The level of corruption in our society is staggering and seemingly everywhere. Politicians are for sale, police officers break the law they are sworn to serve and protect, and many of the world’s most wealthy view the law as something beneath them. It’s enough to make a person want to tear everything down and start again! And that’s exactly where Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev‘s Scarlet comes into play.
What if one woman whose life was ruined by corrupt police officers took it upon herself to clean up the system by any means necessary? And what if others were inspired to join in her often violent crusade? Would a new Civil War break out? And who might get caught in the crossfire?
These are some of the morally complex questions that fuel Bendis and Maleev as they look the the next arc of “Scarlet. The series, published through Marvel Comics’ Icon imprint, follows the exploits of Scarlet Rue, a woman whose crusade against police corruption has turned her into a vigilante and revolutionary. In the recently completed and long delayed second arc of the series Scarlet escalated her crusade against the Portland Police into a full scale war. In other words, her story is far from over.
CBR: Did any new, real-world incidents that have happened since the first arc of “Scarlet” was released, like the water issues in Flint or the incidents of lethal force being used by law enforcement, have an effect on your story in the second arc?
Brian Michael Bendis: What those did was reaffirm the story. It made everyone involved feel like it’s a story worth telling. It’s not just we’re angry for a moment. This is an ongoing problem in our society; there’s these things going on that are just wrong. Just today, with all that’s going wrong with guns in our country and Congress did not act. That was shocking. It’s shocking.
It used to be just me, Alex [Maleev], and our editor Jen Gruenwald. Now, there’s a team developing the “Scarlet” television show . So there’s other people involved. Our show runner keeps sending me e-mails and we’re like, “I can’t believe everyday there’s something that happens that validates this story.”
It does feel like even some of the more challenging elements of the story [have been validated]. There is a scene about the girl who was bullied and what happens to her. The following issue, we had a scene with a woman who was sexually harassed in the work place in an especially horrible way. Sometimes when we put an issue out, even though we’re doing a book inspired by real stories, we ask ourselves if what we just did was over the top. Because I would never do anything like that, and some of these instances feel like science fiction since they’re so horrible. Then 50 things happen that make you realize these events are happening every day.
Every day, some high school shithead bullies someone into madness or close to it, and cyberbullying has made it so much easier for them to disconnect [from their actions]. It’s so horrible to me. So, number one, I’m grateful that enough people buy the book that it gives us an outlet to process this. Because that’s really what you’re doing when you’re writing stories about this. You’re trying to process why people act this way. Why doesn’t it stop? Why, after the fiftieth police officer is caught on tape breaking the law, does it still happen? Every day I ask myself, “Where’s the one tape of an officer about to cross the line and then thinking to themselves, ‘You know what? No.’ and then they look at the camera and think, ‘No.'” Yet, it never happens. They just turn off their personal cams.
When I’m with Scarlet, it takes up a lot of my soul. I think about all of this stuff a great deal.
On the final pages of “Scarlet” #10, your title character and her followers fire a rocket launcher at the police that have opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. It feels like that’s a huge moment for “Scarlet” and the book. Is this sort of a modern day equivalent of the Battle of Fort Sumter, which kicked off the American Civil War?
[Laughs] Yeah. The buy in that this woman’s actions would eventually build to a battle, war and revolution is a big one. We spent a lot of time with all of the characters. You got to meet all of them. Then, when this rocket is launched, I wanted some people who read this book to go, “Oh, no!” Because now, there’s no turning back. It’s not just, “You a murdered a cop in retaliation for their horrible corruption.” Now, it’s federal. Now, it’s as big as you can go. Now, a war has been started.
At the end of the first arc, a cop threw a grenade at her. So in her mind, they started the war. She believes that’s the start of the war. So now that she’s shot a rocket launcher into city hall, that’s it. War has been declared. There will be some readers that see that and are like, “Oh, no, Scarlet!” and others that are, “Yes! Scarlet! Do it!”
The other thing I wanted to talk about, and Alex feels this way as well, is that when you’re doing stuff that takes place in the real world, or a heightened version of the real world, you always worry about inspiring someone to do something that you don’t want them to do. When you’re writing “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you’re not too worried about a raccoon picking up a gun, but in this instance, it would bother us.
I really want to explore this, but I don’t want to glamorize it or romanticize to a point where someone would get the wrong idea. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened, and we’re always thinking about how we’re portraying this stuff. It’s something that occasionally hold us up, because we want to pay careful consideration on how we portray these events. My personal respect for the police is very high, but my reaction to corruption at any turn is the opposite. I want to write about this without police thinking we’re just shitting on the idea of police. We’re not.
After Scarlet and her followers fire that rocket, a shootout erupts and a prominent character in the series so far, Agent Going, is killed. Was she always meant to die?
No, actually. There are a lot of “Sliding Doors” style versions of this story that I’ve shared with a couple of people, and I’ve decided that I have to let the story unfold almost subconsciously. I let it unfold, sit with it a bit, read it back to myself, and see if it rings true.
At one point, I thought about Scarlet dying at the end of this arc, but the series would continue without her. She would be a martyr. I thought about going in that direction for a very long time; like, a couple of years. Ultimately, I was convinced that would be clever for, like, eight pages. Maybe it would be. Maybe it wouldn’t. There’s no wrong or right answer.
