The cover of Scarlet is a confrontation, with the protagonist’s guns aimed directly out at the viewer. This image reflects the character’s attitude both toward injustice and toward the reader in her breaking of the 4th wall. From the very first page, we are told what to expect, with violence in a full-page spread, much like the first page of The Boys. The reader should not be under any misconceptions about the tone of the book at this point: it’s going to be a brutal journey.
A major topic in discussions of Scarlet is the way that Bendis has the character interact with the reader. Normally, a character’s internal monologue is expressed in square captions either in the first or third person. Scarlet, on the other hand, turns to face the reader in order to speak directly to us. Bendis uses an interesting twist on the caption boxes by placing these conversations in square word balloons. Much like Gaiman’s Death Talks About Life, this method of communication with the reader brings more immediacy, more urgency. The first issue catches Scarlet already in her role as vigilante, at which point she engages the reader to explain her origin, both as a person and as what seems to be a righter of wrongs. And we will need Scarlet to spend this time talking directly to us, as her actions, though motivated by understandable events, are going to be hard for the reader to accept at times, including the murder of a corrupt cop on the first page. She is heading, arrow-straight, toward a goal of her own choosing, but it may be one that is hard to identify with.
Maleev’s art looks like altered photographs, being at the same time realistic and artistic. The panels are all closeups, which brings the reader right up into the story and also creates a claustrophobic feeling, the sensation of being trapped, which is the right feeling for Scarlet’s story, at least in this issue.
True to expectations, Portland plays a large role in Scarlet as the frame for the story. This isn’t a featureless stage or an “Anytown USA,” as might be used in other books. Scarlet introduces us to the city on page 10, followed by a list of milestones in her life, including the Hawthorne Bridge as her “favorite thing in the world.” A major story point occurs in “Portland’s Living Room,” Pioneer Courthouse Square, which is perfectly executed by Maleev, as is the exterior of the Portland Outdoor Store, a mere six blocks away. Similar to Greg Rucka in Stumptown, Bendis loves this city, but Portland is also a logical environment for Scarlet‘s vigilante heroine to develop in. We’ll see Scarlet’s popularity grow among the citizens of the Rose City, but the results of that popularity remain to be seen.
Scarlet, published by Icon, was released July 8 in the US, in comic shops everywhere.