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 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.
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.
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.