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Brian Michael Bendis

Scarlet

Scarlet is a vigilante who is determined to fight back against a corrupt system and she uses violence for change. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, who is known for his skill in writing character’s dialogue, Scarlet is a deliberately provocative story meant to push boundaries. Originally released  in 2010, it is being re-released for it’s timely story line during this #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and Women’s March era, and I obtained a copy through NetGalley.

Scarlet is living life as a typical Portland teen when she and her boyfriend get targeted by a dirty cop’s drug pat down. When her boyfriend punches the officer and they make a run for it, they are followed and shot at. Her boyfriend dies, and Scarlet is sent to the hospital in a coma. The police cover themselves by painting the couple as drug dealers and the officers are hailed as heroes who saved the community from a drug cartel. When Scarlet awakens, she is furious and decides she wants revenge.

The gimmick is that Scarlet breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader. Thus, the narrative is from her perspective and she is sharing what she wants you to know, so you get her spin on the action. This mostly works, but at times it’s a bit pretentious. Scarlet isn’t always likable, and can definitely be perceived as an anti-hero.  Her unsavory ‘violence is the answer’ motto is tempered by the realization that some big changes in our world have only come to fruition through violence. Martin Luther King Jr was able to further the Civil Rights Movement through love and non-violent means, but he was counterbalanced (and helped) by Malcolm X’s methods, as Gandhi was also helped by radicals. This is an uncomfortable truth that should be further delved into.

The artwork is stylized with an edgy noir vibe. Mostly drawn in black and white or with a muted earthen color palette, some splashes of color include Scarlet’s red hair, blood and occasional details such as a pride flag. The art is sketchy at times, but also includes photographic type detail. Artist Alex Maleev is fond of closeups of people’s faces, which can be hit or miss at times, but his unique style is a good match to the story.

This series is worth looking into further to see if Bendis finesses this culturally relevant story and develops Scarlet into more than a gun-toting cop killing hottie.  I look forward to Scarlet moving from vigilante to true revolutionary.

-Nancy

Uncanny X-Men: Revolution

The X-Men regroup after the devastating Phoenix event in Avengers vs X-Men, with Cyclops taking the lead of his outlaw band of mutants and establishes the New Charles Xavier School. He, Emma Frost, Magik and Magneto collect new students from around the world, as new cases of teens gaining abilities out of nowhere are popping up all over.

The Avengers hear of Cyclops’ mission and try to stop him. Being partial to the X-Men, I feel that the Avengers came off as pricks with a holier than thou vibe. They got shown up when one of the new mutants used her powers to trap them, and the X-Men made their escape. The team head to the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning where they meet up with Kitty Pride, Wolverine and Havok who are leading a second school for mutants. Their differences are established, and it is sad to see such divisions among the former teammates, but a few students there switch over to Cyclops’ new school.

In the midst of this, we learn of a mole in the Uncanny team, and later are unsure if this team member is being truthful, or if there will be further double or triple crosses. Cyclops is torn about what he did to Professor X, and his culpability level as his, Emma’s and Magneto’s powers were compromised by the Phoenix. They need the new mutants as much as the new students need their guidance. The last chapter concentrates on Magik and her connection to Darkchild and the demon world. A cliff hanger is set up and this new team have their work cut out for them.

Right off, I was at a disadvantage as surprisingly I have not read A vs X (it is now on reserve for me at my library), so I struggled with my background knowledge. Most comics, including this one, try to fill the reader in on past events through dialogue between characters but I had to search some Marvel Wiki pages for info to fill in my knowledge gaps. What I probably should have done, is set this book aside until I read the other book, but I was on a time crunch and soldiered on.

Artist Chris Bachalo illustrates chapters one through four, while Frazer Irving takes over for chapter five. As the style changes dramatically in the last chapter, and not for the better, I was not happy. I liked Frazer’s backgrounds better with his swirling colors, but Bachalo’s illustrations of the heroes was far superior. If I am to read further into the series, first I must read A vs X, and then see if the art holds up in future volumes.

