Monday, July 12, 2010

Scarlet #1 and Casanova #1 - Icon Debuts Review

The latest addition to the Marvel Icon imprint and a new creator owned project for Brian Michael Bendis, as well as being the first for Alex Maleev, launched this week and prior to opening it all I knew was that it was about a girl who was going to take on the world. And that’s exactly what it is as we meet Scarlet, a young lass who has fallen on hard times, and we learn who she is and why she wants to fight back. I thought this issue was a stellar example of what a comic can be. You can also re/discover Casanova which launched in 2006 and yet here we get the first issue on the shelves, again. Though this time it’s from Icon and it’s got new back matter, and a new 8 page back up story and it’s been recoloured, and has new hand lettering. Is it worth picking up, whether you’re new to the title or not? Hit the jump to find out, I have a few answers.

Scarlet #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t even added this comic to my pull list. I was pretty sure I was going to buy it but I wanted to get into the store first, feel its weight in my hands, flip through it a little. Let it romance me; and it certainly put its woo on. It’s a thick comic, and there are absolutely no ads, except for those Bendis throws in for his own other works. The artwork is gorgeous, but with Maleev on show I was never in any doubt about that, and the cover alone made it all worthwhile. My LCS had an absolute bundle of issues and so I feel sorry for those who got stung with a sell out before they could get to it because this is one damn fine debut issue.

We meet Scarlet in an alleyway choking a cop and taking his wallet. She than starts talking to us, and she does so in square captions which is interesting because on first reading in missed that the captions changed appearance from the usual round ones when she broke the fourth wall and addressed, the humble reader. Yeah, stuff like that usually escapes me, I’m an idiot. I didn’t notice the direction of the captions telling us she was speaking to us, I simply understood when I was being addressed through what she was saying and it didn’t affect my understanding at all of what was occurring. So we have the main character of this comic talking to us, personally, and she does it a lot.

Probably the first third of the comic is just Scarlet talking to us, letting us know what the situation is. I found this to be worked extremely well by Bendis as she sounds like a real person. A real person who herself is pretty conflicted with who she’s talking to, and hoping she’s not crazy. I can see how many would find this excessive, pages of her talking and not much else, but I kind of liked it. It’s one third of an issue and I instantly feel like I know the girl. There’s even a great moment where she asks for a minute and then pauses for a panel while thinking. Maleev and Bendis do this control of time and interaction extremely well throughout the whole issue. It certainly worked for me.

We then get the entire history of Scarlet in a sequence that is probably one of my favourite comic sequences in a long time. I’m sure many bemoaned this effect but there are 3 pages where we get all we need to know about Scarlet in 9 panel grids of most important moments; ‘birth’, ‘first best friend’, first drink’, and her ‘favourite thing in the world’. It might seem exploitative to throw in something like ‘first orgasm’ in there or ‘first experiment’ (where she….well, experiments) but I think this only further shows us the character of Scarlet, these are the important things in her life, in her world. I’ve give these 3 pages an A+ and thought it gave us so much about this one girl.

We then get the moment that began all of this. Scarlet is hanging out on some steps with her other friends and suddenly some very crooked cops make things uncomfortable. They manage to land themselves in serious trouble very quickly and easily and yet the whole scene read as pretty believable to me. And just as they think they’ve gotten away, tragedy strikes. It’s brutal and quick and Scarlet is lucky to survive.

We see Scarlet as she woke in the hospital, the story already in the news with the complete police spin on it, and she’s not happy. She’s also been seriously wounded and is with a shaved head so that tells me that the moment between her waking up after the attack and the moment at the start of the comic where she strangles that cop are probably a few months apart if her hair is any indication. We aren’t shown what has happened in that time, yet, and so I’m assuming a few plot holes will be filled when we see that time. Where does she get her weapons? How does she formulate this plan to take on the establishment? How does she go from a simple girl with love hearts in her eyes to the bad ass with the garrotte and the ability to drop a knee into some guys face without remorse? That’s all stuff to come but right now we know we have a girl who had a simple and relatively uncomplicated life who now finds herself completely stuck on the one complication that took away her love and her faith in any sort of authority.

