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Scarlet #1
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Alex Maleev

Relax. I come to praise Bendis, not to bury him.

So for those of you just tuning in to comics in the past three or four years, you might wonder a bit about the reputation of Brian Michael Bendis. Yes, he's a solid superhero comics writer, and done a fine job working with Joe Quesada in masterminding the direction of the Marvel Universe.

But like any writer of mainstream superhero comics, Bendis can be good and Bendis can be mediocre because he's working within the constraints of a pre-set, marketable universe. What got him there, however, was showing us a skewed vision of reality that was always intriguing and sometimes a little scary because, hey, this could happen.

Even when he first teamed with Alex Maleev on their memorable Daredevil run that made his bones along with Ultimate Spider-Man, Bendis had a grit that getting into more brightly clad heroes kind of sanded down. That's not a knock; that's evolution of a writer, perhaps, and a not mysterious willingness to actually make money in a medium he loves.

With Scarlet, the Bendis that made everyone sit up and take notice is back. I'm sure he'd argue he never really went away, but it's been a while since one of his books has been something out of the ordinary, fun, sure, but just another one in the stack.

Scarlet, however, is a project that comes from passion, and it shows. It shows in every panel of Maleev's detailed panels depicting life on the streets of Portland, Oregon.

You can feel those streets; you can almost hear those people. Heck, Maleev's art is so textured, you might just be able to smell them.

That smell, by the way, might just be revolution. The sounds, however, are those of people hustling along just trying to get through their day. In their midst is one ordinary young woman who got pushed too far and will draw us into her anger. Maybe it's righteous, maybe it's not, but Bendis writes her so realistically you can't help but want to see how this plays out.

The book opens with Scarlet killing a cop. She could be justified; at least she's going to try to convince us. Though written in a voice reminiscent of a David Mamet play, this first issue feels a lot like Shakespeare's Richard III, with Scarlet immediately turning to us to explain her motivation and her plan. Like Richard, she also knows we'll be perfectly complicit.

Again, that's not to say she's wrong. Bendis won't let us make any easy decisions on that, and Maleev matches that with his art. Nobody's over-developed, clearly handsome or clearly ugly (thus bad); they're just people about to lurch into something way over their heads with the best intentions.

Here's a little tip, stage actresses: buy this first issue and practice the monologue that runs through it. It's going to make one heck of an audition piece. As for Bendis and Maleev, they've already got the part.

Derek McCaw

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