Scarlet 6, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
So this came out. It’s been over a year since the last issue Scarlet hit the shelves, and while I was under the impression that Bendis and Maleev had planned a break in-between story arcs, I don’t think it was planned to be THIS long a break. Bendis makes apologies for the delay in the letter column, saying that he was worried about crowd-sourced flash-mob revolutionary violence when the Occupy movement was sweeping the nation. Which… I don’t really care about the lateness so much. As I’ve said before, I’d rather wait for a good funnybook than get a bad one on time. And I suspect the delay had to do with Alex Maleev taking on better-paying corporate spandex work at Marvel (including a failed Moon Knight series with Bendis) as much as anything else.
But that Occupy story is kind of interesting. I remember making the comparison when that whole thing started. While Scarlet is protesting police corruption rather than corporate greed, the visuals (as you can see on the cover above) are frightfully similar. And (because how could he not?) Bendis also puts that similarity to work in the story itself, opening the issue on a black two-page spread featuring nothing but the following speech:
Where have I been? I’ve been planning. Where have YOU been? Oh, that’s right… You’ve been occupying. You’ve been screaming and yelling and carrying on. Living in tents. Jumping in front of cameras and letting the Bad Man have a good old piece of your mind. How did that work out for you? Now that it’s all over and done, and the dust is clear, the grass has grown back, you’re home safe and sound…
I’m not being condescending. I know you meant well. I’m asking you: Did anything change?
No. Nothing changed. Nobody learned a lesson. Nobody paid the price for their greed and corruption. Wall Street is still Wall Street. Corruption is still corrupt. The Big Money people who you were railing against own the airwaves that you were using to rail. They put you on their air and they laughed at you.
I’m saying: You tried your way. Now I’m going to try mine.
It’s a very savvy, very effective opening. It allows Bendis to differentiate between the (ultimately fruitless) peaceful demonstration of the Occupy movement, and the armed revolution that Scarlet’s fomenting. Peace gets you nowhere in our media-drenched plutocracy, Scarlet’s telling us, so it’s time to pick up your gun.
That’s a doubly fantastic opening when you consider Scarlet’s role as an unreliable narrator. Or, well… Not unreliable so much as manipulative. In previous issues, she’s “broken character,” pausing mid-scene to talk to the audience while the action freezes around her. In these breaks, she’s clearly talking to us from some point after the events of the story, and she doesn’t hesitate to manipulate our emotions to get us on her side. And that’s what’s happening here. Because, though the Occupy movement came and went between issues of this series, it’s pretty clear that not very much time has passed since the events of last issue. She takes us to task for not trying harder (whether we occupied anything or not), but does it gently enough that she doesn’t alienate us.
Which is good, because I think Bendis’ control slips a bit later on in the issue. He lets her slide into that cocky smart-ass patois he sometimes falls into for certain kinds of characters. She’s too flippant by half for such an earnest character, and it’s off-putting. When Scarlet and her crew take over a TV news broadcast, for instance, we get this scene:
Sure, it’s kinda funny, but… It’s not. She’s got a loaded gun pointed at that woman’s head, and she’s cracking wise about morning news puff pieces. Which would be fine in a lighter book, but just seems wrong here. I dunno. Maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe the earlier scene where she’s bantering with the mayor of Portland to armed accompaniment is worse, and it’s just coloring my opinion. Or maybe it’s that this is going on outside while Scarlet’s cracking wise for the cameras:
I don’t mean to over-state the problem. I enjoyed the issue quite a bit. But there are places where it feels like Bendis falling back on the cheap Bendis-isms he employs so glibly in his work-for-hire writing, and that’s rubbing me the wrong way in a book whose first five issues were as much about pushing the storytelling envelope as they were about the Glorious Scarlet Revolution.
But thankfully, there’s a bit of envelope-pushing going on here, too. Things switch over to storybook format for the backstory on Scarlet’s new revolutionary companion Isis, for instance, with typeset text accompanying big two-page spread paintings from Maleev. They’re spectacular to look at, and do a nice job of establishing Isis for us. Does this, after all, look like the face of a gun-toting revolutionary?
Well, it might. If that face then witnesses this happening to her beloved (and innocent) father:
Those aren’t the full spreads up there, by the way. Just massively blown-up details. If my pleadings didn’t move you to do so already, do yourself a favor and embiggen both of them. I like Maleev’s work in general, but he’s really out-done himself here. There’s a light, almost lacy feel to the brushstrokes in the first picture that captures Isis’ youthful innocence perfectly. Then he switches it up to brutally thick lines and queasy colors for the cops’ assault on her father. It’s a stunning transition, and one of the better uses of the double-page spread that I’ve seen in a while.
In fact… Courtesy of Bendis’ Tumblr… Here’s the assault spead in full:
A bit format-destroying, but worth it…
At any rate. While I may have felt that the script let us down a bit in comparison to previous issues, Maleev more than makes up for it. This was a good relaunch for the series, and well-worth my four bucks. Now, let’s just hope they stick with it rather than foist another Moon Knight off on their unsuspecting public…