REVIEW: Scarlet #1 – “Words, Words, Words”

Scarlet #1 cover

SCARLET #1 / Writer: Brian Michael Bendis / Artist: Alex Maleev / Letterer: Joshua Reed / Publisher: DC Comics / Release Date: August 29, 2018

Scarlet 1 coverScarlet #1 has a tricky balancing act to do. As the first issue many people will read of Scarlet, it must introduce main and supporting characters and it must world build. Unfortunately, establishing all of that within a single comic book can result in a case of excess words that interfere with the ability to tell a story. So how did Scarlet #1 do? I wrote a lot of words to answer that question.

Scarlet #1 opens with a brief scene of three people—all of them dressed apocalyptic lite—retrieving a supply crate. One of them is killed by a sniper who is themselves killed after making the lethal shot. This is followed by a two page spread of Portland with its bridges destroyed a la I Am Legend. What follows that spread is seven pages of dialogue absent any action as Scarlet talks, apparently to the reader. What eventually follows that run of dialogue is a drone strike near Scarlet’s location. The comic continues from there with a shocking ending.

I don’t know how Alex Maleev does it, but his pencils and colors evoke documentary footage where the background is slightly out of focus. This is a wonderful way to pull important characters and action into the readers’ focus. While some readers may prefer that everything in panel be equally crisp, this is an excellent technique to emphasize what’s important in the narrative over what isn’t. Speaking of a documentary style, Scarlet’s long stretch of dialogue felt like it was delivered to a camera crew walking backward. The panels depicted Scarlet from a variety of angles, and it simulated movement during a period that was devoid of action and other characters.

Scarlet #1 Scarlet

Writer Brian Michael Bendis’s depiction of Scarlet is not quite as successful as his artistic partner’s unfortunately. As I wrote in the opening, a first issue has a lot of work to do. Bendis chooses to achieve all of it via a lengthy Scarlet monologue. Bendis literally stops all action and virtually all character interaction for 8 pages to establish setting and character motivations. Now I love world building as much as the next person but the simple fact is I found this boring and ineffective. Additionally it filled space that could have generated an actual story arc which is completely missing from this issue—a fact disguised by the final pages and shocking ending. Ultimately I found myself turning pages with no sense of urgency, and I never connected to the world. Based on the solicits I went into this book with excitement; the opening pages seemed to justify that excitement. Then it bled away, slowly, with every panel of dialogue.

Speaking of dialogue, most of Scarlet’s is in rectangular bubbles. It switches back to a traditional bubble when Scarlet is talking to other characters. I’m unsure whether Bendis or letterer Joshua Reed decided on the bubble choice, but I left the issue very unclear on what the rectangular bubbles are supposed to be. If it’s Scarlet’s inner thoughts then I have to say—she’s full of herself. Is to some unseen documentary crew? Is it fourth wall breaking? In the absence of explanation this was a baffling choice.

Scarlet #1 Scarlet

Reviewing Scarlet #1 is frustrating for me. I really wanted this to be a good book. Readers who are familiar with the world or have already committed to the full five issue run probably judge the issue by a different standard. Evaluated as a single issue, though, this comic is little more than a political screed with no plot and bare bones character development. Thank goodness I can say the art is good.

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5 words

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Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he's published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.

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