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She Has No Head! – Brian Michael Bendis And Alex Maleev’s Scarlet

Scarlet #1.  Brian Michael Bendis (writer/creator).  Alex Maleev (artist/creator).  Chris Scarlet CoverElipoulos (letters/production).  Icon.  40 pages.  $3.95

Alias buys you a lot of credit in my house.

Powers does too.

A lot of people, when they hear Brian Michael Bendis’ name, they think “Avengers” and then maybe a string of expletives.  But I didn’t read that stuff for one reason or another and so I think “Alias” and then I think “Powers” and then I think that I absolutely adore both those things.

So yeah, I tend to give Brian Michael Bendis the benefit of the doubt when it comes to new work, especially creator owned work, of which this book is the first in a long time.

All these reactions made it easy for me to buy and subsequently love his and Alex Maleev’s new creator owned project, Scarlet.

Scarlet is the story of a girl named Scarlet (‘natch) living in Portland as a kind of vigilante after suffering a serious head injury and losing the man that she loves to police violence.  The story breaks the fourth wall (i.e. she talks directly to the reader) and you feel in her speech that she’s definitely trying to get you to come along with her, despite her violent actions.  She feels justified, and tells us the story of how she turned into this, a person who kills a cop on page one, and beats up a would be bicycle thief on page nine, and worries she’s crazy in-between those two things.  There’s plenty of cliche in Scarlet’s set up, but in the hands of writers and artists of Bendis and Maleev’s caliber they’re able to blunt the oft times necessary cliche and deliver the story powerfully independent of that.  For example, Scarlet tells her “highlights and lowlights” as they were, through a series of brilliant single panels – “birth”, “first kiss”, “first infidelity” etc.:

Scarlet 4Scarlet 5

It’s clever and wildly effective, because it allows us to both get to know the bones of Scarlet instantly, but it also makes her an everyman in a way that I suspect will benefit Bendis’ story, because we all  have those things.  You could use those titles for anyone of us and create a snapshot of life, something that is both everything and nothing.  It’s a brilliant way to make us relate to Scarlet, even if we’re nothing alike, because we all have those moments and they’re the moments that gather up to create who you actually are.  It’s easy to see through those panels how Scarlet came to be and that she’s both the same and different than me, you, and the guy three rows down.  It’s great.  Greg mentioned his strange surprise that her favorite thing is the Hawthorne Bridge, but that was one of my favorite moments because I instantly wondered why.  What experience did she have on that bridge that made it her favorite thing in the world?  Did she see her first sunset there with her father holding her hand?  Did she have her first stolen kiss while under it?  What was it that imprinted it onto her brain and are we going to find out?  Wonderful stuff.  The kind of stuff that really raises a book above the shorthand that sometimes must be used to get the background of a story out there.

On the surface (at least so far), Scarlet is not an idea I’m necessarily wowed by.  It’s not some crazy unique high concept idea which is to say it doesn’t blow my socks off in concept the way something like Powers does (or did when it first debuted).  But it’s hard to come up with ‘blow your socks off’ ideas, and more often than not, that’s a one trick pony, so what’s more important, in the long run at least, is that the execution of whatever idea you have is fantastic.

And so far, that’s exactly what Bendis and Maleev have.

Say what you want about Bendis, but when he’s in the zone, he can write the hell out of some comic books, and Scarlet is no exception.  His dialogue is sharp, his characters are interesting, and his plotting does not mess around.  This is no meandering Spider-Woman.  This is hard and fast and to the point.  In issue one I know where Scarlet is coming from, what she’s about, and where she’s headed.  Impressive for 29-pages.  I wish more books could deliver so much.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of breaking the fourth wall.  Chalk it up to me finding Christian Slater super annoying in Kuffs…the first movie I remember seeing with a wise-cracking fourth wall breaking character.  That said, thanks to things like Alias and Powers, I trust that Bendis is doing this for a reason, and already you can feel where he’s going with it.  That in a society obsessed with reality television and existing in a 24-hour news cycle this is the way a new revolution in the U.S. would feel…delivered right to your door.

A handful of pages in, Scarlet tells us “Take or leave some…and I promise you this is exactly how it happened”.  Immediately I bristled.  Because I’m a firm believer that truth is entirely subjective.  That truth is never truth when filtered through someone’s eyes.  And so there’s no way to tell a story that is wholly accurate, because someone sitting next to you that experienced the same thing, likely experienced it differently.  However, I think this is the whole point, maybe, and the thing that I disagree with Greg Burgas about in this issue.  Because the point is that this is what Scarlet believes happened.  And as readers, it’s up to us whether we believe her or not, whether we think she’s mistaken or lying, or just flat out confused.  Bendis isn’t advocating that the police, or the government, or the system, or the man, or corporations are evil, though I don’t think he’s arguing that corruption is a fantasy of delusional hippies either.  He’s just letting us know that this is how Scarlet feels.  Is she a hero or a villain?  We really don’t know yet, and I’m not sure Scarlet does either, but it will be up to each of us to decide for ourselves.  All we have is what she has experienced, or at least believes she’s experienced.  And this is the result of that experience – it broke her and she’s going to break the world right back.

And I can get behind that.  Haven’t you ever felt that way?  Regardless of the perfect truth of the situation, hasn’t something happened that broke you…and you wanted to break every single thing in existence right back?

Yeah, I can definitely get behind that.  And thanks to some smart writing and clever plotting, I’m in for all the fourth wall breaking Scarlet can bring me.  I don’t know that I agree with her, but I can see where she’s coming from and I’m curious to see what she can do, how far she can get, what it will take, and if she’ll realize she’s wrong or that she was right all along.

