In a world where people are divided by partisan bickering and huge companies spend millions of dollars to buy politicians, it can be hard to believe that a single person can still make a difference and change society in any real, positive way. And if a lone individual could accomplish such a feat, what type of person would they have to be and how far would they have to go? In July, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev examine those questions and more when “Scarlet,” their new ongoing, bi-monthly
creator owned series from Marvel Comics’ Icon imprint, begins. We spoke with Bendis about the project.
“Scarlet” is a story that Bendis has been working on for years, inspired, in part, by the film “Network.” “With that movie, Paddy Chayefsky was able to put together what was almost a parody story, and when it came out, it was like, ‘That’s crazy! That would never happen!’ And now most of what happened in that movie has actually happened on television,” Bendis told CBR News. “In that vein, I think, the way the world is, that if we woke up tomorrow to discover that someone started a revolution in this country, I don’t think a lot of us would be completely shocked. I started to picture what the world would be like if someone did and how the media would react to it. And there it is. ‘Scarlet.'”
At the center of the world Bendis has created in his new series is the book’s title character. “The book itself is about this woman Scarlet. She lives in Portland and she’s a young woman whose life is literally destroyed by a insanely corrupted police force,” Bendis explained. “She fights back against the corrupt cops and her push back starts almost a shoving war of wills between herself and almost all facets of the government that she’s pushing back against. Every time she pushes back, someone bigger comes after her. That builds till it literally starts an American revolution.”
The comic’s titular protagonist is an unlikely revolutionary when readers first meet her, but what the corrupt cops put her through unlocks something inside. “She’s a character who had absolutely no idea what she was capable of until someone pushed her down. She wasn’t aware that she could do any of what she later does,” Bendis revealed. “I’ve always liked stories where a character realizes they can stand up and fight. She gets shoved to the ground by the forces against her and she stands up, looks around and realizes that everything is broken.”
“This story is not a political statement, but I feel like there’s such anger in the world. There’re so many protests, and I live in a protest city. There are people protesting all the time. Their feelings are genuine and they’re angry about a variety of things, like economics, corporatizing, politics and sexuality. A protest might make that person feel good for a moment, but it’s never done anything for anyone,” Bendis continued. “So I thought, for my story, ‘What if this person who wanted to stand up said, “I’m not protesting. I’m actually going to fight back.”‘ So Scarlet fights back to the point that her struggle becomes what this country was built on, a revolution. So how would our country and the world react to something like that?”
While “Scarlet” is the star of her book, she’s not necessarily the hero. Bendis is aware that his protagonist’s perspective of the world is arguable and has designed the stories to allow readers decide on an issue-by-issue basis if “Scarlet” is the story of a terrorist or a freedom fighter. Or if she invents an all new category.
“When we look back at the history of what we call revolutionaries or freedom fighters, would we call them that today? I don’t know.” Bendis said. “That, to me, sounds like a great idea to set a crime comic/action adventure against.”
“Immediately, people will think of real life things like the Tea Party or stuff like that. This is about another world where the rebellion would be something else,” Bendis explained. “Ultimately, though, what people will find in this book are the things they bring to it. I learned when I was working at a newspaper that anytime you bring up anything that has to do with sex or politics, no matter what you write, people will read into it and find what they want in it. There’s nothing you can say that will change their minds. This is a comic book series that, I think, offers a complete world different from all the others I see out there, and one, like I had in my Jinxworld books, that is very close to the one I live in”
The supporting cast of “Scarlet” will be another way in which Bendis explores the gray hued actions of his protagonist. “Her cast will be very interesting, because her point of view that the world is broken is an arguable point. You, the audience, hopefully, will be literally taken in and agree with her, or you’ll enjoy the physical and mental arguments that come with her feeling this way. And the people that surround her, her friends that agree or disagree, are they willing to die for this?” Bendis remarked. “Plus, there are some government officials who are not evil. They’re people who have decided to change the world from the inside, or they have so much invested in her failing that they’ll do whatever they can to have her fail.”
The story of “Scarlet” will unfold not unlike a biopic for a fictional historical figure, but with a unique twist. “The difference between this book and other books is that she’s a character who will break the fourth wall, much like John Cusack in the movie ‘High Fidelity’ or Steve Coogan in ’24 Hour Party People.’ So she’s engaging you, the reader, in her quest,” Bendis explained. “I think, with the right story, that kind of storytelling can really involve a reader in a big, big way. So, in a way, the story is happening to you as much as it’s happening to her. I wanted to do that type of storytelling for a long time, but it had to be the right story and this was the right story to do it.”
