cop kills a teen boy over drugs that he did not have. His girlfriend gets hit too, but survives. This is her story and what happens after.
Icon Comics is an imprint of Marvel for creator-owned titles that has given us Oerming/Bendis’ “Powers”, Phillips/Brubakers’ “Criminal” and Millars’ “Kick-Ass” just to name a few, and now you can add Maleev/Bendis’ ‘Scarlet’ to that list.
The cover of the book can be deceiving, and yet a very clever way for readers to pick up this book because initially you see a hot girl in leather with a gun. When you open the book and begin reading you realize that lead character Scarlet is deeper, intelligent and a hero (?). She is definitely NOT a superhero (though the origin of her heroism starts off a your typical superhero tale). Think of Scarlet as a female Frank Castle/Punisher, a female set to make the world a better place through her over the top vigilantism, but all the while she is still vulnerable, she still has a heart and she never loses focus as to why she started her own personal revolution.
If I had to make a comparison of another strong female character to Scarlet, I would say that Scarlet would be a lot like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that it is their NEED to do what they do as opposed to a want, and that there is still a humanity about them. They are invested in their “work” but are still people, still vulnerable and still have emotions.
The story of Scarlet takes a stand against the injustices in the world, using extreme measures, which ends up igniting a fire of a social revolution. She doesn’t want to die while on her crusade to expose the corruption of the world, but is prepared to do so if it happens; she is not prepared to become a leader for those that stand with her in her cause because she feels she is just as broken as the world she lives in.
This story is told in first person narration for the most part. Scarlet, and another character later on, break the fourth wall to explain to us, the reader, what/why/how all of this is happening (not in a funny ha-ha Deadpool way). In breaking the fourth wall and having these characters literally talk to us, it makes us feel involved somehow. Not just involved in the story, but almost like we are involved in her crusade, like we are her silent partner, or even her diary, we become part of the story. She trusts us with her secrets, she confides in us, letting us know why she is doing what she did, opening up to us about her past, and confessing her “sins”.
The pacing is great with enough necessary flashbacks of some background for Scarlet, but not too much to take away from or slow down the story. The flashbacks are melded in with the present time of the story so well and for such a short yet impacting period of time that it enhances the dramatic tension you feel while reading the story. That’s the best way I can describe what you feel as you read the story, tension. You literally feel it. Though it follows the formula of knowing what is going on with the secondary characters as well as the primary character to create a suspenseful story, somehow Scarlet talking to you throughout the story brings you in more than any other story I‘ve ever read. Since you know everything that is going on, you almost feel like yelling at the pages to tell her what is going on.
The artwork by co-creator Alex Maleev is just gorgeous. It’s a photo realistic style but with a gritty, almost sketchbook like outline that compliments the roughness of the story. I’d recommend this book solely for artists to show how much the artwork can really add to the story. If this were drawn and colored any other way the story would’ve lacked something. This artwork and story was a beautiful marriage of artistic and written creativity.
A great thing about this hardcover is that instead of the typical hardcover with a slip jacket, we get the cover printed right on the book, ‘Scarlet‘ is that special of a book and character. While this is a 5-issue collection, it does come with an art gallery of all the standard & variant covers to ‘Scarlet‘, the entire first script from Bendis (including a letter from him to Maleev about the character & story) and includes Maleev’s sketches on the script for the first issue. As an aspiring writer, I love getting graphic novels that show the creative process, to see the many different styles and aesthetics that great writers like Bendis use for a comic book script, and for artists it is very influential to see Maleev’s sketches, to see how a comic book artist does it, as well as see the many variations of ‘Scarlet’ given by other comic book artists in the cover gallery.
As I read the book one think kept coming to my mind for this review, that if I had to sell this book to you in one sentence, I would say: That Scarlet is like ‘The Legend of Billie Jean’ in the new millennium with an ‘Elektra: Assassin’ art feel.
4 out of 5 nerds