Scarlet 1Scarlet 2

Alex Maleev’s art is stunning.  If you don’t like the really photo realistic stuff then it’s just flat out not going to be for you.  But I happen to love it.  Perhaps because when done well, I tend to see less crazy unrealistic proportions, as the figures are based more solidly on real life images, still idealized, but rooted in realism.  And I like that.  It’s a nice change from a lot of other stuff out there.  Not everyone can do it well but Maleev is the best as far as I’m concerned.

If this issue is any indication Maleev is going to be doing the best illustration work of his career and who doesn’t want a front row seat for that?  I liked his work on Spider-Woman more than most people but tonally I don’t know that it was the best fit, but here, tonally I can’t think of a more perfect fir for this story than Maleev’s dark gritty super realistic art.  A cartoony Scarlet breaking the fourth wall would just not be as effective, and so I can get behind the style even more when I feel it’s been matched to a story with real purpose as it has here.

Though a girl named Scarlet with a shock of red hair IS a bit of a cliche visually is was a good choice because in addition to just looking fantastic, it makes Scarlet easy to pick out in the gritty pages.  Personally the pages are a bit on the dark side for me, but that’s my only complaint.  The pacing is excellent, the composition is well considered and wonderful, and he’s doing just enough creative stuff (like the first two pages I posted) to shake things up visually, while most of the time giving us a highly cinematic look, as if we are right there with Scarlet on the streets.  Overall it’s incredibly effective.

So while the actual title feels a little cliché, and the high-concept is a little outside my personal wheelhouse, Bendis and Maleev delivered a hell of a first issue full of stunning art, strong writing, and a story that is already delivering, and I’ll definitely be coming along for the ride, in fact, I can’t wait for the next issue.

92 Comments

Looks good. I know how you love the loose, expressive, art-style. I’ll have to check this out.

As far as I’m concerned, Bendis has a free pass for life for “Goldfish”, “Jinx” and “Fortune and Glory”. I’ll never read his Avengers work again, but I’ll always check his creator-owned stuff (or at least his more passionate works, like “Alias”)

This is a pretty convincing review! I was originally going to skip this title, but I might give it a shot after all. At the very least, I’ll definitely keep an eye on reviews and maybe get this in trades. Thanks for your insight.

I do like photo-realistic art, but I prefer the Greg Land style to the Maleev style (I know I’m the only one– don’t hate me). Maleev always looks messy, and murky, and the colouring never looks right.
However, this does look better than his other stuff I’ve seen, especially the second sequence you show here. It’s definitely easy to follow what’s going on in these pages.

I don’t know if this series would be my cup of tea, though. It sounds like it’s going to get overly dark and violent.

I actually like Bendis’s Avengers stuff, at least the New Avengers.

@Mary: Messy and murky are what makes Maleev’s work so stunning. In that respect, he reminds me of Seinkewicz or maybe Lark.

This first issue was pretty well incredible. Kelly pretty much nailed everything I could’ve said, especially the truth being through a subjective filter. Indeed, this comic pretty much lives and breathes in a space inside of Scarlet’s head, and does so in a few ways that could only work well in the comics medium.

Steven R. Stahl

July 12, 2010 at 11:45 am

Doesn’t killing people belie Scarlet’s “everywoman” image? People might fantasize about how much better society, the country, and the world might be, if all the troublemakers could just be eliminated, but there are no strict guidelines. The Tea Partiers, for example, believe that the troublemakers are the people in the federal government who enforce the laws they hate, and if those people, their jobs, and their laws could just be eliminated, the country would be much better off. That way lies psychosis, and deciding that whoever interferes with the mission has to be eliminated. That’s the reason such storylines are cliches, because killing people as the plan requires is inherently psychotic.

SRS

” Doesn’t killing people belie Scarlet’s “everywoman” image? People might fantasize about how much better society, the country, and the world might be, if all the troublemakers could just be eliminated, but there are no strict guidelines. The Tea Partiers, for example, believe that the troublemakers are the people in the federal government who enforce the laws they hate, and if those people, their jobs, and their laws could just be eliminated, the country would be much better off. That way lies psychosis, and deciding that whoever interferes with the mission has to be eliminated. That’s the reason such storylines are cliches, because killing people as the plan requires is inherently psychotic. ”

Killing people is inherently psychotic, but you can’t tell me that the everyman/everywoman doesn’t fantasize about it every so often. Scarlet isn’t a morally sympathetic character at all, especially since her backstory is so intentionally cliche– she didn’t really have any heartbreak in her life before her boyfriend’s death, and I’m not entirely convinced that he was as innocent as she thinks. But she’s had a sheltered life and has now faced tragedy, and feels the need to do something about it. At least as a fictional character, her taking violent action is done in a safe place.

This series seems to be ” lonelygirl15 meets the Punisher “, and I’m definitely hooked.

ArrestThisMan

July 12, 2010 at 1:35 pm

“This series seems to be ” lonelygirl15 meets the Punisher “, and I’m definitely hooked.”

This is what turned me off about this series. Scarlet is a walking hard-on who I can’t stand. Her “everywoman” origins (if they are to be believed) anger me even more. Garth Ennis redifined Punisher has a guy who was already deeply troubled by the horror of war before senselessly losing his wife and child and thus becoming a psychotic murderer. Scarlet was a normal Portland girl who’s boyfriend punched a cop and then got shot, the wrinkler of her own injury blunts the mind-numbing stupidity but I still feel it.

The art is TOO photo-realistic and turns me off.

I appreciate Kelly addressing the stupidity of the main character’s name.

Kelly is also correct to point out the imperfect narrator aspect of the book. I *think* this is what Bendis is going for and, if we’re lucky, the book will continue to build up this component for great effect. It goes beyond a “truth is subjective” generalization though’ we can’t trust Scarlet–that girl’s a psycho!

