Bendis & Maleev’s Scarlet is Back, Fighting The Power Harder Than Ever

It’s been eight years since the first Scarlet #1. That’s not a cheap dig at the historically irregular release schedule of this series; rather, we it’s to illustrate the fact that a lot has changed in the world between that issue and this one. Sure, there’s the fact that longtime Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis is now working for the Distinguished Competition, but that’s not all. Scarlet Rue and her band of revolutionaries were mad at a corrupt political system back in 2010 and, well, let’s just say that things have not improved since then.

It may even be fair to say that there’s perhaps not been a better time for Scarlet to return. When we last saw Bendis and Alex Maleev’s character, she had drawn her home city of Portland to the brink of destruction. Her boyfriend was killed by a crooked cop, and her path of revolution via revenge aired online for the world to see, leading to mass protests, riots and the murder of not only more corrupt cops, but a corrupt Mayor to boot. It may have felt cathartic eight years ago to see a population justifiably fighting back against a system that’s betrayed them, but here in 2018? Well, it’s downright purifying.

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Not only has the world changed around us, it’s changed around Scarlet. Since we last saw her, Portland has been closed off — isolated from the rest of the United States, borders closed and bridges blown. Scarlet and her band of revolutionaries are patrolling an almost apocalyptic landscape, subject to third-world counter-revolutionary tactics and drone strikes until the inevitable invasion and termination by the military. This may all seem extreme as first issues go, but as the start of Book 3 of Scarlet, which this essentially is, it’s a reinvigorating restart to the series.

If it wasn’t clear from his other work at DC so far, Bendis has an all-new energy to his writing. Change is as good as a rest, they say, and it shows. Whether it’s the aforementioned decline in our political situation, or simply the refocus of a writer in a new company, Bendis has a fire in his narrative that wasn’t even seen in previous issues of this series. The stakes are higher, the cost is greater, and the message could not be more clear: standing against hatred and corruption — especially when done online — is akin to being in a war zone.

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Scarlet is always a series that looks like it’s pushed Alex Maleev to grow as an artist. Almost every issue has dealt with large violent crowd scenes, sweeping cityscapes, extreme action and a wide display of emotions. While this issue’s visuals are a bit less ambitious than previous issues, it’s clear that Bendis isn’t the only one bringing his A-game here. There’s a clarity to Maleev’s linework that shows how much the already stunning artist is still growing and adapting, a cleaner style that really allows for the emotional beats to shine through. The double-page, high angle shot showing us the ruined bridges over the Willamette River, followed by that same shot overlaid on the next two pages with a classic “Greetings from Portland” display perfectly drives home the difference between what should be and what is.

Bendis (re)introduces us to the world of Scarlet in his own inimitable style, and even Scarlet herself apologizes for the monologue. There’s a lot of ground to cover though, and due to either the time delay between the last issue and this one, or the change in publisher, Bendis will no doubt have a lot of new readers to bring up to speed. There’s a chance that this issue doesn’t hit quite as hard to a brand new reader as it does to those of us who’ve followed the series from the start, but what with the direct-to-camera conversation and the plot developments, there’s enough here for even brand new Scarlet fans to sink their teeth into.

Scarlet #1 is a significant issue. Not only is this Bendis’ first creator-owned book to come out under DC’s guidance, it’s the first we’re seeing of his wider plans at the publisher. Thankfully, both Bendis and Maleev throw themselves back into the political hellscape of Scarlet with full force and bring us an issue that’s positioning this to be one of the more politically important books to be coming out at the moment. There’s so much more for Scarlet to fight against in 2018, she’s more needed than ever, and this issue is proof that Bendis, Maleev and Scarlet herself are only just getting started.

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