The team of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev reunite in July for Scarlet, a new creator-owned project under Marvel's "Icon" imprint that tells the story of a girl who leads a new American revolution.
The ongoing series brings together the two creators who gained fame during their award-winning run on Daredevil, now in their first co-creator-owned title outside the Marvel Universe. Bendis, who promises this series will offer something different for fans of his various independent comics over the years, created the series specifically with Maleev's distinct artwork in mind.
Newsarama talked to Bendis to find out more about the bi-monthly series and found out the fourth wall isn't sacred within the pages of Scarlet.
Newsarama: Brian, did you come up with this story with Alex? Or did you come up with it and decide Alex would be ideal for it?
Brian Michael Bendis: It's a concept I developed, but only for Alex. We should have done this two years ago, actually. I've been dying to do a creator-owned book with him since we ended Daredevil. And it was on the list of things for us to do. And then all these other things kept popping up that were awesome and were of a time where you had to take them then. So we've been cooking this slowly over the last year or so.
But yeah, the concept doesn't work without the visuals and without Alex. So it's co-created by us, totally.
Nrama: Who is Scarlet?
Bendis: She is a young Portland girl who finds herself shocked to be the victim of a very corrupt society that pushes her down pretty hard out of nowhere and ruins her life. Instead of taking it, she kind of stands up, looks around and realizes that the entire world is broken, that everything is broke. And with that comes the strength to fight back.
The fight becomes a push and pull between her point of view of what's wrong with the world and the status quo of how the world works, and what sparks out of it over the course of the first arc is an actual modern American revolution.
Nrama: Is she rebelling against corporate America or political America or all of the above?
Bendis: Well, it's not a political book. It's more about a society that completely covers up corruption no matter who gets hurt. And every time she pushes back, she discovers -- at first unwittingly -- she discovers a new layer of what's wrong with the world and a new thing that is taking place in a way where it doesn't matter how many people get hurt as long as this wheel keeps turning.
The initial idea came from my love for writers like Paddy Chayefsky. If you ever saw Network, you have to remember that when it came out at the time, it seemed like an insane idea, the stuff that was happening.
But now, all that stuff has happened. And I'm always amazed when a writer comes up with an idea that looks insane but then, all of a sudden you go, "Nope, that's on TV right now." You know?
About a year of so ago, I thought, you know, if we woke up one day and somebody declared that a revolution actually started -- like an actual American revolution -- I don't think any of us would be startled. You can already see the pieces of it coming together. There's a genuine anger in the world, an inability to people to listen to each others' point of view. And with that comes more anger, and with economic strife comes more anger.
I live in a political city, or I should say an activist city. A lot of people are very concerned, and there's a lot of protesting. So it's very easy for me to imagine a world where someone would just stand up and say, "That's enough. The world's broken, and someone has to fix it. And we have to start over."
It's not a political book at all, even though there are certainly ideas in there that are politicized and will have arguments for you. That in itself is interesting.
Nrama: Does Scarlet end up being a leader of this revolution?
Bendis: It's not the road she chose for herself, but it's a road that, every time she pushes back, it's the role she takes on.
It starts off actually very small. It starts off as just her story. It reads very much like one of my earlier crime comics where we're meeting characters. I think the surprising turn is how large it gets.
Nrama: It's hard to ignore you're placing a female character at the center of this revolution. Is there a reason for choosing a female character? Did this idea of standing up to the powers-that-be require someone who appeared weaker? Or am I reading too much into it?
Bendis: Yeah, you are reading a little into it. There are a couple of stories I've collected over the years that inspired the idea for this book. And they just so happened to be stories that involved women. And from there, a character emerged, like what kind of woman would fight this fight.
So I'm not saying anything about sexuality by having this character be a woman, much like I don't think there was much to, like, Jessica Jones being a woman. She was a woman and it defined her, but that story would have been interesting if it had focused on a man, but it just had a different feeling to it because it was a woman. And this is like that.
The only thing I will say is that I've had this book in mind for a very long time, and I know Alex's history with drawing women and that I'll get that many more issues out of him. So it's the only selfish, manipulative thing I could tell you about this being a woman. [laughs] If he gets to audition models, then he's happy -- in lieu of pay.
Nrama: I was there when you had the big argument with Robert Kirkman in Baltimore a couple years ago, so I know your feelings on this. But is it important for you to maintain some creator-owned work separate from what you're doing at Marvel?
Bendis: Yeah, and this is the first of a few I have coming out over the next year or two, for sure. And they've been cooking for a while. I said all the time, during our big debate, that everyone has to go by what their muses tell them. It's absolutely important to me. I see a great deal of personal benefit, both creatively and emotionally, by having the stuff that I do both by writing icons and by creating something that wasn't there before. I've enjoyed both of those.
And for me, one feeds the other. It's very hard to describe unless you do both, but I love the creative solutions that come from doing mainstream work. Every obstacle or every character you have to share with somebody is just an opportunity to be creative. When I'm doing Powers or anything like that, the sky's the limit. You can go crazy. Anything you can think of, you can do. And that's cool too. But with that can come a laziness. A creative laziness. If you have no rules set to you, then you can just write any crazy thing that comes into your head and it won't necessarily have shape. So the two together can build off each other.
Being a mainstream comics writer creates a set of tools for me that get honed every single day until they're razor sharp, and then I can apply those tools to my creator-owned projects. And when you apply the creator-owned experience to your mainstream work, you come up with some ballsy ideas that you might not have thought of if you didn't have the other thing.
Nrama: Scarlet doesn't replace Powers as your only creator-owned book, though, right?
Bendis: No, it's not instead of Powers. Powers continues. But Scarlet comes out bi-monthly too, and has the same stock.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Brian, between Powers and all the other creator-owned comics you've done over the years, how does Scarlet differ from what you've done before?
Bendis: It is unique in its voice and in the fact that I'm working with it on Alex. But also, this book breaks the fourth wall. This character actually talks directly to you throughout the course of her life. She engages you in these pretty crazy ideas and world that she lives in. Not much unlike Steve Coogan and 24 Hour Party People, there's just a break in the fourth wall. I've been dying to do that, and this was the story to do it.
And I just wanted to make sure the book itself had a unique flavor and it was something you weren't getting in my other books. Between that and Alex's amazing work, I think we got it.