Summary: THE AWARD WINNING, BEST SELLING POWERHOUSE CREATIVE TEAM BEHIND DAREDEVIL, HALO, AND THE AVENGERS UNLEASH THEIR BOLDEST PROJECT YET! SCARLET! This is the comic experience of the year! The first creator-owned series by one of the most successful teams in all of modern comics. Scarlet is the story of a woman pushed to the edge by all that is wrong with the world…A woman who will not back down…A woman who discovers within herself the power to start a modern American revolution!!
Scarlet, vol. 1, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev 8.0
Scarlet is dangerous.
And by “dangerous”, I’m not just referring to the lead character, but I’m also referring to this book.
‘Scarlet’ is the natural extension of ‘V for Vendetta‘, another anti-establishment tale that condones violence as a means to an end. It takes that initial idea and places it in a realistic setting: today’s North America, and from the perspective of a young woman like so many.
What it relates is her reaction to police corruption, which led to the death of her boyfriend (as well as a near-death experience for her) and savaged their reputations. She decides that she won’t have any of it and mounts a campaign of revenge and public disturbance.
I love the idea of “the people” rising up in the face of oppression as much as anyone – and especially since we have become such a passive, lame-brained, over-indulged society that won’t do anything for fear of shifting ourselves out of our perceived comfort and wealth.
But I disliked the recklessness of the protagonist’s actions because she made personal judgment calls based on her own experiences and prejudices. For example, in her quest to clean up the streets of Portland, at one point she assaults a guy trying to cut the lock on a bike, assuming that he’s a thief.
The problem is that there’s no proof that he was, in fact, a thief; it could very well have been a guy who lost his key and is trying to get his bike back. But she didn’t ask any questions: she made an assumption and acted upon her conclusions. If this guy was the bike’s owner, she just attacked an innocent man.
And that’s where the book is dangerous: it takes the position that one should be compelled to act to right wrongs, but it doesn’t address the reasons why we have a judicial system and why there’s due process – to protect the innocent. In theory, our system is in place to perpetuate justice in society.
While I will grant anyone that the system is corrupt (as any human-based system would be, flawed and weak as we are), I don’t believe that violence is necessarily the answer. Much like pacifism isn’t always the answer, riots and brutality aren’t the perfect solution some might wish to imagine.
Where the book’s proposed vigilantism is severely flawed is in the assumption that any of us know what’s right and what’s wrong; what may seem right to you, may not be for another. And how do you know if you have the whole truth on hand for you to weigh? How do you know that you’re being truly just?
A book like this could plant a seed in the head of anyone not fit enough to make these assessments and put them on a rampage. People often see things in simplistic ways, where there are layers and complexities to be considered. Advocating violence just for the sake of shaking the system is irresponsible.
When Scarlet starts to kill cops to send a message that corruption will not be tolerated, she is sending the message that cop killing is okay. It is not okay – no more than corruption and abuse of power is. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and the damage one does in the name of “justice” could actually cause further ills.
Then again, Scarlet knows better. She just “knows” which cops are corrupt and which ones aren’t.
But what if she’s wrong? What if she has been killing innocents all along? I submit that this would be an excellent avenue for Brian Michale Bendis to explore, but I wonder if it would be too late to change the game plan at this point. Is the damage irreparable? Or can it be undone in some fashion?
Either way, Bendis has written a scorcher of a book. And he did it relatively well. There are a lot of leaps being taken, parts that should have required further exploration, but the texts and the conception are generally very good. It’s just slightly simplistic is all. And all the more dangerous.
The art is where the book shines best. Maleev’s art is perfectly-suited to the piece; his penciling is superb and he colours it all in this beautiful, yet gritty, watercolour that adds dimension to each panel. It’s a stellar piece of work from an artistic (writing and visuals) standpoint.
But ‘Scarlet’ remains dangerous.
It is reckless. It feeds into the animal that’s pent up inside, waiting to be unleashed. And while frustration and anger isn’t undue, there are other ways. One doesn’t have to become completely cynical and assume that the world is $#!t, and that there’s nothing left but setting fire to it and stamping it out.
Scarlet would be better if it focused on fury and long-term plans, not just on blood and short-term destruction. But I suppose that it’s easier to tear down than to build up, isn’t it? And that approach only leaves ruins, with no blueprint for rebuilding. It’s not a solution, it’s an extreme temper tantrum.