Seeing Red: Andy Burns on Issue 1 of Bendis and Maleev’s Scarlet

So here’s a revelation that may not come as much of a secret to you. When it comes to comic books, my favorite writer is Brian Michael Bendis. The guy has been behind Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers, and countless other essential Marvel storylines over the past decade and, in my book, he’s my generation’s Stan Lee. Nobody know the voices of the Marvel U better than Bendis. In fact, the few times I’ve met him over the years, I always find myself a little nervous. It always feels like I’m meeting some sort of rock star (and I’ve met more than a few in my day), except Bendis rocks the stage with his words and hasn’t released a concept album. Yet.

For the last few years I’ve been steadfast in my belief that the run Brian Bendis did on Daredevil with the brilliant Alex Maleev is the best artist/creator initiative I’ve ever read. In the sweeping saga that puts blind lawyer Matt Murdock through the ringer, Bendis and Maleev never hit a bum note, let alone delivered a bad issue. If you’ve never had a chance to look at their work on that particular character, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s the definition of a great comic book.

Which brings me to Bendis and Maleev’s latest endeavor; the creator owned series Scarlet, published by Marvel’s ICON imprint. Now the truth of the matter is, while I was following Bendis’ tweets about the release of the title and the general sense of excitement regarding Scarlet, I wasn’t planning on picking up the physical copy of Issue 1. Instead, I was hoping the title was going to be released on the Marvel iPad app so I could simply purchase and download. Alas, that wasn’t to be (more on my feelings regarding day and date releases to come). Instead, with a quick trip to a comic shop to do some birthday shopping, I wound up picking up Scarlet in it’s physical form. And I’m glad I did.

Scarlet revolves around the title character, living in Portland, Oregon who seems to have plans for the corrupt society she feels she lives in, a vendetta set off by the death of a loved in. For the record, the use of the word “vendetta” is completely on purpose, since Scarlet, with its talk of revolution (not to mention female lead), has a definite V For Vendetta vibe to it throughout its first issue. The story starts off with the character breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the reader. While it’s certainly not a new device, it certainly allows us to connect with her almost instantly, which is essential when you’re introducing readers to a brand new creation. If there’s a comic book writer out there today who can craft distinct voices better than Bendis, I have yet to read them. He gives Scarlet an intriguing backstory that’s both infuriating and heartbreaking.

I’ve never been sure how immediate Alex Maleev’s artwork is to readers. He is not your typical comic book artist (whatever that means in this day and age). I know it took a few issues of Daredevil before I really appreciated his style. However, I’m now a proud owner of some original art by Maleev so I suppose you can count me as a fan. With Scarlet, his strengths are on instant display. The way Maleev draws people is just so interesting to my eyes. It’s this almost indescribable mix of sparseness and detail. He really is like no other artist out there, and its exciting to see him shine. One of the things I enjoyed most about his work here is that so much of the action takes place in brightly lit areas. When I think of Maleev and Bendis I think of the darkness of Matt Murdock’s Hell’s Kitchen, but much of this first issue of Scarlet takes place with the sun shining, something that I was keenly aware of and enjoyed.

I’ve got to admit, I’m excited to see where Scarlet goes, but I feel as though I’m more inclined to wait for the hardcover collection to have the first arc in one place. I’m also hoping that the title gets released for the Marvel app, simply because Maleev’s art would just look so gorgeous on it. Either way, this new collaboration between two longtime colleagues is another great achievement. Highly recommended.

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