It’s funny, when you lay the story out in only its actions it sounds pretty thin, and it kind of is, but it’s the everything else that you learn that wins me over. This comic is not just what is being said but how it is being said. This comic is an exercise in storytelling techniques and it’s succeeding in so many ways that it almost isn’t fair. It felt like I was reading this comic for at least half an hour, and sure some of that time was taken up with Bendis’ personal back matter, but hell, that’s still part of the price and I appreciate it, but aside from that the actual comic pages felt like perfect value for money. In one issue I came to know all that the main character was, her past and her beliefs, just through economy of storytelling and a great sense of the writer knowing exactly who this woman is. I now get to go on a journey with her, and with all this fourth wall busting conversation I certainly feel like I’m with her, and see the person she is about to become and contrast the character growth and arc we are being shown.

Maleev’s art is absolutely spot on in this issue as he captures the acting of the characters well. Sure, he’s able to do that because he uses models and photo referencing (even with a credit for Scarlet, the girl’s name is Iva) but that doesn’t bother me. Maleev uses these models as his point of reference but then he goes and does his own thing as well, which I think he does really well. He adds his own colours and shades to make the image his own and I think this style, as much as he made it suit their Daredevil collaboration, is perfect for this tale. It’s part chick pulp and part world issue discussion and Maleev brings enough realism to make the violence and the emotion counts and enough comic line art to make it feel that this story could only ever be told here, on the page, and by him.

Bendis is a writer who I’m never guaranteed to like but he’s completely grabbed me with this first issue. His voice for Scarlet is dead on and his premise is top shelf. He’s mentioned Network plenty of times but I got a mixed feeling of True Romance, David Fincher, and Luc Besson when he isn’t trying to be Luc Besson. This story is going to have plenty of gristle in it but that emotional set up of heart is always going to be in the back of my mind. This girl had a love, and a life, and now she’s putting it down because someone spoiled it and she needs to become an ideal to not even fix it but to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. It'll also be interesting to note if she's just whack-job crazy. A twist that could introduce plenty of drama, but we'll have to wait and see.

This is the sort of hyperkinetic retro-noir title that makes me thank the overlords and shareholders that there is an Icon imprint, and this only makes that stable all the more chock full of quality. It’s a comic that stands out from the crowd and is going to offer something that I doubt Bendis will serve up in any of his Marvel U titles. And so this is the Bendis for me. Seeing as this is shipping bi-monthly, alternately with Powers, I can easily make room for this in my pull list now and I’d hate to have to wait a year, or more, for the trade.

I mentioned the back matter but I need to really take a paragraph to explain exactly all that was on offer. This thing packs it in like you've just bought a trade and I, being a back matter guy, certainly appreciate that. We get a text piece from Bendis, which will soon be the letter column once he gets some letters, and it's interesting to see what he thinks of this title and what he wants to do with it. We then get an interview with him that was featured on IGN, so that's kind of cool. We get two pages of script with images sketched onto them, then we get 3 Scarlet variant cover images, one each by David Mack, David LaFuente, and Mike Deodato. They're all really gorgeous, and different, images but my favourite bit was Bendis listing what he's been enjoying lately, including games, comics, tv, movies, and the iPad. It's a cool insight into a creator, though it won't give you any more information about this comic. I find that I usually want something personal in the back matter and Bendis does not mind being candid at all. Just a shame that Bendis didn't catch the typo in the third paragraph, ha. But something in this comic had to be off so if it's one word in the back matter then that should tell you something.

Verdict – Must Read. I don’t hand this verdict down much so I am in all seriousness when I dictate it here. People always complain about being given the same old thing with comics, well here’s just one of your prescriptions for that particular malady. Scarlet is almost working to define itself by the barriers it can cross but it also serves up an interesting origin to a story that I am definitely on board for. One woman against the world, except it seems that she won’t be alone for long and I think that will make for some interesting conflict. It might be overly talky but it still delivers a portrait of a person in full that you don’t often get in one issue. I can’t guarantee that this story will be for everyone but I do get the feeling this collaboration is going to prove to be important before it is finished, mark my words on that, it might just be one of Bendis' most important works and one of the many defining additions to Icon.

Casanova #1
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Gabriel Ba with a Fabio Moon back up
Colours by Cris Peters
Letters by Dustin K. Harbin

Casanova is a brilliant title, of this I am absolutely certain. I have read it all before (well, except for issue 9, I never managed to get that on release and then it disappeared from space/time) and I loved it completely. It’s a gorgeous looking book with fantastic words and plot. It’s just about perfect. For every lover of Casanova, and rarely do people only like it, they seem to only love it, there are people who found themselves completely unaffected by it. It came across as strange or unconnected and they never went back. Now they have a chance to get back in, so should they take it?

