Scarlet’s war is just beginning.
While not Brian Bendis’ first creator-owned title at DC, Scarlet #1 brings with it a unique set of challenges. Bendis and artist Alex Maleev have to craft a first issue that serves as a clean and easy gateway for those who didn’t read the previous two volumes. But at the same time, they have to ensure that veteran readers are being given a satisfying dose of story after waiting several years for Scarlet to make its return. Fortunately, Scarlet #1 strikes that delicate balance, continuing Bendis’ strong track record at DC this year.
Bendis and Maleev certainly picked an auspicious time to resurrect this series, given what’s happened in the world at large and Portland in particular since the previous volume wrapped. Suffice it to say, the idea of Portland becoming ground zero in a new American Revolution fueled by social media seems far less outlandish than it did even a few short years ago. This issue opens with Portland cut off from the rest of the US and completely under the control of Scarlet’s grassroots army. Maleev paints a chilling portrait of a city under siege. It’s easy to forget this book is taking place in the US and not a war-ravaged country like Syria. But that’s always been part of this series’ appeal. It feels uncomfortably real in the same way comics like DMZ do.
Despite the mounting scope of the conflict, Bendis keeps the story grounded firmly with Scarlet and her day-to-day struggles as an unlikely political leader. Her narration in this issue helps get new and old readers alike caught up to speed and invested in her struggles. Bendis’ characterization strikes a proper balance between conveying her passion and drive and reflecting the fact that she’s just an ordinary woman dealing with a superhuman amount of pressure. The constant shifts between Scarlet’s monologue to the reader/social media fans and her conversations with her fellow freedom fighters help keep the script humming along.
This issue still makes for a fairly slow start to the new volume, in the same way so many Bendis-penned books tend to build slowly. Even so, it accomplishes what it sets out to do and offers just enough forward progress to create the sense that Scarlet’s war is beginning to escalate into full-blown revolution.
Maleev’s art helps bring an additional boost of energy to the page. He helps start this issue off on the right footing by rendering a tense, exciting showdown between rival forces. His use of a first-person perspective for the sniping scenes works very well. Elsewhere, Maleev’s varied approach to posture and body language helps keep the issue from devolving into a series of talking heads. Maleev’s use of color also heightens the mood of the book. Generally, Maleev’s colors are very ethereal and evocative. But given the bleak nature of this book, it makes sense that the art would be dominated by dreary, washed-out browns and grays. Scarlet herself is purposely framed as the lone visual bright spot amid a sea of grim despair.