Scarlet by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev is a very interesting noir comic. It takes the classic inner-monologue approach of pulp fame and turns it conversational. The lead character, Scarlet, a twenty-something anarchist bent on revenge speaks directly to the reader for the majority of the comic. She places the reader in the scene beside her, and simultaneously explains her actions and confesses her sins. She seems compelled to defend herself, and even more compelled to convince the reader that her intentions are noble. The first scene: she kills a cop.
Scarlet recounts her tragic history, and slowly reveals the events that led her to her current authority-figure murdering state. We learn that she and her friends were singled out by a drug-addled policemen with horrid intentions, and that when her boyfriend Gabriel resisted arrest he and Scarlet were gunned down. Weeks later, Scarlet wakes on a cot in a hospital ward to the news that Gabriel didn’t survive and his killer is being heralded as a hero. Turns out the police department planted evidence on her boyfriend after they killed him, and made it look like an amazing bust for Officer Gary Dunes.
1) The Seedy Underworld
Beautiful Portland Oregon. City streets, dark booze-halls, and picturesque rooftops.
2) The Anti-Hero
Scarlet is the anti-hero of this noir comic. She will not allow Detective Gary Dunes to get away with the murder of her love, and she has the entire Portland Police Department in her cross-hairs.
3) The Femme Fatale
She is also the femme fatale of the story. Scarlet is very conscious of her sexuality and charisma and is unafraid of using both to accomplish her ends. At one point in the comic she puts her flesh on display at Dunes’ local haunt and waits for him to take the bait. He’s sorry he did.
A moderate amount of misogyny exists in the story. Scarlet is completely under-estimated because she is a young female. Like most male-created female protagonists she is sexy and dresses to embellish her more flattering features. Also, the fact that the entire story is born out of the death of a man seems a touch male-centric (as if a woman’s life is over if she loses her man).
Scarlet is nothing more than a redemption story. Its timing is fascinating, because the last year has seen a vast increase in the number of protests and revolutions throughout the world. This story re-imagines the peaceful gathering as a violent force that cannot be stopped, and looks at current governmental authority as more than a modicum of tyranny. Initially, Scarlet wants to redeem the murder of the only man she ever loved. She fights selfishly, and unintentionally her cause becomes selfless as she begins to target the corrupted core of the government for the good of the common people.
Just a touch of sexuality throughout. Nothing I would consider erotic.
7) Loss of Innocence
Scarlet’s world is shattered when she discovers that the police are not “the good guys.” Her world view up to that point then becomes entirely suspect, and her trajectory is altered forever.
8 ) Racism
Because the main character is a female, she is untouched by this theme. I could say that her actions emasculate the mayor, the current police force, and the government as a whole but that feels like a stretch.
In conclusion I will say that I am looking forward to book 2 of Scarlet. My only problem with the story is the fact that she spends so much of her time talking to the reader. It’s unsettling, and really made me uncomfortable at points….maybe that was the idea all along. Scarlet is another great addition to the noir comics genre.
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