Images & Words – Scarlet #1

[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Floating somewhere past Neptune, I decided to start reading. I had a fresh stack of Picto-Literature, given to me by my lover the day before departure. She knew that I had a soft spot for the paneled page, tales of hyperbole accompanied by a glut of exposition. Such insights into my interests were why I had accepted her as my lover in the first place.

I joke. The fact that such a babe would receive a Thought-Scientist, especially one as scrappy as myself, is a damn miracle. And these days, I’m no longer a disbeliever of miracles.

Rummaging through the cartoon-books, I was impressed by the titles at hand. My lover had collected some of the most critically acclaimed titles, the classics I grew up reading as a young lad. Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin. iZombie by Roberson and Allred. A rerelease of Casanova, the groundbreaking title by Fraction/Ba/Moon. Ah, such wondrous creations were crafted before the Collapse!

Staring out the bay window, I knew that I should feel some sort of immense gratitude. For the splendor of the universe. And the opportunity to explore it. But with a handful of pulp – yellowed, slightly battered paper narratives — I couldn’t maintain the gaze.

What’s more impressive — the constantly unfurling, eternal and infinite nature or the ability of small, squishy flesh creatures to represent it?

Sifting through the works, I found the first issue of Scarlet! What a gem! Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, the writer-artist duo known for reinvigorating Marvel’s Matthew Murdock (known at the time as Daredevil) had come together for this creator-owned property. Truthfully, I had never read it before. Hell, this made the fact that I was shipping out to a six-month work assignment a bit more bearable.

Before reading, I flipped through the pages to admire the artwork. I know, I know, according to the comix guides of the Aughts, this is a big no-no. But I like to give myself a sneak preview, titillating myself in the same way as experienced through a movie trailer. But this time I found myself slowing down, breathing in as much of every page as possible, words aside.

This Alex Maleev, he knew how to illustrate a page. The art in Scarlet blends photorealism with the staples of graphic-storytelling. The figures — the people, the settings, all of the objects viewable by human eye — appear to be outlined with realistic detail. But Maleev’s colors prevent the book from being mistaken for a photo-journal. They are vibrant, otherworldly, seemingly filtered. In a word: stunning. The art reminds me, in a roundabout way, of an obscure film-reel I once watched — A Scanner Darkly.

Before reading so much as a single word, I knew that I would have to Telecom my mate back home and thank her for packing Scarlet.

Then I actually started reading. If it weren’t being monitored and secured by various instruments, I swear my breath would have been taken away. Scarlet tells the tale of a young woman named, well, Scarlet. In the opening sequence the reader sees her murder a cop and then rob his corpse. But the anxieties are assuaged as it is learned that he was beyond corrupt.

How does Bendis reveal such an interesting tidbit? Well, by breaking the fourth wall and having Scarlet talk directly to the reader. There are no thought bubbles, just a direct line of communication between the woman in the story and the reader holding the collection. At the time of its publication, such writing would have surely classified Scarlet as a piece of metafiction. Of course, that was before we understood metafiction to be the totality and the lack of recognition of such to be mere ignorance.

So what is Scarlet’s story? Well, a series of mishaps involving a crooked police officer and her boyfriend being shot to death have led her to view the world in revolutionary terms. She narrates,

Well, right off the bat, it’s only fair to tell you…My family did nothing wrong and nothing to me. They raised me as best they could and tried to teach by example.

The only thing they did wrong is not sit me down when I was seven and tell me that people do indeed, on every level…suck. That the world was broken and no one was doing anything about it.

After suffering the aforementioned tragedy, the titular character decides that if the world is ever going to change, she needs to help it do so. The issue ends with a two-page spread of Scarlet peering over the city and holding a sniper-rifle. Again, the reader is further involved in this story as she declares,

I’m going to stop it. All of it. But the thing of it is…You’re going to help me.

From what I’ve read, Scarlet is not typical of the Picto-Novels released at the turn of the century. Some of the typical characteristics are contained; a strong female lead, a battle against tyranny, a tragedy to spur the action. But the means by which the story is conveyed sets it apart.

My cruiser is preparing to launch the auxiliary HYPER! and I have to return to hibernation. Should I never make it to my destination, as is sometimes the unfortunate case with these vessels, I feel privileged to have read this bit of comix history. And if all goes well, I will return to my gorgeous woman and our home on Mars. I will embrace her and thank her for loving me. And buying me comic books.