The revolution may not be televised, but nothing has stopped it from being splashed and sequenced, stapled and folded, colored and squarebound. It’s marvelous credit to the medium that comics of a revolutionary bent have evolved from the field of underground pamphlets and zines into thoughtful, well-written, mass-produced monthlies and graphic novels. It’s also a little frightening to realize how much our contemporary social consciousness has fueled this surge of four-color rebellion. Superheroes, who, like it or not, have become synonymous with the medium, achieved their Golden Age ascension at the height of World War II, when the enemy was without (interestingly, subsequent to the War, those selfsame heroes dwindled in popularity, losing ground to crime, romance, and western rags). But the enemy within, particularly in the last decade, has never felt more menacing. For a mainstream publisher like Marvel to unveil a summer-long event like Secret Empire, in which our own country is beset by a subversive fascist force literally wearing the American flag seems like a testament to how wide the fires of resistance have spread.
Scarlet #1, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, is the latest incendiary response to societal unrest. The book continues the creator-owned saga begun under Marvel’s Icon Imprint, with a new number one to kick-off the arrival of Bendis’s Jinxworld line at DC. This first issue of the new volume does a decent job catching new readers up to speed… but it may do a better job at selling the uninitiated on the merits of those first two volumes (DC is also publishing new editions of those collections).
The story catches us up in the middle of a new American revolution, and Portland, Oregon is ground zero. The titular protagonist, after fighting back against government and institutional corruption, has become the de facto leader of an armed resistance, igniting a nationwide insurrection. The focus of this first issue, a rallying cry for Scarlet’s swelling rebellion, situates new readers in media res. But it also reminds Bendis and Maleev’s entire audience of the power and potential of a medium once dismissed as puerile escapism.
It’s been over a decade since Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s DMZ turned a near-future New York City into the epicenter of a new Civil War. While that story was inspired heavily by attacks on freedom and civil rights in the post-9/11 environment, the themes of that unrest haven’t stopped swirling in our collective psyche. Howard Chaykin’s been doing it for years; Black Mask’s current Calexit is an excellent example. Tom King has explained openly how societal events inescapably influence his writing, even at a subliminal level. Nick Spencer received death threats for daring to turn Captain America into prescient political commentary.
Anyway… I’ve always said that there’s a comic book for everyone, and have often endeavored to fit a birthday or Christmas gift recipient with something I think will hook him or her on the versatility of the medium. But in the case of the comic book version of protest songs, I rather wish it was easier to disseminate mixtapes of all my favorite rabble-rousing graphic novels and monthlies. Methinks fuel for a forthcoming blog post…