I’ll stick around a bit longer thanks to the creative team’s cred but this book disappointing me big time. So much so that when Timothy Callahan did his review for CBR and compared this book to The Nightly News (a masterpiece) I had to write an angry e-mail.

This comic is overrated already.

” This is what turned me off about this series. Scarlet is a walking hard-on who I can’t stand. Her “everywoman” origins (if they are to be believed) anger me even more. Garth Ennis redifined Punisher has a guy who was already deeply troubled by the horror of war before senselessly losing his wife and child and thus becoming a psychotic murderer. Scarlet was a normal Portland girl who’s boyfriend punched a cop and then got shot, the wrinkler of her own injury blunts the mind-numbing stupidity but I still feel it. ”

But even if Frank has more logical justification ( insofar as you can justify vigilante killing sprees ) than Scarlet, they’re both representing their respective generations. Frank lost his sanity on the Southeast Asian battlefield, well before his family died. Scarlet hasn’t had any significant problems in her life, so when she’s knocked out of her middle-upper class bubble, she goes through a psychotic break.

It seems like an examination of a generation ( more specifically, a certain race/class background ) that has had a cushy ride, hasn’t had any serious doubts beyond adolescent navel-gazing, and can’t cope when approaching actual tragedy. Scarlet is basically the archetypal college activist who gets herself involved with very distant problems in order to feel good about herself, except with firearms.

We ( myself and others in their twenties ) are the generation that can claim John Mayer’s ” Waiting on the World to Change ” as our voice, unfortunately. Yes, we quite suck. :(

Doesn’t killing people belie Scarlet’s “everywoman” image?

Yes. That’s the point.

I enjoyed this one a lot, too – There’s some really interesting tonal contrast stuff goin’ on here. I’m not the Bendis fan I once was ’cause, y’know, Avengers, but I was shocked at how good this was.

Ethan Shuster

July 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Uh oh. Someone brought up an opinion on “Tea Partiers”. Can the comments section survive??

I hate to call you a hypocrite, Kelly, but you seem all too happy to overlook skimpy outfits and “objectification” as soon as you find something you like, even if it has copious amounts of it.

ArrestThisMan

July 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I hear ya Neil, but I’m not buying what you’re selling. I’ll go along with you if you want to say Scarlet is a representation of those negative aspects our generation that outsiders and ourselves tend to recognize and criticize but that doesn’t make the book good, in fact it does the opposite.

First of all, such a rough and pointless generation regarding our generation is obviously false. Second, insofar as Scarlet tells the story of the titular personality, and insofar as that personality is a product of the zeitgeist you’ve posited–she sucks.

I mean, Scarlet is, as I’ve said, a walking hard-on. She is someone who I want to see fail; Who I don’t trust (see imperfect narrator); and who is otherwise annoying (e.g., her name, skimpy clothing).

Its fine to build a book around a protagonist with whom the reader is not supposed to sympathize. I believe this is the case with Scarlet (and certainly hope it is the creators’ intentions). That being said, that wrinkle alone isn’t enough to make a book with otherwise cliched characters and plot points interesting.

I can’t help but compare Scarlet to Kick-Ass. Readers of both series find themselves rooting against the titular character and both series seem clearly intended to bait some Hollywood money to come in and pay these humble comic creators who will finally get what they deserved. Kick-Ass, though, for all its problems had some cool art.

@Anthony. No, I really doubt you do hate saying that, but whatever.

Since you asked so nicely, let me break it down for you…

When I look at comics and am concerned that there is serious objectification of women going on, I tend to look for 3 fairly obvious things:

1. Is this character dressed appropriately based on life/job/personality etc. And how is she dressed in context. Does the context make sense? If it doesn’t, does everyone look inappropriate, or just her?
2. How is this person posed? Does the character look like who he/she is supposed to be, i.e. if she’s a tough ex-spy/superhero can I tell that from the way she moves and “acts” or does she seem more like a porn star or some wish fulfillment girlfriend?
3. Body type. Does this character have a believable (though idealized – this is comics!) body type? If the body type is unbelievable is it with reason i.e. for a specific art style, or because this character is a contradiction or outside the norm, etc.

Scarlet (the book) passes all of these with flying colors as far as I’m concerned. Yes, Scarlet wears a somewhat skimpy top for about nine pages (out of 29). However, the rest of her outfit from flat boots to her jeans and vest are all quite practical – in fact it’s an outfit that shames most superheroines in its modesty.

It’s also an outfit that has purpose…i.e. Scarlet is wearing it deliberately for a variety of reasons (if you read the book these would likely be obvious to you). For the rest of the book she’s fully covered up. Another reason she’s dressed as she is in the first panels is also relevant to the story in that she looks like a very different girl from the more innocent loose t-shirt wearing girl she was in the past. I am confident that the choices were made with purpose and not just to show of some hot lead characters skin. Intent definitely makes a difference.

Additionally, because she’s drawn quite realistically, rather than with giant inflatable break your back boobs, the top, despite being skimpy doesn’t reveal nearly as much as it would in your average comic book. And her figure is believable, lovely, but believable, for both who she is and where she’s coming from.

Lastly, the posing throughout is not remotely male gaze inspired or unrealistic, instead it is natural and suggests very much the way a real person moves (since it’s nearly photo realized much of it probably IS a real person moving). And again, Scarlet moves differently in her past than she does in her present and this is important. It denotes a real sense of Bendis and especially Maleev knowing their character. Old Scarlet would not stretch languidly after killing a cop the way new Scarlet does in the pages I posted.

All these things matter. If you can’t see that…I don’t know that I can help you.

So no, this would definitely not set off any alarm bells for objectification for me.

Maleev needs to lay off the photo-reference. And I don’t care about the objectification thing until people complain equally every time a guy in twilight has no shirt on.

