Hey gang, welcome back to yet another edition of Pulp, Forte’s home of all things caped, colourful and crime-fighter-y (that’s a word, I swear). This week, things aren’t quite as colourful as usual – unless the title counts (spoiler: it doesn’t) – as we dive into the works of Mr Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man) post-DC exclusivity. Back in the early 2010s, ol’ mate Bendis published a book called Scarlet, drawn by Alex Maleev (Daredevil) under the banner of Marvel’s creator-owned imprint Icon. While a number of other creators had their work published via Icon over the years, they lost the majority of their titles to Image Comics, and when Bendis moved to DC, the imprint went dark and hasn’t done anything since. Now that Bendis is back at DC, they’ve revived his personal Jinxworld imprint, and with it comes a number of his creator-owned titles, including the aforementioned Scarlet. Given the current state of international political discourse, it seems fitting that Bendis’ revolutionary tale rears its head again now.
Scarlet Rue didn’t want to be a revolutionary. She only wanted justice for her murdered boyfriend, and for the corrupt police that killed him to be held to account. What she didn’t foresee was the city of Portland amplifying her insurrection and starting a second American Revolution. Now, Scarlet is the reluctant face of a movement that spits in the face of the corruption and abuse of power that has dominated the US for decades. Despite Portland being surrounded by the US military and cut off from the rest of the country, Scarlet’s revolution has started to spread – and the system is beginning to crack. Scarlet is poised to tear down the iniquitous system that robbed her of her partner, with an army at her back – assuming she survives the night.
What I didn’t initially realise about Scarlet was that despite its #1 numbering, the Jinxworld version of Scarlet is a continuation of the original story that started back in 2010. As a result, a lot of the lead up to this volume is just missing – Bendis doesn’t really recap the previous story, beyond enough minimal detail to explain the setting. While I generally don’t mind picking up the pieces as I go along, I think Scarlet would’ve benefited from some additional fleshing out, though that is coming from someone completely new to the story. One aspect of the book I particularly enjoyed was Scarlet’s continual breaking of the fourth wall as a form of narration – it allowed the blending of internal monologue and exposition in a way that passed on information about the world (i.e. backstory) in a way that didn’t feel contrived or bland.
While I enjoyed the narration as a deliver method for exposition, the presence of extended narration meant that the device overstayed its welcome here and there. In hindsight, I think a lot of my issues with the story come from the first issue or so of the volume – there’s some slightly awkward dialogue in the middle of a sniper battle, followed by an extended, slightly rambling monologue that kind of drags on for a bit too long and doesn’t hook in a reader terribly well. Once the story gets going, it’s much more engaging, but I found it a bit hard to get past these initial gripes. There’s a lot to like about Scarlet – particularly Maleev’s pencil work and the neo-revolutionary setting – but this semi-reboot of Scarlet really needs the first run’s support to really shine. Pick this one up after reading the Icon run!
Written by Alastair McGibbon