Heading into this issue, things looked like they were moving to a head with Scarlet appearing at a public rally, and what happened next would shape the series in a big way. More than any of the previous four issues, “Scarlet” #5 feels like an exercise in plot advancement and nothing more. To end Book One of the series, certain things need to happen and they do. They don’t necessarily flow out of the characters or exist to do anything but go from one point to another, and that’s a problem.
Scarlet appearing in public after killing police officers, corrupt or not, puts the police in a difficult position: arresting her means exposing not just the corruption of slain officers but possibly more. Killing her makes her a martyr and will no doubt raise numerous questions about corruption. Letting her go is obviously not an option. Unfortunately, those limitations don’t apply to the police exclusively, they also apply to Brian Michael Bendis. There are three paths available and none of them lead anywhere particularly interesting or conducive to the story of “Scarlet.” All are plot choices that would end the story, so he chooses a fourth option, and it’s not a great one.
How things play out clears the board in a way, taking the plot to the next level, and has some roots in the real world. But, it’s so mechanical an escape hatch from this strange little corner the book has found itself written into, that it’s not satisfying. It serves a purpose and nothing more. Where the book is left is an interesting place with three clear groups all circling one another: Scarlet and the revolutionaries, the police and powers that be, and a federal agent who’s recruited the only clean/sane cop we’ve seen in the book so far. It’s a good dynamic to have heading into the next stage of the title, but the way the story gets there is too externally driven.
Alex Maleev’s art is increasingly refined with each issue. His style is so locked into photoreferencing and his specific approach to color work that how much you enjoy his art depends on how much you like that style. There’s no question that he excels in that particular style of art, able to make it more than just photoreferenced panels of stiff characters that don’t look like they belong together. Everything fits together here nicely and he’s able to balance the realism with some strong layouts and panel-to-panel continuity. His big flaw is his rendition of faces. They tend to look either completely neutral or unnatural.
“Scarlet” #5 concludes the first book of the series and, rather than a strong conclusion to the title’s opening chapter, it reads like a set-up for the next. The plot moves characters mechanically into place, ready for issue six to pick them up and put them into new motions. The final three pages, though, contain some very strong writing by Bendis that shows this is a book that’s about more than just the broad plot. There are characters here and it’s a shame they didn’t come out much in this issue.