ArrestThisMan

July 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm

@ Shawn

I hate it when people make those sort of comments. What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander in light of centuries of oppression, socialization, etc…

@Arrest I like to see people demonstrate principles that stretch across more than one example. If you don’t like sexism, dislike ALL sexism. That presumes that the quest was really for equality (which is what’s always claimed) and not supremacy.

good old azjohnson

ArrestThisMan

July 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

@ Shawn

Unequal treatment of people based on real or constructed social differences can alleviate past harms from which victims or ancestors of victims still suffer (e.g., affirmative action). Likewise, treating people the same despite social differences which have harmed and continue to harm social groups can often be particularly harmful and therefore more wrongful to members of the group who still suffer from these socially-constructed problems/past inequalities. This is particularly true when the underlying action (i.e., objectification of people) is inherently wrong in any context.

Tom Fitzpatrick

July 12, 2010 at 5:03 pm

I’d like to know more about Scarlet’s “first experimentation”. ;-)

However, this is the second time I’ve read the term “the fourth wall”, which is what exactly in terms of comics?

Travis Pelkie

July 12, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Well, I might pick up this book at some point, it sounds interesting.

The fourth wall is a term regarding characters within a comic, or play, or movie, talking directly to the viewer. Off the top of my head, the scene in Fight Club where Norton is telling us about Brad Pitt’s other jobs is an example. It’s to a degree “metafiction”, but predates that term, of course. (That Shakespeare guy seemed to like it too) The “wall” refers, I believe, to the notion that within the comic/play/movie/whatever, there are 3 walls like a diorama, and breaking the 4th is to acknowledge that the viewer is looking in on the events within the book/comic/play.

Comics example — I’ve always heard Byrne’s She Hulk.

TV, I think of Clarissa Explains it All, iirc

ArrestThisMan

July 12, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Don’t let Travis Pelkie confuse you Tom. The 4th Wall is where Darkseid puts up his Justin Beiber posters.

Tom, a comic has four walls, the borders of the page.

When a character talks to the reader, he/she is breaking the fourth wall.

And Kelly, truth is ALWAYS subjective? No wonder our society is crumbling when everyone wants to claim they are right.

Mike Loughlin

July 12, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Look at those pages you posted! The heroine is naked in the very first panel!!! OBJECTIFICATION!!!!! Case closed.

So as long as the artist traces a real woman literally falling out of her top it’s acceptable. Okay…

And actually I think “fourth wall” is a TV term as in a sitcom you only ever see three walls. In comics it would just be a first person narrative.

@Anthony: Yes, if you skip over everything I actually said (whole paragraphs of it) that’s exactly what I said. Good detective work you’re doing there.

@Kelly If you just want to straight review comics on whether you like them or not , that’s fine. That’s really what all reviewers do. But don’t hold the comics you like to a different standard and then demonize those you don’t as sexist or anti-woman or whatever. Just call them what they are: things YOU don’t like. Because frankly when you cry wolf and brand things that you simply don’t care for as examples of “male oppression”, while letting things you enjoy get a free pass it hurts your credibility, both as a reviewer and a supposed feminist.

@Anthony: I don’t know if you read this column regularly or what, but I defy you to find the words “male oppression” in ANY of my columns. Yes, all 36 of them…go for it. I’ll wait.

While you’re doing that, let me just say…you know nothing about me, clearly don’t care to know anything about me, and apparently can’t read. I’m not trying to justify anything. I don’t feel this book is problematic. If I did feel that way, I would say it, I take plenty of books to task for things I think are problematic, whether I like them or not. Just because I don’t happen to have a problem with this book however does not mean that everyone should feel that way, it doesn’t mean that YOU have to feel that way. YOU are welcome to feel however you like about it, but don’t try to project your shit onto me. I explained in extreme detail my thought process about the book in regard to your “concerns”…if that’s not good enough for you then I don’t know what would be.

I have taken WAY too much time out of my day already in trying to address what I initially thought were rude but genuine concerns, I now just think you’re a guy trying to make me have a shitty day by repeatedly calling me a liar without any actual data to back that up. So I’m going to exit.

Anthony: Kelly has already addressed those accusations of double standard with a perfectly satisfactory answer. You chose to ignore it. So the only person whose credibility is suffering right now is you.

Tom Fitzpatrick

July 12, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Sooo, a good example of the fourth wall would be the issue of Animal Man, # 19 or so, where a character looks around and exclaims, “I can SEE you!!!”

Tho’, I liked the Darkseid’s posters of Justin Bieber.

Putting aside the haircut, that last face has got to be modeled on Linda Hamilton from T2.

@Tom: Yeah, Animal Man is a great example.

Great review, Kelly! I’d never even heard of this before, and now I wanna pick it up. Plus it’s fun watching you slap Anthony around.

I liked this issue but I am waiting to see what the actual book will be about. This was all about character (and incredibly well done at that).

This is the first I have heard of anyone not liking Maleev’s work on Spider-Woman.

To anyone who didn’t like it I have one question?

Are you blind?

:)

I LOVE Maleev’s work. I’m not sure that Scarlet is better than Spider-Woman and I am not sure it is worse. It is just another example of his amazing talent.

The Ugly American

July 13, 2010 at 7:39 am

Man, I can’t wait till Snake Eyes and Destro show up.

Steven R. Stahl

July 13, 2010 at 7:45 am

It’s a bit strange that nobody’s mentioned Charles Bronson’s series of DEATH WISH movies. He played a New Yorker everyman who was motivated to eliminate criminals, and had so much success that — well, there were five movies. Unless making the vigilante a woman is somehow spectacularly different, SCARLET’s been done before, repeatedly. The first DEATH WISH movie, 1n 1974, was described as addressing city-dwellers’ fears of being attacked.

SRS

Deathwish was more about someone taking on criminals that the establishment was too lax to be able to, this seems to be about someone taking on a corrupt establisment as well as a corrupt society.

