Three issues in, “Scarlet” finds itself walking a fine line between compelling tale of resistance and unintentional bad joke. The eponymous lead continues her quest to fight against corruption, but comes close to becoming a caricature, someone to roll your eyes at and dismiss instead of someone to relate to and root for. Part of the problem lies in the storytelling and convenient shortcuts taken in the name of expediency. Last issue, it was an awkward and forced conversation between Scarlet and a corrupt police officer’s former partner. Here, it’s the participation of her dead boyfriend’s best friend. The ideas behind the series are intriguing, but the execution doesn’t do them justice always.
Following up on last issue where Scarlet killed the corrupt police officer who killed her boyfriend after trying to frame him for drug dealing, Scarlet finds herself on the run with the cop’s money and ready to take things to the next level. And that means going to her boyfriend’s best friend, Brandon, for help. His entering the story is one of the big leaps that hurt the comic. When she explains what’s happened and asks for help, things just move forward without so much as the hint of debate or questioning if the appropriate response to what’s happened is killing cops. It’s one thing for Scarlet to go off like this, but for there to be the lack of protest doesn’t feel right.
Brandon joining Scarlet isn’t a problem, but Bendis and Maleev skip the discussion and go right to the next step. Considering Scarlet’s actions, it’s an odd assumption to make that anyone would join her without a word otherwise. While she’s had her ‘eyes opened’ by her experiences, most people wouldn’t want to join her.
The manner in which Scarlet behaves follows a cartoonish logic. Push that too far and she becomes a cartoon herself, and the book is close to that point. It’s the third issue and there’s a strange complacency with her behavior, an unbelievable quality to it. For someone relatively new at this, she seems too skilled at it. If this is how good she is at the beginning with how little resistance she encounters so far, where is the actual struggle?
The cartoonish quality of Scarlet makes for an interesting juxtaposition with Alex Maleev’s photorealistic art. It portrays a world that looks very much like our own and that runs contrary to the content of the story. His coloring choices also run contrary to the story, sometimes conveying a flat world where necessary details don’t stand out. Maleev’s depiction of Scarlet continues to improve. In earlier issues, she came across very emotionless and cold, too subdued for the story she was telling, but she’s more open now. Not over-the-top in her mannerisms, simply more natural.
“Scarlet” is a bold comic, one that stinks of effort to be that way. In the pursuit of pushing the envelope, convenient storytelling shortcuts are taken: Scarlet is much better at this than an amateur should be, Brandon hops on board without any argument, and, so far, everything is far too easy. But, it’s only three issues in and these problems may not seem so bad in a larger context. Right now, though, it’s a hard book to take seriously.