Review by Frank Plowright
With the Portland setting as a community more likely to stand up against injustice, and with growing social protests across the USA, Bendis was ahead of the curve with Scarlet. Any creative pleasure on his part is surely tempered by realising how depressing it is that the world needs Antifa, Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion. None of those directly mirror Scarlet’s anti-corruption agenda, but Occupy grew alongside the 2010-2011 serialisation of Scarlet Book 1, and acknowledgement of that occurs on the first story page.
We met Scarlet killing a policeman, having declared war on the endemic corruption in Portland that allowed ordinary people to be casualties in the name of preserving the status quo. It was personal rather than random, and Scarlet’s canny use of social media ensured her cause was taken up to the point where it attracted national attention. The unintended consequence is she’s become a figurehead, and Book 2 plays that out.
This story needs repeated large crowds with a vast police presence, and Alex Maleev puts the work in to establish those scenes, page after page overflowing with people. This is the actions have consequences arc for Scarlet, which pulls Maleev slightly out of his comfort zone as he’s not great at depicting movement. His panels are effective frozen moments, but too many in sequence work against purpose. Maleev varies his style effectively to tell the pasts of characters who form the supporting cast, giving each a different feeling, with each a form of the powerless being dominated or demonised.
There’s a change of tone as Scarlet’s campaign escalates. She’s already been established as verbose, which suits Bendis’ writing style, but while his tendency to prolong a smart conversation for pages was constrained over the first volume, it spills out all over the opening chapter of what becomes a cleverly plotted story arc. The love of a smart conversation is Bendis’ schtick, a perfectly valid and frequently entertaining form of writing, but what passes in thirty seconds on the cinema screen can occupy half a chapter here, a later sequence even providing a video timer. That scene’s good and pivotal, but when it’s just riffing for the sake of it as in the opening chapter, it loses appeal. With fewer interruptions this would be a first rate thriller with an appealing lead role, plotted as well as any crime genre piece Bendis has put together in the past. When the balance is right and Bendis knows when to pause (see sample page) we have near perfect dramatic sequences, tense because there’s really no predicting how they’re going to play out.
By the end here everything has kicked off, and the story continues in the confusingly titled Scarlet Volume One. Books 1 and 2 are also combined in the oversized hardback Absolute Scarlet.