Travis Pelkie

July 13, 2010 at 8:15 am

I wanted to say I dug Arrest’s comment about Darkseid and Justin Bieber. I kept thinking of the Fourth Wall as sounding like something from the New Gods…

And Ugly American’s comment about GI Joe was something I was waiting for too.

I actually read your review this time, and think I will pick this up, if I can find it.

What I’m wondering, because based on what you showed, it seems it may be not necessarily “breaking the fourth wall” but maybe if Scarlet is crazy, she’s talking out loud to someone either in her head, or someone following her around within the book that we just don’t see — it just appears to us that it’s breaking the fourth wall. Maybe, like I say, I haven’t read it yet. Unless I’m missing something, though, it doesn’t seem overly revolutionary, as some other reviewers (not you) seem to think.

And again about the fourth wall, the term dates back at least to Shakespearean times (so of course, I can’t think of any Shakespearean examples), and in that case, the three walls of the stage (back wall and stages right and left) are the 3 walls, and the “wall” that the audience looks at is the fourth, so directly addressing the audience is “breaking” that fourth wall.

Hey, I went to college, and I don’t use it in my job. This has to come out somewhere.

So while reading this as I avoid doing work on a school project I have gotten references to Kuffs, GI Joe, Darkseid, AnimalMan, Justin Bieber, Death Wish, She-Hulk, Clarissa Explains It All, and Shakespeare….

Comic fans and pop culture…they go together inside and outside the genre!

As far as Scarlett goes, the opening salvo was interesting. I am definitely intrigued and the book definitely had the same mood as that Jodie Foster film a few years back where she became a vigilante. However this showed the transformation more gradually…and yet left enough holes in the tale for future story growth. (comics naturally have more time to do this than movies)

Here’s hoping the rest of the tale can match the beginning…..

That last line about letting the world burn made me laugh out loud. It’s the same childish fascist power fantasy nonsense that makes reading the Dark Knight Returns so funny anymore.

Steven R. Stahl

July 13, 2010 at 9:29 am

Deathwish was more about someone taking on criminals that the establishment was too lax to be able to, this seems to be about someone taking on a corrupt establisment as well as a corrupt society.

I was reacting to the “everyman” parallels, along with both Bronson’s character and Scarlet executing criminals and in the process, becoming criminals themselves. As attractive as vigilantism might be to an individual, it’s impossible to justify through reasoning. Vigilantes aren’t angels of death, striking invisibly and undetectably. They’re hunted. At first, the vigilante kills to benefit society, then he kills to eliminate interference, then he kills to eliminate detection, then he kills to avoid arrest.

I went back through the review, wondering if I missed something that might convince me the comic was a good buy, since the “fourth wall” element and wondering whether Scarlet was insane or not wouldn’t be entertaining. I didn’t find anything.

SRS

Just what we need. Another G.I. Joe spinoff.

I enjoyed this book. And I’m glad Kelly did too. I think Bendis intends to open the scope up after this first salvo and I’m intrigued in where this story is going to head.

BTW I don’t think Scarlet is insane. Killing people doesn’t make you insane. People have this idea of what a pycho murderer is supposed to be like and they return to that whenever they think of the subject… but people have been killing people since the dawn of time and not all of these people have been crazy.

Case in point: a soldier doesn’t have to have some traumatic instance in their past that made them crazy so they can go out and kill people. Killing people may be morally reprehensible but it isn’t something that makes you crazy. Scarlet is doing something that is definitely south of the border of morality but there is nothing in the comic to make me think she is off her rocker.

I thought Scarlet was cool. Refreshing really, since I’ve not read much Bendis (the guy is pretty prolific). Bendis wants to take us on a ride and I’m letting him.

I like the colors.

ArrestThisMan

July 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm

@ Daniel

Uh… She kills a guy and doesn’t feel anything. Isn’t that like the definition of a sociopath?

@shawn –

I’ve read a few Bronze Age Superman comics lately, and there is a character, an alien superhero called Vartox. He has appeared recently in Power Girl too.

http://www.comicvine.com/vartox/29-13078/

http://supermantv.net/art/r-power-girl-16-vartox-427.htm

When male fans react to complaints by females by saying the now-familiar “Hey, Superman costume and the way he is drawn is also exploitative!”, or they talk about Twilight and stuff, I’d recommend the following exercise:

Take a good look at Vartox costume and imagine a world where about half of the male superheroes wore variations of it. Superman with red thigh boots, red trunks, and a skimpy blue vest over naked, hairy chest. Batman with black thigh boots, black trumps, and a skimpy black vest over naked, hairy chest. Green Lantern with green thigh boots, green trumps, and a skimpy green vest over naked, hairy chest. Think how fun comics would be like that.

That is more or less how it is for women.

Tom Fitzpatrick

July 13, 2010 at 9:03 pm

@ArrestThisMan:

Aw, hell, man … you’re probably talking about 3/4 of the female population who’d WANT to kill a guy (or two)!

That doesn’t make them a sociopath, it just makes them human! ;-)

The part in her hair mirror-flips in the second to last panel.

Otherwise, wow that’s frickin’ gorgeous.

Late to the thread but I loved this book. I have no previous opinions on Bendis– I haven’t read Avengers since I guess The Evolutionary Wars or Atlantis Attacks, and I’ve never read Powers– but the early descriptions of this had me intrigued and I’ll often gamble on a no.1. This was good stuff!

(I didn’t know it was set in Portland beforehand, either, but it’s always fun to see stuff like the Hawthorne Bridge in your comics and go “hey!”)

@Rene

ROTFLMFAO!

I passed on Scarlett last week which was pretty silly given my love for Alias but I have a budget and I try to stick to it. But based on some input from others and mainly your review, I bought it. And I couldn’t agree with you more — it was a great issue and I can’t wait for the next one.