I would think that anyone who hasn’t read Casanova should be dipping their toe this time, it’s a $3.99 comic and you get 28 pages of story, and an 8 page back up, and 3 pages of text back matter. That’s not bad darts no matter how you look at it. I think the story still holds up well, we meet Casanova Quinn and he’s a bit of a bastard. He’s a thief and then his sister dies, he gets dragged out of his reality, finds out Newman Xeno has been collecting Casanova’s from different realities to attack one time line and now he’s in a bit of a pickle. By the end of the issue we get the complete set up that Casanova is going to become a rogue double agent and we see the major parameters of his universe. It’s like someone took the Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. wrangled it through a Dali lens and then sprinkled on some free love 70’s pulp. It’s great.

The new colours make the issue pop, we get more depth to the world, we get the true sense of the psychedelia on offer and I think this was a smart idea. The new lettering is interesting in that I’m not a lettering guru but I know what I like, and I’m not sure I like this. Too often I found letters running together, l-i combos looking like u’s, that sort of thing, but in the end it won’t ruin my reading experience, I just don’t know that it enhanced it for me.

It’s a great intro issue, always was, and continues to be. I hope many gave it a go because it really is smart and funny comics. Then we get the extras. Seeing Fabio Moon’s 8 page story reminds me that I do prefer him on this title than his twin brother, Gabriel Ba, There’s not a major difference, they’re both awesome, but Moon just pips him with a cleaner line. The short tale centres on a bit player in the first story, the night nurse. Fraction pens a great tale and I really thought it added something extra to the overall world he has built. The pages feel like their layout is a lot looser than Ba’s work and the tone and backgrounds paint a more lovey vibe, which fits the character perfectly. I’m glad I got this issue just to get that story. Sure, you can live without it and it’s not necessary to get everything else but I don’t think I could have lived without it. I love Casanova so much that I needed to get this issue and I have no regrets supporting this title.

The text piece from Fraction is more about the inspirations of this title for him than the previous more personal pieces about how, where, and why he was writing it when the issues first came out through Image. Fraction lets us know which movies and comics he feels would make great companion pieces to the Casanova comic and it’s a nice piece to hopefully broaden some horizons. It feels a lot like the back matter we also find in Criminal and Incognito from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. It’ a checklist for further enjoyment of this type of fiction, so that’s nice.

Verdict – Must Read. I know, you probably saw that coming but I can’t stand behind this comic enough. It is genius, it is classy comics, and it is certainly worth buying a second time. I only hope so many more people decide to buy it as their first. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the bubble gum spy-fu on offer.

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Kevin said...

I'm interested in picking up Scarlett just because it seems people are mixed, either they love it or hate it which I guess is normal for a Bendis penned comic. I am going to have to try it out. Maleev's art is a big plus as I loved his work on Daredevil and Spider-Woman.

I have never read Cassanova and you have convinced me to give the first issue a try.

Great reviews Ryan.

Brandon Whaley said...

Ha, Ryan you were right when you said I'd find this review interesting. It seems everything you liked about Scarlet is what turned me away from it. I'm normally pretty against breaking the fourth wall, unless its done in a subtle way, and having Scarlet talk at me honestly felt like I was having a one-sided chat with Bendis, with me being unable to get a word in edgewise. In all honesty, the 3-page spread with her life story almost made me stop reading. While it was a bit of brevity that I could appreciate from Bendis once in a while, it still somehow came across as heavy-handed to me.
As far as the art goes, this is the closest I've ever come to liking Maleev. The art fits the tone of the story very well. However, its still Maleev and his gritty, photo-referenced style still has the taste of bad photoshopping to me. I realize I'm in the minority on this, but I doubt I'll ever truly enjoy his artwork.
It's interesting to see why you liked this. I get it now, even if I don't understand it haha.

natureboyHH said...

With Casanova, I went in expecting a spy-thriller like Secret Warriors but, to my surprise, this first issue already required full attention. The story is intriguing and a bit intelligent, so its a great deal for $3.99. I wouldn't have given it a try if it weren't for the Hype Machine, so thanks guys.

