Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
I WAS SHOCKED BY THE PANORAMA OF BRIDGES splayed in ruins across the Willamette River in the opening scenes of the five-issue SCARLET sequel by Brian Michael Bendis that appeared two years ago now, illustrating what revolution might look like in his hometown and mine, just down the street: the Tillikum, the Marquam, the Hawthorne, and the Morrison bridges, all down, while military helicopters thwap overhead. This view was ominous, then worse once I realized Scarlet and her rebels occupied the westside downtown area, while the US Army occupied the eastside where many must have left their families and pets. Worse still, the authorities shut off the utilities, so a host of bourgeois high-rise apartments in the downtown neighborhood are suddenly slummified without elevators, alongside other tenant slums and bums now destitutionalized one step closer to doom.
Welcome to Scarlet in charge of the city, moving her from a clandestine rebel fighting corrupt police, and shooting some of them in the first series, to finding herself unprepared at the head of a mass revolt of pissed-off people who took over the streets as local crowds in Portland and elsewhere have occasionally wanted to do in recent decades to broadcast dissatisfaction with the war-torn ethics of the ruling elite in their version of business as usual, scraping the world’s resources and as many of us as they can to the bone.
“Stop the corruption!” is the Scarlet message from the beginning. In the first series, started in 2010, she opposed corrupt police with a kind of heroism that reflected generations of poor people hopelessly opposing US-sponsored death squads in Latin America. Scarlet looked like a new Che ready to take charge and lead us forward.
A time of revolution needs a superior person to hold the confidence of the people and prevent excesses, says the I-Ching, and Scarlet achieves this much for her ragtag skateboarding troops, but any further vision to genuinely “relieve the need of the people” in the present with the bridges down and the utilities out, or any future needs for a real government to sustain civilization, is way over her head. She stays cool, and we are supposed to believe the corporate message planted here that assures us once we change bad leaders and get someone cool up there, we can put down the guns and go home. Just vote next time for better results, kids.
It’s hard to recognize monsters these days. Sometimes I wonder how the Inland Empire up the Columbia River into Idaho and Montana territories might have prospered if the monopolist steamboat navigation company in the decades after the Civil War had not drained such munificent profits from the farmers, miners, workers, and families upriver to enrich investors and bankers in Portland, San Francisco, and New York, who then went on, as William S. Ladd did so magnificently in Portland and environs, to put their hands to everything imaginable, charged by industry and bolstered by private real estate to channel funds to towering metropolises from the rich hinterlands of America all across the continent to the Pacific Coast before hopping outward to colonize empires abroad, gradually leaving the in-between lands almost uninhabited and uninhabitable by people and animals but for broad agribusiness landscapes, suburbs, and waste dumps, just as one sees in fantasies where Earthlings live in domed cities in layers with zooming skylanes at the top and infested alleyways on the ground for everyone else not rich enough to rise. The classic imagery exaggerates, yet fantasy pictures may be the best way to wake up to the not-so-imaginary mound of desolation nearby and abroad we all live upon, merely by being complicit in the established world order, looking like a brand of purple ogre creatures with funky hair and misshapen noses squatting on a pile of bones.
No blame wanting more. Don’t give me just rewards, I want all I can hold in my high castle until the flames of the tripods expire, and darkness and decay hold illimitable dominion over all. So says Poe in his lurid imagery in The Red Death. Supreme license, he wants to tell us, never achieves freedom, and might instead end us all, living like children without restraint. I wish we could talk together about a new, finer generation like adults, to devise a strategy that keeps the bridges up and the world running while we get there.