“Alias” (never got into “Powers”) will (despite “Avengers”) always get me to give Bendis’ work a look. I didn’t much care for Maleev on “Daredevil”… but that might be more due to not liking Daredevil.

That said, I bought “Scarlet”, and am looking forward to more!

More Indy tripe for fanboys who want to read comics but don’t want to read superhero comics……

Guess what, they are exactly the same thing so stop kidding yourselves.

HeHasTwoHeads

July 17, 2010 at 6:43 pm

They lost me at ‘first shit.’

A few of Scarlet’s qualities (especially her short red hair, being armed with guns, willingness to kill) remind me of the sharpshooter Rose Tattoo character from Warren Ellis’ run on Stormwatch. And this seeming connection is actually one of the reasons (and not necessarily a major reason) why I bought and read Scarlet #1; I still wonder what Rose’s perspective would be like if she could tell her own side of the story. And I wonder if Scarlet just might be the humanizedm empathetic, self-reflective version of Rose. Then again, maybe ultimately these two characters are absolutely different from each other…but still, something to consider.

@Faux Wit Cha

Considering 99% of what I read is superheroes, I don’t know who is doing the kidding here…

@joe

You are truly the biggest idiot on this board.

I have pre-ordered this comic book and I’m waiting to have my hands on it.

From what I have saw of it, it’s like an european comic book story. The at is incredible (I don’t know Maleev), and the story seems to be a solid one (and I don’t like Bendis – Avengers suck!).

Why I say it’s like an european comic book? Because, we, europeans, have a lot of these dark , violent, unpoliticaly correct stories. We have soft/hard/compressed/decompressed stories, with a ton of different art methods. We are not surprised. We are more open-minded than you, the US readers, because our comic books market is more adult, more mature. Spandex supes are not our cups of tea. Scarlet like titles, yes.

And it’s a great surprise for us when an US comic book is jumping the fence, when it is really mature in spirit, when it is out of the cliches of the US comic books.

So, yeah, I think that Scarlet is the title that will show the true potential of these two actors: Bendis and Maleev.

If you don’t like what I have said… Do not shoot on the ambulance!!!!! It’s only a comic book critic!!!!!

@arrestthisman:

No. Superficially yes. A sociopath is unable to empathize with people period. That is different from killing somebody and rationalizing to yourself. There are likely many reasons scarlet doesn’t feel much remorse for killing the cop. And I think the comic goes into at least one of them. Scarlet is showing some dangerous and anti-social behaviors but that doesn’t make her the most extreme anti-social disorder possible, which is sociopathy.

And @ rene:

I love Vartox. And Power Girl. But PG’s costume is slightly less ridiculous. I mean, the boob window is a holdover from the seventies but it does cover most of her body. Vartox’s costume though…is just cheesy goodness.

Would I want Batman dressed like that? No. But I wouldn’t want Huntress dressed like she is either so you may have point. I hate her costume. :/

Also, @Fred:

That is the most underhanded compliment I have ever heard. Just. Wow.

@ Rene

“When male fans react to complaints by females by saying the now-familiar “Hey, Superman costume and the way he is drawn is also exploitative!”, or they talk about Twilight and stuff, I’d recommend the following exercise:”

Sorry that doesn’t actually address the points about Muscle bound guys in spandex (why not plated full-body armor for everybody?) or Twilight or Matthew McConaghay running around all his movies with his shirt off. The real issue is that we just don’t care b/c we’re focused on reading the stories and whether or not it looks cool. All superhero costumes are pretty impractical. These people are supposed to largely be archetypes that represent physical perfection, so naturally both sexes are overly idealized. I don’t see why I’d be bothered by that.

There are plenty of non-superhero books people can read in today’s comic book market if they’re so offended by everything that shows women’s skin.

“tonally I can’t think of a more perfect fir for this story than Maleev’s dark gritty super realistic art”

It should be noted that he’s not actually illustrating the comic so much as taking pictures and photoshopping them in. It doesn’t exactly require a lot of talent to do. He even credits the model; her name is Iva something.

But yeah. He’s not drawing. I know, semantically, you can argue that photography is art (and it is), but that’s clearly not the context here. What he’s doing does not exactly require as much talent as you’d think.

You might like it, but I’ve never liked “realistic” art in my comic, as things start to become static. The motion is lost. The human brain can interpret what is real and what isn’t, and it’s more difficult for our brains to realize that motion isn’t occurring in stuff that’s been drawn as opposed to stuff that’s been photographed. It’s part of the reason I dislike Alex Ross’s and Greg Land’s art in addition to Maleev’s. It’s the same reason I dislike 3D comics (not to mention that the 3D is usually pretty poor quality) and photo-comics. Comics need a sense of non-realism.

I like the book in spite of Maleev, not because of him.

@SullyE

It seems Maleev has done a hell of a lot of work to these pages then, because I don’t see where “he’s not drawing” or “not actually illustrating the comic so much as taking pictures and photoshopping them in”. If the pages shown here are “just” photoshopped photographs, my admiration for Maleev’s work just skyrocketed, because he’s made them look like gritty, photoreferenced drawings. Just in the 4 pages shown here, I count 28 panels, with at least, by my count, 17 models.

If he’s “not actually illustrating the comic so much as taking pictures and photoshopping them in”, he’s doing an amazing amount of work, that looks labor and talent intensive. Not exactly something that “does not exactly require as much talent as you’d think”.

He even, as one commenter earlier pointed out, “fucked up” (I think it’s either deliberate or just her hair flopping around) and switched the part in her hair in the next to last panel shown here.

While I agree that there are elements of Ross, Land, and Maleev’s art, as well as photocomics that just don’t work due to the static nature they depict, I’m not understanding all your comments.