I forgot where I saw it, but I read a review that compared bits of Scarlet to The Nightly News. I highly doubt that, but with all the positive reviews I've been reading, Scarlet might be worth it. However, I might trade wait it. Unlike his Avengers work, Bendis is very deliberate (a very slow burn) when writing titles like this. Scarlet might read better when collected.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@natureboyHH - glad we got you through the gate on Casanova, I love hearing about people who have bought stuff based on the words found here. We're making a difference, slowly but surely.

As for tradewaiting Scarlet, it's going to publish bi-monthly, so it'll be a year before the trade hits. I know there's no way I could wait that long for this story, but I think you'll be fine if you do.

@Brandon - yeah, you see my point of view just can't agree with it, I guess that happens in review sites that aren't impartial, thanks for being a champ about it ;)

Brandon Whaley said...

@Ryan - No problem. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean you shouldn't. I honestly hope it and Casanova both do well. I'm a fan of the Icon imprint and I'd like to see it thrive.

Man, I really need to pick up Casanova.

Brian Dickey said...

Excellent reviews for both stories Sir Lindsay. I wasn't sure how I would feel about colored Casanova when I heard about it a few months ago, and so soon after I picked up the first trade last fall, but they make an already excellent series just pop even better. As if that was possible. The new hand lettering ramps up the reading to a new level of frantic pacing. And finally getting to see Moon on the series (haven't been able to get the original volume two) was just sexy, like seeing Daytripper with spies and sex.

Also picked up Scarlet, the story was definitely on the money. This seems like the kind of playground Bendis is made for, like Powers and Ultimate Spidey. However, I am in Mr. Whaley's camp when it comes to Maleev's art. I think his work on DD is the only stuff I honestly enjoy from him. Everything else, well the photo-refs kill it for me. Personally, I view it as a hindrance to his characters actually acting, versus being static poses, with the burden being upon the colorist to cover up and distract us from his photos underneath. Maybe I'll stick with it though, as Bendis truly grabbed me here.

And as always, how daaarree you be an impartial reviewer. That's as preposterous as an impartial historian. Cause, you know, that's not the standard for either of these critical fields.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Hey Brian, I think Moon truly is the better Cass artist, his second arc is awesome but I thought this back up was just stunning.

Glad you like some of Scarlet (why I'm glad I don't know, I didn't write it) but Maleev does everything on that title, I believe, he colours digitally if memory serves. I like his style, and don't mind photo reference, quite honestly. It works for me with Tony Harris on Ex Machina and it works for me with Maleev's stuff. But I guess I can see how it wouldn't scratch the itch for some people, he's certainly not what you would call mainstream, he'd be an acquired taste, and I've certainly got a tongue for it...did that sound dirty?

I hope some people at least give Scarlet a second issue to do something more, there are plenty of gaps to be filled and I'm hoping Bendis will clog them up right nice. As for giving Casanova a second issue, I wasn't exactly sure, as I am double dipping, but then they mention back matter with Michael Chabon, and hell, I'll see them in 30.

Ivan said...

Doesn't Harris references photos he takes himself of friends and family, while Maleev is a notorious art thief?

Or am I mixing up Maleev and David Mack? I apologize if that's the case.

Brandon Whaley said...

@Ivan - Honestly I'm not aware of either Maleev or Mack being an art thief. I hope its not the case with Mack at least, as I'm a pretty big fan of his work.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Ivan - No I think it was Mack who was swiping Maleev's DD, very Murdock inhouse back dealings, ha.

Harris employs actors to shoot, and Maleev also does his own photo shoots, even going so far as to credit the models he uses for Spider-Woman and Scalet, as mentioned in the review.

Ivan said...

Ah, cool. Sorry about the mistake.

Anonymous said...

I picked up the first issue of Scarlet. Not really knowing anything about it except that it had one of my favourite writers (Bendis) and artists (Maleev). I followed them on DD up to the point that Bendis left. That's when I left the series.

I was blown away by the visual art and the great machine gun chatter of the main characters voice over. It was refreshing and exciting to say the least and I can't wait for the next issue to come out. An amazing book that should get more fans on board because it is definitely worth buying and reading.

I was sucked right into Bendis' universe that he was creating with Scarlet. Two thumbs way up for this great creator owned title. Keep it up Bendis and Maleev :)

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