COMMENTARY TRACK: Bendis Incites a Revolution in "Scarlet" #5

Sometimes the world can seem rigged against us. Many people in positions of power such as politicians, corporation owners, and law enforcement officials exploit their authority to take advantage of and even prey upon others. In the debut issue of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev's creator-owned series "Scarlet," published by Marvel Comics' Icon imprint, readers met a Portland, Oregon woman named Scarlet Rue who had been attacked and left for dead by a corrupt member of the Portland police department.

Scarlet's attack left her with the realization that the only way to change the world was to fight back against the powers and people that have corrupted it. She started locally and in "Scarlet" #2-4 she declared war on the police officers of Portland who were using their authority to abuse and exploit others. Much to the chagrin of the city's Mayor, Scarlet's crusade against Portland's crooked cops struck a chord with people across the city and the country. In "Scarlet" #5, in stores now, those people rallied in support of her and Scarlet suddenly found herself transformed from vigilante into leader of a revolution.

"Scarlet" #5 brought the series' inaugural arc to a close and transformed the scope and scale of the series. To help readers get a better understanding of the issue's events, and to set the stage for February's "Scarlet" #6, CBR News spoke with Bendis for commentary and inside info on the pivotal issue.

CBR News: Brian, previous issues of "Scarlet" took place at or referenced several different Portland landmarks including Powell's or the Burnside Bridge. Here in #5 you open up with a huge gathering at another familiar looking Portland locale. Where in the city is this gathering taking place?

Brian Michael Bendis: That is the Pit, which is the same place where Officer Dunes attacked Gabriel and Scarlet back in issue #1. It's downtown next to Pioneer Square. It's this very large brick area where a lot of kids and punkers hang out. There's always a bunch of festivals and street fairs going on. They'll have bands appear too. It's where Dave Chappelle did his midnight show when he came here last year.

It's this thing right in the middle of the city and it's got a good little symbolism to it. The initial inspiration for the entire book was this area. So we had this gathering happen at the same place for what you call the symmetry. [Laughs]

You've lived in Portland for several years so you the know city pretty well. Based on his art, Alex seems to be familiar with the town too. His depiction of the city, its atmosphere, and its landmarks all feel very authentic.

Alex always takes his detail work very seriously. He scouts locations and does all the photography himself. It's really special. I've been with him when he's done it.

It's funny. Years ago I had met David Fincher about "Torso." The film version didn't end up happening, but at that time it was happening they had already scouted locations in Cleveland for it. He had scouted all the locations that we had used and taken photo reference and everything. Alex does the same thing with his comic books. He treats them very seriously. He did that on every issue of "Daredevil" too.

Here Scarlet emerges from the crowd and says, "Now what?" to readers. Does this moment of hesitation mean that, despite everything that's happened to her and everything she's done, she's still sort of an "every woman" character at this point?

The best thing about writing her is that she's not a type. She isn't a victim. She isn't a hardened revolutionary. She isn't a hardened vigilante, but she is all these things at the same time. So I think her responses are legitimate and honest.

This is odd, but in a way I feel that moment is when whatever nervous breakdown she was having was cured. It's too late though. She's already created a monster.

We've noticed that when characters are addressing other characters in "Scarlet" the speech balloons are round, but when characters are addressing readers their speech balloons are square.

Yes. [Letterer] Chris Eliopoulos and I must have played with ten different ways of conveying that before this very simple and elegant solution unveiled itself. Originally some times it would be she's looking directly at us and sometimes she's not. That was confusing and I wanted some small hint that will make the reader realize when a character is addressing them. The square balloons just worked. It was amazing how many different, flashy ways we came up with that didn't really work.

In this scene we have Scarlet addressing her supporters and the cops that have assembled to confront them. She really seems to know exactly what to say. Is she a born public speaker?

I think she's practiced this speech in her head over and over again and the moment took her. I've discussed this with other people and what I think is shocking is, and she's going to discover as the story moves forward, she's amazing at this. It's her calling.

It's like when someone picks up the drums and all of a sudden they find out they're amazing at it. This is the moment where she discovers herself. She's amazing at this. We'll see whether or not she can handle the pressure going forward, but she is a natural born leader.

On the previous page, a live grenade is thrown into the crowd during Scarlet's speech and here it explodes. It's not clear though who threw the grenade. Should we automatically assume it's one of the crooked cops? Or, like Captain Bridges suggests later in the issue, is it possible that one of Scarlet's supporters threw the grenade to stir things up?

We don't show who throws the grenade and what you just asked will be two very important questions moving forward.

This double page spread here of the grenade going off? It's the entire book. In issue #1 people thought the entire book was when Officer Dunes shot Gabriel and Scarlet. That image was her entire life. Then this image really is the entire book. It's one of those moments in my life where the artist perfectly captured the moment. Alex brought to life what was in my head and that's what the book is about.

There's more than just an explosion going on here. This is where it becomes clear that she will not be able to speak her message. They will fight her. The shoving match between Scarlet and her many enemies starts right here. She says what she says and they will push her, and that's going to force her to push back.

So this is the moment where Scarlet goes from vigilante to revolutionary?

Yep. The landscape of the book becomes wide open because of this event.

Whoever this grenade thrower either is or will be a pretty important figure in Scarlet's life, correct?

Yes. They are just important as the cop that killed Gabriel.

