Brian Michael Bendis has arrived at DC, and contrary to popular belief, he actually managed to steal one of his Marvel characters and bring her with him. That would be Scarlet, the redheaded revolutionary who eerily captured the sentiment that at the time of her debut was prevalent in the Occupy movement. Unfortunately, what started off as a strong series ended up getting bogged down in delays and ultimately took six years to be told in ten issues. While the delays didn’t impact the quality of the script or art in this reader’s opinion, the interest and following for the series waned considerably and rather than going out with a bang, it went out with somewhat of a whimper. Lo and behold, a second chance now emerges. Can Bendis and Alex Maleev, the original creative team behind this fantastic and edgy series, capitalize on a change of scenery and an opportunity to start fresh?
The story is touted as being friendly for new readers, meaning you don’t have to hunt down the original run. All you need to know are the basics: Scarlet is a revolutionary figure fighting for the rights of the downtrodden and voiceless in Portland, Oregon — but she wasn’t always that way. A run-in with a cop leads to her boyfriend getting murdered in cold blood and her getting knocked out and into a coma. When she comes to, she decides enough is enough and launches a one-woman crusade against the police for her own brand of justice, that rapidly turns into a mass protest movement and her becoming a cult hero akin to Che Guevara.
As we move to this issue, we are thrust into the middle of a battle between Scarlet’s revolutionaries and the authorities. Lives are lost, but the “good guys” win the battle. After Scarlet brings us up to speed using her endearing approach of the fourth wall, we dive right back into action. The revolutionaries detect a reconnaissance attempt, which is then followed by an interesting proposal to end the issue.
The good news is that the story seems to be trying to massively expand its impact beyond what was previously just limited to Portland. Before, it seemed that someone who got caught up in the struggle between Scarlet and the authorities could just leave town. But with the new status quo, it looks like that may no longer be possible. The other thing that is cool is how well Maleev has naturally progressed the look of Scarlet. Before she seemed to resemble a girl, even after she began her movement. But in this series, she has lost much of her signature hair and you can clearly see she has aged.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot more that didn’t work with this book. This is a shame, because I really, really thought the original Marvel series was insanely slept on and was hoping that Bendis would bring some of that magic to the relaunch. That’s just the thing though — for starters, while I get this is supposed to be a new-reader friendly book, there don’t seem to be any ramifications of the original series’ ending that weigh on Scarlet. In essence, what would have been obvious based on the ending of the Marvel series was for Scarlet to finally begin questioning whether her entire movement was worth it. The look on her face spoke volumes. It would have also nicely distinguished the new series by having a completely different twist on her story and almost send her in the opposite direction of the original. Instead, as we greet her here, there’s not even the slightest hint that she has been shaken. If she ever was, it was probably dealt with off screen. She is as feisty and committed to her cause as ever, but far from feeling refreshing, it almost feels a bit “been there, done that”.
The other thing that really stood out in the original run was the rich cast of supporting characters. Whether it was Brandon, Isis, Agent Going, the Mayor, or so many others, they really enhanced the plot and were distinct in their own ways, with their own motivations. In almost all of these cases, a couple of devoted panels would eventually flash back to the events that drove them over the revolutionary edge. It was these little touches that kept the reader engaged and loyal. In issue #1 of the 2018 series, however, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone except for Scarlet might as well be interchangeable in look and feel. We have generic short haired brunette girl, generic black haired girl and jumpy guy. Are these stand-ins for Going, Isis and Brandon? Who knows? Again, I get this is supposed to be new-reader friendly, but how hard would it have been to simply come out and just say they are the same characters and briefly tell us why those characters were so special?
Lastly, it pains me to say this, but the plot is really boring compared to everything that has come before. Sure, we get an awesome monologue from Scarlet where she compares her revolution to Lincoln and the North as they dealt with the Civil War, as portrayed in the 2012 movie. But stunningly, there is no palpable feeling of dramatic tension. There are a few shots fired, but basically, nothing happens in this issue and all the important plot points that took place between the end of the last volume and now are virtually silent and just summarized and glossed over. Furthermore, a hallmark of the previous series was the presence of the other side of the struggle, and their perspective no matter how nefarious or conflicted. This time around in Scarlet, there is no voice or face representing the other side (except for the last two panels), and so the power struggle that is massively hyped ends up being quite underwhelming simply because we can’t see what the other side is thinking (like we used to be able to).
I’m not ready to give up on this revival and its creators just yet. The doors have been flung open with possibilities for the next issue thanks to the ending. Scarlet is still a tough, seriously earnest yet amusing character. But beyond that, Bendis and Maleev didn’t do a whole lot to excite old fans or attract new fans to the mix. Here’s hoping the pace picks up next month and they truly recapture the fighting spirit that had defined this book until now.