After the disintegration and disappointment of Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Spider-Woman, many of us were left wondering what would become of their work together. At C2E2, all was revealed with the announcement of Scarlet, a creator-owned series published through Marvel’s mature-readers imprint Icon that was supposedly years in the making. After a stunning issue #1, Maleev and Bendis reassure us that they are returning to form with an equally great second issue.
Let me start here: seeing Alex Maleev’s talents put to use on a book with a tone that not only fits his style but is also high quality is great. Cracking open Scarlet #2 brought me back to the early 2000’s reading their work on Daredevil. Every panel of every page is a gritty landscape that captures the grime of Scarlet’s world but also the spark in her personality. Maleev’s work isn’t for everyone I’m sure; his coloring is anything but traditional and gives the book a very surreal nature, but that’s what is so appealing. Scarlet is ultimately fantasy, and Maleev’s work emphasizes that in spades.
Scarlet #2 represents Bendis in top form, with all the trademarks of his best work. In general terms, the premise of Scarlet’s initial character arc is not unlike The Punisher, though with perhaps more lofty goals. She’s a person wronged by dirty cops, and sets out to expose the scumbags instead of slaughter them. At least, that’s how she sees it. Though — as things often do in comics — things don’t go entirely to plan.
The issue is incredibly talky, almost to a fault, but all of the dialog is well written and sharp. Aside from one page that is literally 27 word balloons that come from one character’s exposition-ridden monologue, the book is solidly written with conversations that are engaging for both the reader and characters. I wasn’t sure about it in the debut issue, but I’m digging on Bendis’ choice to have Scarlet address the readers directly instead of using the typical internal narrative boxes. It adds to the surreality of the series thus far and gives the reader a sense of really getting to know this character by being personally addressed.
The fourth wall breaking aspect of the book is interesting in its execution, because it becomes apparent in issue #2 that Scarlet is narrating the story with knowledge of how it all turns out. For example, though Scarlet may step out of a scene to address the reader at any given point, it’s clear that she knows what happens beyond said scene. There’s some sense of having to suspend your disbelief, but this approach suggests that perhaps ultimately there will be some additional meta aspect to the entire story. Anyone that knows my taste or reading preferences knows that I love me some meta mindf*cking.
Scarlet, so far, is exactly the level of creativity that one expects of the Bendis/Maleev combo. While I was initially upset at the false start of Spider-Woman, if that loss in anyway contributed to making Scarlet a reality, I’ll gladly accept it.