Life Imitating Art: Scarlet

by Kelly Harrass

As a giant mass of people walk through the streets, even more people can be heard up ahead. They carry protest signs and chant as loud as they can. The echoes of their chants bounce off of buildings, making them sound even louder. The closer that you get to the capitol building, the louder and denser the crowds get. The air is thick with anger and uncertainty. The police try to keep things orderly, but they also have to be careful not to incite an incident. These thousands of people are displeased with their government and they will be heard.

The scene that I’ve just described is what has been taking place in Madison, Wisconsin. The scene is also reminiscent of the most recent issue of the Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev creator owned series, Scarlet. If you haven’t been following the situation in Madison, let me sum it up very quickly. In an effort to balance the state budget (or to cripple the Democratic supporters, depending on who you ask), governor Scott Walker is proposing that public employees (most notably teachers) take a pay cut to contribute to their pensions and healthcare. He also wanted to eliminate collective bargaining over contracts, essentially crippling the unions. He has now split the bill and passed the anti-union legislation. Needless to say, people are not happy. As I type this, there has been roughly a month of protests going on at the Capitol Building; where some protesters have been living for that time.

The similarities to Scarlet are easy enough to see if you’ve been reading the series. In Scarlet instead of backing the unions, the protesters support Scarlet herself, a woman on a mission to create a new American revolution after being a victim of police brutality and seeing how corrupt the system is. The corrupt system is also what the protesters in Madison are facing as the government sides with large corporations over the people. People of all kinds have come out to support the Unions, just as they have in Scarlet.

Art by Alex Maleev

Scarlet, unlike many other comics, takes place in our world. It’s not another version of our world where superheroes exist, it is where we live. The backdrop for Scarlet is Portland, Oregon; one of the more progressive cities in the country. When Bendis spoke in interviews about Scarlet he would talk about how it was entirely possible that something like this could happen. It’s starting to happen in my own backyard. The protesters have support from across the nation. Campaigns online have played a big role in getting this support. The internet has allowed for an awareness that wasn’t around just a few years ago. In the comic, Scarlet becomes a one woman movement in a matter of days. In Madison, the capitol was full in hours.

The big difference between the comic and real life is the violent approach that Scarlet has taken. In the opening pages of the comic she kills a corrupt police officer and later in the series offs a few more with a sniper rifle. The protests in Madison have been fairly peaceful with no arrests (to my knowledge). Police have had to physically drag protesters out of the capitol, but that is the largest extent of any violence. Hopefully that remains the case, even though death threats against governor Walker and Republican senators and representatives began to come in after the anti-union bill was passed.

Going off of what Bendis has been saying about the series, Scarlet will get to the point where a full blown revolution takes place. While that isn’t the case here in Wisconsin, it has been happening in other places like Egypt and Libya. Things have gone beyond people taking to the streets. Shots were fired. In Egypt the people got what they wanted and removed the corrupt leader while Libya is currently in the midst of a civil war. Scarlet is interesting as a comic because it is one of the very few that actually could take place. There potentially could be an uprising at some point in America. People are growing more and more unhappy with the government as the days go on. It may be a bit far off, but at some point in the near future, this could take place. The right person just needs to knock over the first domino.

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