Fans of Bendis’ long time collaborator Alex Maleev will recognize elements of the artist’s signature style on “Scarlet,” but like all Bendis-Maleev collaborations, it’s been tailored to fit the particular story they’re telling. “When we were working on ‘Daredevil,’ Alex was so desperate to make sure that things were consistent for his entire run, and the fact that it was is a great achievement for any artist. At the same time, though, I knew there was all this other stuff bubbling inside him. It was coming out in covers for other books,” Bendis said. “So I knew when we finished our story on ‘Daredevil’ that he was going to come out with all these styles that he had built up inside him. In terms of tone, I think his style for this book will be reminiscent of the work he did on ‘Halo.’ It’s a book written specifically for him. It is a book tailored to every great thing that he does. I believe, like every other book that he’s drawn, it will prove to be a fantastic example of American comics that looks like a European graphic novel.
“I’m Alex’s biggest fan in the world. Most of my proudest moments in comics are on books that also have his name on the cover. Everything we’ve done since ‘Daredevil’ has involved what I consider a giant leap forward in his art work,” Bendis continued. “The latest leap forward was Alex finally agreeing to color his work. Not that we haven’t always worked with amazing colorists, because we absolutely always have, but I’ve always been a fan of Alex’s painting and the interior colors that he’s done for himself. I remember he colored the first half of our one-shot ‘Civil War: The Confession’ by himself ,and I went, ‘Geez, that’s great!’ It’s like when George Perez inks himself. It just always looks better. So Alex is doing full art and coloring on this.”
Rather than being an infinitely ongoing series, “Scarlet” is a story with a beginning, middle and end. Bendis has definite plans for each of those points, but is leaving himself plenty of room to be flexible on his journey to them.
“I don’t have a set place where I want to end it. I’m not going to say it’s a 60-issue storyline. It’s like ‘Jinx,’ which was an ongoing series for three years. Alex and I will take as much time to tell this story as we feel it needs,” Bendis stated. “And for those who think we pulled the plug on ‘Spider-Woman’ to do this, I know everyone won’t believe me, but we were doing this anyhow and Alex could do both. We scheduled this book so he could do both at the same time, but the events of ‘Spider-Woman’ and his feelings about ‘Spider-Woman’ have nothing to do with our doing this series, other than I said, ‘All right. It’s time to launch this book.’ We’ve been working on it for two years, and it was just time to go. I meant to put it out after ‘Halo,’ but ‘Spider-Woman’ just took so much time.”
“Scarlet” is Bendis’ first creator-owned book since he launched “Powers” with Michael Avon Oeming over a decade ago, but “‘Scarlet’ is not replacing ‘Powers.’ That series will continue,” Bendis said. “Both books will have the same format, which is a lot of pages -approximately 40 – and with a cardstock cover that I love.”
The success of “Powers” was one of the reasons why it’s taken Bendis so long to come out with his next creator-owned series. “It’s a high class problem to have, but ‘Powers’ is one of the big success stories of independent comics over the last 10 years, and because I was only doing that and not the other books that I had been cooking over the years, the anticipation of what exactly we’ll do with this book and what it will be like has been building. So I felt that this book had to be very special. It had to be unique. It had to be a story that you’re not going to get in my monthly Marvel Comics work,” Bendis explained. “I offer a lot of different flavors in my Marvel work, so I wanted to make sure the flavor of ‘Scarlet’ was very, very unique. That the narrative technique was very, very unique. That it was a story which would be very appealing to fans of my Jinxworld books and that it would specifically appeal to fans of the books that I’ve done with Alex. So that’s what we’re doing, but at the same time, this isn’t just another crime story.
“It’s got a bigger palette and vision to it. These are the thoughts that I had when we were putting it together,” Bendis continued. “‘Scarlet’ is a story that starts very small, but it gets very, very big. It’s a story that I haven’t seen in comic books, movies or anywhere, so I felt this is what we should do next.”
“Scarlet” #1 hits stores in July, and Bendis has enlisted some friends to help him celebrate the book’s debut. “I’m eager to make sure the book finds its place in the world, so I called in some big favors and got some of my big name comic super star artist friends to offer us some alternate covers for the book. You can look forward to alternate covers by Mike Deodato, David Lafuente, David Mack , Mike Oeming, Lenil Yu and my boss Joe Quesada – that was a big get. We have a couple more surprises planned, too. So you’re going to get a book with some awesome cover pieces.”