The human brain can interpret what is real and what isn’t, and it’s more difficult for our brains to realize that motion isn’t occurring in stuff that’s been drawn as opposed to stuff that’s been photographed.

If it’s more difficult for our brains to realize motion isn’t occurring in stuff that’s been drawn, wouldn’t photocomics/photorealistic art be easier to read as having movement than drawn stuff?

“If he’s “not actually illustrating the comic so much as taking pictures and photoshopping them in”, he’s doing an amazing amount of work, ”

Sorry but no, I did a google search to find ways to use photoshop to make photographs look like illustrations, and it’s pretty obvious that Maleev is doing just that. He’s about as bad as Greg land is, and it sucks b/c I know he has more talent than this. I can’t call this illustration, and I won’t be supporting his work including this book.

http://tinyurl.com/56g8ow

http://tinyurl.com/2b7acxo

No, because drawn stuff can exaggerate things. It’s like the Uncanny Valley effect. We can accept things that don’t look human, but things that look too human bother us. The less-human things look, the easier it is for our brains to accept flaws and translate motion.

You’re assuming that he used 17 different models, as opposed to just finding pictures of people on the internet and photoshopping them in. That’s what Salvador Larrocca does (which is sad, because when he illustrates, he can do some absolutely amazing work!), anyway.

If you can’t see how the images in page four (the easiest and most obvious one) are literally just photos run through a filter, I don’t know what to say. They are. In fact, from a photographic standpoint, they’re not even that good.

Whoa whoa Whoa here!

I think we have glossed over the single biggest travesty in this review.

Who the fuck doesn’t like the movie Kuffs?!

You can actually see pretty easily in Iron Man where Larroca is definitely tracing pictures of Sawyer from ‘Lost’ for his Tony Stark. you’d think when people looked at work of great draftsmen they’d be inspired to create their own images, not become Photoshop hacks.

I’m past nitpicking things like spelling and grammar on the internet, but I think this goes a bit beyond that:

In what I think is the eighth paragraph (the second after the pages of “firsts,” anyway) you mention that Scarlet doesn’t present the reader with a particularly interesting, high-concept premise:

“On the surface (at least so far), Scarlet is not an idea I’m necessarily wowed by. It’s not some crazy unique high concept idea which is to say it doesn’t blow my socks off in concept…”

Then, at the review’s end, you mention not only that it is a high-concept book, but imply that you may actually NOT like high-concept premises at all:

“…the high-concept is a little outside my personal wheelhouse…”

So which one the hell is it? I’m sorry, but this is just ridiculous, and it’s poor writing. It compromises the entire standpoint from which you are reviewing this work. How can I take your assessment seriously when you yourself don’t even take the trouble to clearly convey what standards by which you are reviewing the work?

Do the editors for these sites actually do any editing?

She says it is not a UNIQUE high concept idea. She doesn’t say it is NOT a high concept idea.

Speed – a high concept idea, not a UNIQUE high concept idea.

Yes, you are, indeed, past nitpicking, Rai – but not in a good way.

Give me a break. We all know, colloquially, what the term “high concept idea” means, and the context of her statements well-demonstrate the meaning. It’s a gross inconsistency born either of a curious series of typos or a writer not critical of her own thought processes.

Maybe you should actually edit your writers’ articles, instead of trying to edit the readers’ perceptions of them.

I was talked into buying the first issue from my comic book dealer, I did love alias, and while I didn’t like it, I didn’t mind his Avengers run, so I thought I’d try it
But yeah, I won’t be picking up another issue. The art was fine enough, and the structure was interesting, but I couldn’t make the leap logically from ‘spoiled slacker’ to accomplished vigilante that easily. The cops were painted as such 1dimensional villains that it was ridiculous.
It looks like it’s trying to appeal to the GN crowd, but it’s fairly lazy writing, and I don’t care for it

We all know, colloquially, what the term “high concept idea” means

Yeah, we all know what the term means, and that’s how she used it.

Except first she complains that it isn’t a high concept idea, and then she complains that the high concept idea isn’t to her liking. Yet, how could it not be to her liking if there wasn’t one to begin with? Her review is self-contradictory. What is so hard to understand about that? This kind of thing makes it hard to understand from which perspective the critic is writing.

And I’m sorry if you think I’m only “beyond nitpicking…but not in a good way,” but I believe that even in a medium as disposable as internet journalism writers and editors both should take care to be accountable for the thoroughness of their reckoning and the craft by which that is conveyed.

She was not complaining that it was not a high concept idea.

I think his work in Marvel’s current universe started off well but as the months & years have passed by, his stories have gone into the crapper & they dragged other Marvel characters with him. To the point that I only buy two titles from Marvel now. I don’t know whether to slug him or thank him, now that saving money buying less comics per month. He should only stick to his own creator titles. I loved Alias with Maleev so I’ll be taking a chance on Scarlet & the first issue isn’t bad so far. I hope it continues.

Cronin:

She says, “Scarlet is not an idea I’m necessarily wowed by. It’s not some crazy unique high concept idea which is to say it doesn’t blow my socks off in concept….”

She is, as a critic, underwhelmed by the concept. She implies that she wants a high concept. Then she says that it was too high concept, or it was the wrong high concept. I just want to know: by Thompson’s standards as a critic, is Scarlet a high concept book or isn’t it? Does she even like “high-concept” books? I think that’s a fair question from someone reading a review.

Right, she’s not a fan of the high concept of the book. She says that later, as well, that the high concept of the book is not her cup of tea (or whatever phrase she used – not up her alley/not in her wheelhouse/whatever).

There is no inconsistency there.

Cronin, look, I’ve quoted her twice as saying that it is not a “high concept idea, which is to say it doesn’t blow [her] socks off.” She very clearly bemoans what she perceives as an un-enticing, flat concept, only to later state that she does not like the high concept of the book.