So there’s a version where Scarlet dies instead of Going, but one of those threads needed to be cut at the end of this act. I wanted Scarlet to act, and then there be immediate consequences. No matter how in the moment she is, or the number of people cheering her on, here’s an immediate sacrifice that happened.
We have dual narrators in “Scarlet” — Going and Scarlet herself. I was very proud of that, but losing one of those voices has a deep and immediate impact on the series. Hopefully readers are really excited to come back next year and see what the story will be like without her helping us in her moments.
What made Going’s death so shocking and sort of heartbreaking for me is that it almost felt like there was a romance blooming between her and Scarlet.
Yeah, I thought about that a great deal. I even wrote what their relationship would be like the next day if she lived. It was all good stuff, but in my weird head, that meant, “Oh, no — you’ve got to kill her.” Because you want to feel it.
It was a similar thing when we killed the Ultimate Universe version of Peter Parker. People were like, “Oh, my God! How could you do that? There were so many stories to tell.” That’s what death is, though. Unless a person is, like, 180 [years old], there are always more stories to tell. It hurts because there’s a loss.
The impact of that death is immediately felt in that final panel of Scarlet picking up the two guns and pointing them in the direction of us, the reader. There are times where, as a reader, I’ve rooted for Scarlet, and other times when I’ve been terrified of her. That final panel has me afraid of what she’s becoming at that moment.
Yeah, the world is burning around her, and in a way, she lit the fuse. That’s why you turn to the last page, and you get that reminder of who she really is, or who she was supposed to be, which is this happy young girl in love with this guy. That was the last happy moment she had. I wanted to remind people of that and give them this juxtaposition of who she’s turned into versus who she is supposed to be.
So, I’m with you, there. I’m scared, too. I’m a few issues into the third arc on my end, and it is the stuff that I was most excited to write when I thought of the series. I’m excited about it, and for those who worry about Scarlet, it’s exciting.
In this second arc, you showed us how the situation in Portland escalated, but I’m wondering, how did what happened there impact the rest of the country and, really, the world? You get a sense that the entire world was watching what was going on in Portland.
Absolutely, the entire world was watching, and it’s now a federal case. Now, by any stretch of the imagination, it is Scarlet and her troops versus the United States of America. There will be a media spin of her being a terrorist, and media spin of her being a folk hero.
You can already see, and we’ve seen examples in the media already, about how skewed a story can be told. Even today, and I’m just using this as an example, I’m absolutely fascinated over how “Huffington Post” is saying that Trump is falling down a rabbit hole that he’ll never be able to get out of. They’re saying his campaign has collapsed and he has no money to land on. Then you go to “Drudge Report,” and there’s not even a mention of that story. It’s all, “Hillary used the N word once,” which there’s no evidence of, whatsoever. It’s fascinating to me how crass a revisionist story can be as it’s happening.
I’m excited to put a character like Scarlet under that microscope and see how it affects the story, because it does affect the story.
You’ve talked about how emotionally exhausting “Scarlet” can be for Alex, but it also seems like these last few issues were pretty physically intensive as well ,with all the major crowd scenes.
Yeah, I felt bad about that and tried to give a quiet moment in a closet here and there to counteract that. Poor David Marquez is going through this on “Civil War II” as well, to an even more frustrating degree. I think, though, that it’s obvious to see that there’s no way you can tell this story without the crowd.
So, God bless him for that, and for finding his unique spin on the crowd. It’s very painterly and interesting; sometimes it’s in focus, and sometimes it’s out of focus. I think it’s wonderful.
Yeah, and the coloring is fantastic.
Yes! I love when he paints himself. I love it, love it, love it.
That’s another thing, too. Alex is painting this himself. It’s a one man band. I know people are like, “But you guys got Iron Man out monthly!” He’s not coloring that, though. It’s a whole different thing. It’s often just Iron Man and one villain or three Mandroids. This is a whole different thing that’s being asked of him.
I think most people see that, but I’m sensitive to it because I’m embarrassed that the book was delayed. It was my fault to start, and I want people to know that I don’t take it lightly. I’d rather have the book look the way it looks than just popping it out.
What can you tell us about “Scarlet’s” return next year? When you pick up with the action, will it be with a new #1, or #11?
I don’t know, yet. I’m of the school of thought that when you do a new #1, it has to be a legitimate #1, story-wise. I don’t mind if there’s a new #1 every four months as long as when I pick up this #1, it’s a legitimate #1, which means I understand who this character is, I get the hook of the series, and on the last page you make me go, “Woah!” Really, all books should do that, but a #1 has a special art to it. So I’ll decide at the time.
What we see coming into, let’s say, Act Three of the series is the media fallout of the Battle of Portland; what that does, who survives, who joins, and as her quest gets larger it’s harder to trust people. When you have a small group, trust is necessary. Now there’s an army building around her and it may be larger than she can handle. We’ll see what happens, but there’s a lot of meat on the bone, I’ll tell you that. It feels good when you’re in a series like this, when there’s so much story to tell.
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