Jinxworld features a mix of new and returning creator-owned titles under the banner of DC Comics. Pearl #1 relaunched the line and now Scarlet #1 brings back the first of several dormant series, with the last issue appearing under Marvel’s Icon brand in 2016. It is being branded as a starting point for new readers and in that it succeeds. Scarlet presents a dystopian future for America in which civil war has erupted between the government and oppressed classes. It’s very similar to the Vertigo series, except this story occurs in Portland instead of Manhattan and features a female lead, the eponymous Scarlet. While that premise may sound like a good fit for these increasingly fraught and divisive times, Scarlet #1 only poses one meritable question: What was the point of resurrecting this series?
The first few pages of the issue, a sniper showdown between unidentified members of opposing sides, are the best that Scarlet #1 has to offer. Maleev’s depiction of the action in this sequence is easily followed and builds tension with something as simple as the reflection of a scope. It feels like an earnest representation of war in the visuals. Yet even in this moment the dialogue manages to undercut that mood, as individuals treat the death of a comrade and their own impending bullets with the casualness of a snafu at the supermarket checkout. The dialogue is sparse in this moment though and it doesn’t become evident just how problematic word balloons will be for this entire issue until Scarlet arrives.
Almost all of Scarlet #1 is held together by a monologue from its leading hero, one meant ostensibly to explain the cause of her soldiers and possibly inspire them. It does both of these things poorly and also manages to provide little depth or nuance even when addressing the politics of the series in the most direct manner possible. Much of what’s said reads as sophomoric mumblings following a cursory reading of A People’s History of the United States. References to the film Lincoln and various historical sins are not wrong, but they are superficial in nature, and impossible to imagine as the rhetoric of a revolutionary leader who is feared by the United State military. For lack of a better word, everything that Scarlet says is basic.
Not only does this rambling monologue call into question the purpose and value of the series, as it fails to address any thoughts that couldn’t be evoked from watching five minutes of news in 2018, it also slows the pacing to a zombie-like shamble. While wartime Portland is initially displayed in a spread that borders upon breathtaking for anyone familiar with the city, it quick resolves to a never ending series of interchangeable crumbling buildings.There is no sense of geography as Scarlet and her people slowly walk and stand around the dying city as she explains its existence. It is the classic “walk and talk” scenario of a great Sorkin drama less any clever or revealing dialogue. Even a bombing feels like just the next step in Scarlet’s rambling given how it is addressed both in the artwork and by various character’s speech.
Maleev provides his own coloring in Scarlet and this too feels like a mistake. The opening shootout, while well told, appears washed out with grays and beiges dominating the rubble of the city. This effect is only interrupted by a handful of pages utilizing a “Welcome to Portland” postcard with some bright orange for contrast. While these hellish color choice might make a point for a single sequence, they send eyeballs to sleep across the entirety of the issue. Very few panels stand out from the constant barrage of urban wreckage, which makes the wreckage and story alike far less impactful.
The overall effect of Scarlet #1 isn’t much different from leaving on a 24 hours news network for too long in 2018. It has the consistent feeling of being extremely dire, but manages to make only superficial observations and just makes you want to walk away after a while. It’s obvious that the creators involved in Scarlet are capable of greater things, but this concept draws out their worst traits. The story is so assured of its own relevance that it forgets to actually challenge readers, even assuring audiences that they already know whether this is for them early in Scarlet’s monologue. There is a great comics story to be told about the historical and current divides within American society, this simply isn’t it.
Published by DC Comics
On August 27, 2018
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev
Letters by Joshua Reed