As a reader, it isn’t clear if she believes the book is high concept or not, or even whether or not she likes high concept premises to begin with.

Right, she thinks the high concept is flat and un-enticing. There is no inconsistency there.

Colloquially, a high-concept cannot be a flat concept. One conveys a striking premise born from a fertile imagination, the other just the opposite. It doesn’t make sense to say that the high concept was flat. And anyway, that’s not what Thompson herself said. She implied that the concept was not particularly striking at all, in contrast to a high concept idea which would blow her socks off.

She establishes, in that eighth paragraph, that it is not a high-concept book.

In the last paragraph she asserts that it is a high-concept book.

Those are the facts, according to the meaning of the words she printed in this article. Hence my questions.

Sure they can be.

Heck, to use my previous example, “Die Hard on a bus” is a flat high concept.

That said, now you know that’s how she was using the term, you can rest easy, right?

She was saying it was a flat high concept, but one done so well that she liked it anyways.

Colloquially, high concept means striking or imaginative. By that same token, flat, in this context, means dull and uninteresting. Something cannot be striking and imaginative, but also dull.

Your most recent example of high-concept is not colloquial, even though you agreed several posts above that Thompson meant the term to be understood in the colloquial sense. But whatever, Brian. Keep talking in circles fast enough, and you just mind propel yourself back to a time when you might have actually been able to do something about the faulty logic in the article. Or admit a professional gaffe. That is, instead of trying to convince what is apparently one of the few literate readers here now that, though the words to the article mean one thing, the article is actually saying something else. Enjoy your place at the vanguard of semi-literate mediocrity, Blogmaster.

Okay, I’ve had enough of your buffoonery.

I actually engaged you, but if you’re just going to be a jerk, be gone from here.

I’m not sure I’m needed here as Brian has said it all.

But just for fun!

@Rai: The issue at hand really seems to be a disagreement of the definition of “high concept”. I was using this definition of high-concept, which is what it means to me:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_concept

i.e. ” is an ironic term used to refer to an artistic work that can be easily described by a succinctly stated premise”

Which does not surmise that the work is “a striking premise born of a fertile imagination” as you say, or that it’s necessarily the opposite.

I’m not sure where you’re getting the colloquial definition as being anything resembling striking either. Wikipedia also describes it as: “High concept movies typically feature relatively simple characters and a heavy reliance on the predictable conventions of film genre.” Doesn’t sound striking to me…even in a more colloquial less sense.

Based on this definition can you understand what I was saying in the piece?

Yes, I think Scarlet is a high concept book
No, I do not think it is particularly unique
No, it is also not in my “wheelhouse” – i.e. I’m not generally a fan of some of the high-concept aspects of the story out of context.
But YES, I liked it the book despite those things i.e. it being not terribly unique and it not being my cup of tea because it was well done and had a lot of other redeeming aspects.

That’s the gist, and I feel confident that’s what was said in the piece.

Something I don’t understand is this shared “dismissal” of Bendis’ Avengers work. Picking up a couple of his New Avengers trades is what got me back into comics after a 15 year break.

GQPenn –

Even if you’re forgiving of Bendis turning the Avengers franchise into street-level, conspiracy-oriented, gritty superheroics starring very few classical Avengers (and many hardcore fans are a lot less forgiving than me), there are a couple of issues that made me less and less enthusiastic about the books.

It seems to me like he is telling the same story over and over again, particularly in New Avengers, with 1.657 issues dedicated to “The New Avengers fight the Hood’s gang” or variations thereof. And I found it very strange and pointless most of the 2.456 issues dedicated to previously unseen scenes of Secret Invasion that didn’t add a lot to it.

I also started to get the sense that the Avengers are forever being Disassembled and Reassembled and there is a lot of noise and extended storylines about it, but no point. None of the several new stati quo presented seemed to me like they were really explored to tell exciting stories, and the result was me thinking it’s just a lot of noise and why the hell not keeping doing the same old Avengers stories?

Finding the first New Avengers trade at the library is what got me back into comics, too. It hasn’t been a great series continuously, but when it is good, it’s very good. I thought the first 15 issues were very good overall, and most of the stuff since the Secret Invasion ended, as well.

[...] check it out.  And here’s a pretty good article about [...]

this is so freaking good man… love the new stuff

“A handful of pages in, Scarlet tells us “Take or leave some…and I promise you this is exactly how it happened”. Immediately I bristled. Because I’m a firm believer that truth is entirely subjective.”

Well obviously. You must have read stories with unreliable narrators before this?!

Regarding Photoshop filters and the models…

Maleev does employ real models to photograph and draw from. I know because he just hired my actress friend to do so for an upcoming character. I don’t know if he employs actual models for every single character, but he does at least for the main ones.

As for Photoshop filters, those links provided by another commenter to “turn photos into illustrations”… let’s just say those make it appear far easier to get a quality illustration-type result than it actually is. Take it from someone who has searched YEARS for an easy way to convert photos into clean illustrations. Bottom line is, it’s not really possible without looking like crap. It takes a lot of work to make it look good. If you compare the results of those two tutorials with the art above, they are worlds apart (to a trained designer/artist’s eye, anyway). After trying and trying different filters and combinations, I always just found it ended up being EASIER to go in and manually trace the photo to get the illustration to appear the way I wanted it to. Notice all those ugly jagged edges and pixelation in the results of the tutorials? Yeah. Unavoidable with filters.

Yes, he’s probably using filters to help get a certain type of look, but I guarantee you it takes a lot of manually tweaking and tracing and isolating different areas to get them to do what he wants. And it seems like there are multiple filters being applied, etc. It’s pretty much just as much work/effort as illustrating it analog-style. Ask any Photoshop artist.

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