Here Captain Bridges basically says to Detective Going that if she had arrested Scarlet the violence and any possible deaths that may have happened when the grenade exploded would have been avoided. Even though he's in opposition to Scarlet, there is some truth to what he's saying. What should readers make of characters like Captain Bridges?

Everyone's point of view is legitimate. That's why I also enjoy the double narrative of having Detective Going talking to the readers as well. It's interesting to have all these different points of view. You think the whole book is going to be from Scarlet's point of view. Then we're seeing things from Detective Going's perspective and all these other people. None of them are really wrong. For me that makes for a more interesting narrative. It creates a universe where one day Scarlet is the hero and the next day she's a villain. Hopefully readers will enjoy the challenge of that.

Speaking of Detective Going. In this scene she talks to the readers. In "Scarlet" #1 the title character spoke to readers and made it clear she wanted something from them. So far Detective Going has made no such demands. Should we be suspicious of her?

No, we should sympathize with her just like we sympathize with Scarlet. I don't think anyone is lying when they're talking to the reader, but their opposing narrative should be interesting. Going and Scarlet were in similar situations and they both took something completely different from it. The audience can decide who they appreciate the most.

On the previous page, FBI Agent James Demonakos asks Detective Going if she knows what positive visualization is, and here he tells her to visualize their eventual face to face confrontation with Scarlet. Where did the inspiration for Demonakos come from? He reminds of us a more world weary Agent Cooper from "Twin Peaks."

[Laughs] No, it wasn't Dale Cooper. It's actually someone I've met. I have a lot of people in my life, some tangentially and some close, that have different relationships and jobs with the government. Then there are a couple of people in my life who are very worldly and have been around. They've seen a lot of stuff and have a seemingly laissez-faire attitude. That laid back attitude is a mask. It's a performance that conceals their true nature. That's because this guy I know, and the people like him, aren't quite sure who the bad guy is in the story. Everyone is suspect.

I always liked that about the guy. I've used this guy a couple times before, but Agent Demonakos is the closest I've gotten with my depiction of him.

Where did the character's name come from? Is it an homage to former Image Comics marketing manager and Emerald City Comic Con organizer, Jim Demonakos?

I actually know a couple people with that name. It's a name that I like a lot. The word demon is in it and it's got an immigrant feel. So when I used to see his name in my e-mails I was like, "That's a great name! I should use it."
And Going is named after my realtor here in Portland. When I saw her name I was like, "That's the best last name ever! Going? Where is she going? How is she going?"

With this page Scarlet tells us her old life has come to an end and her new life is about to begin. Did she anticipate things going this far? Did she ever expect to have a group of people looking to her for direction and inspiration?

I think this last splash of water really snapped her out of things. I think she's okay now, but she's stuck in this world that she created.

At this point is she more comfortable being a lone vigilante than a leader of a movement?

We're going to find out next issue. She's now surrounded by strangers who are her new best friends. So there's a lot coming in issue #6. The whole shape of the book changes. These people that were on stage with her including Isis, the African American girl we saw briefly, are all going to become very important players in the book as it goes forward.

With the end of this issue you built a bridge to take "Scarlet," the series and the character, into a much bigger world. How much story time passes between the end of issue #5 and the beginning #6? What can you tell us about the new status quo that we'll see in that issue?

A few months pass, and when we rejoin her she will have her act together. She'll have a team assembled and a plan is under way. It's one thing to fight a revolution. What does that mean? What is she going to do? So issue #6 is a big one. We get to meet the other cast of characters. We get to see where they came from and a whole lot of other stuff.

Issue #6 is in production now so people shouldn't worry about this, but I did [take] some time off from the book. It was because I was a little rattled by all the real world stuff that was going on that reminded me of the book. When we had talked about this book last year, when it first came out, I brought up that I was trying to write a book that I thought Paddy Chayefsky would write if he tried to envision what the world would be like in 20 years. Then all of a sudden Wisconsin was going crazy and things broke out in Egypt. So things seemed realer and certainly it legitimized the work for me. I felt like, clearly, I was on the right track, but at the same time it freaked me out and I couldn't get there. When things started to die down I was able to go back to the book, but those events really struck a chord with me, especially when I saw the stuff going on in Egypt.

Is "Scarlet" a tough book to write? One on hand it probably allows you to vent, but it also seems like you might have to go to some mentally uncomfortable places while writing the book?

You have to be in the mood for it and you certainly can't fake it. It's very easy to get into the mood. I just have to listen to the news. And it's funny because of our first storyline, and for those of you who are doing this please continue to do it, now everyone sends me every corrupt police officer or firemen story in the world; like the New York cops that got bused for that poker and drug ring. People keep showing me these stories. It's like they weren't aware of them until they read the comic, but if you open a paper you see it almost every day.

I'm not saying all cops are bad either. I certainly don't believe that. "Powers," my other creator-owned book, is almost a valentine to police officers. I just don't like it when people abuse their place in this world no matter where they are. That goes for every one, from politicians to comic book inkers. [Laughs]

So you can't fake it. You have to really believe it. I've had a lot of people talking to me about the "Death of Spider-Man" and when you're writing something like that you have to really believe it's happening. You have to build yourself up to put yourself there, and that goes for every book. That goes for the silliest of books to the most heart wrenching of books. You have to truly believe what you're writing or don't bother. You can't fake it. You can't!

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