-Nancy

Related image
Bendis, Brian Michael, Chris Bacalo & Frazer Irving. Uncanny X-Men: Revolution. 2014.

Civil War II

Bendis, Brian Michael, David Marquez & Justin Ponsor.  Civil War II.  2017.

I truly do not know where to start on reviewing this book. My two favorite comic book authorities at Graham Crackers counseled me not to purchase this title, but I didn’t heed their warning. I should have listened!

When Civil War came out, it was an excellent story on moral responsibility, civil liberties and national security plus it tied in with current events such as the Patriot Act. This second story is all about profiling, which certainly is an issue right now with the world’s fight on terrorism, but is done so in such broad strokes as to lose it’s message.

Before I get started on the plot, I want to first say the artwork by Marquez and Ponsor is excellent, and actually is better quality than the first Civil War book. The coloring is rich, and the faces are realistic with the body types drawn more appropriately instead of unrealistic proportions than some artists do when they depict superheros. But there were some editing choices that puzzled me. There were some cool two page spreads, but some were used several times over. When the story was in issue format, they obviously liked some pictures enough to include them in different issues, but when collected into graphic novel form, they should have eliminated the redundancy. Plus, the front cover fell prey to a recurring Marvel problem – it doesn’t match the story. The wrong Spiderman costume was drawn in (Miles was in this book, not Peter), and Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy is shown on Iron Man’s side when he was actually on Captain Marvel’s side.

Quick plot recap with some spoilers: A new Inhuman, Ulysses, emerges with the ability to see into the future.  When he warns the Inhumans and Avengers that he saw a vision about the villain Thanos attacking, they are able to be proactive and are ready for him, thus thwarting a greater disaster. A hero dies, and Iron Man and Captain Marvel take different sides on whether Ulysses’s warnings are truly accurate, and if they should be used to prevent future crimes. Iron Man accuses Captain Marvel of profiling, while she feels it is more important to keep everyone safe no matter what it takes. Heroes take sides, and battles ensue. More deaths occur, with a showdown regarding how free will and one’s motives affect the possible threads of the future.

While there were some good moments with clever dialogue and the debate about the Hulk/Hawkeye issue, the rest of the book just seemed to be a hot mess.  A huge problem for me were the tie-in issues that were referenced to but not shown in this volume. I couldn’t possibly keep up with this whole merchandising “event” so I just read this novel, and was confused in spots. In the first Civil War, the X-Men sat out the battle, but in this second story everyone, and I mean everyone, showed up. The split X-Men team (a tie-in explained this, so I had no idea why half the members were with Storm and others followed Magneto), the Canadian Alpha Flight team, the Champions (young Avengers) and the flippin’ Guardians of the Galaxy showed up! What??!

But the biggest problem I had was with Captain Marvel, and her character assassination in this book. Almost all superhero movies revolve around men, with a few token women thrown in as eye candy, so the upcoming Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel movies are very important. Why would they then make her SO unlikable before her chance to shine in a movie????

Now, I am truly hoping some Marvel fans can explain these following questions to me:

When Ulysses was changed into an Inhuman, wasn’t another college student taken too? What happened to her?

What’s the deal with the dog Lockjaw? He got drawn in more than some human heroes, such as Squirrel Girl who I saw in one panel and never again.

Why were heroes on either team? There was no explanation as to why they choose their side.

Do the heroes that died in this story stay dead? Usually everyone comes back somehow and I don’t feel like reading other related issues to find out on my own.

Why is Hank McCoy now with the Inhumans?  I’m sure I’ll have more questions if I think longer on the plot, but I need to move on.

I’m disappointed that this story, which should tie in with upcoming Marvel movies, was just not any good. They did no favors to the franchise with how many of the characters were portrayed. A marketing line for the novel, “The Marvel comic event everyone will be talking about” proved true- but not for the reasons they had hoped.

-Nancy

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