Written by Jason Aaron and drawn by R. M Guera with covers by Jock
Published by Vertigo Comics
This magnificent bastard of a comic book came to an end last week and while I wait for the final issues to be collected, I re-read the first volume to see how it all began.
In the tradition of the Sopranos, Deadwood and the Wire, Scalped is the story of life on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in South Dakota. A dark, multi-generational tale of hardship in the poorest county in the USA, where there is 80% unemployment and nigh on 100% alcoholism. It’s a tale of guns and meth and betrayal. This is the best TV show never made. Because it’s a comic book.
Scalped is the story of Dashiell Bad Horse as he returns to the reservation he grew up on and re-encounters his family and childhood friends. His mother Gina is a long-term activist currently protesting the imminent opening of a new casino. A casino that is headed by her former comrade-in-arms and now Chief, Lincoln Red Crow. Dash also quickly encounters the Chiefs daughter and his childhood sweetheart Carol, now married but seemingly sleeping with every second man on the Rez. The first issue is an excellent demonstration of how to start a series, it gets all the players on the scene and then shakes them up violently.
Our protagonist first appears on the second page but it takes him till page four to pull his nunchuks out of his belt and really introduce himself. Dashiell Bad Horse is returning home after 15 years away and picking a fight with a bar full of Dog Soldiers.
The Dog Soldiers belong to Chief Lincoln Red Crow. He runs the cops, the tribal council and the new casino. He also runs the guns, the drugs and the murder. But Dash has a secret that could change the Rez.
Jason Aaron is now a major writer at Marvel Comics but this is the book where his career really began, and it makes a statement. It’s bleak, yet humorous and relevant, raw yet honest and warm. Aaron has created a strong group of characters and a fascinating setting that I hadn’t seen before.
‘Oh, fuck me in the teeth.’ Aaron’s dialogue has some of the best swearing you’ll find in any medium. He uses a great modern-day mix of profanity and romance; I like the poetry of Dash telling an errant kid to leave, “now stir some fucking dust under you.”
There’s a liquid fluidity to the darkness of artist R.M. Guera’s line-work. Guera has such a melancholy to his art, he can draw sudden violence, (and often has to in this story) but when called upon draws deep expression in his faces and body language. His art is very detailed but often obscured by shadow. Initially I struggled with the darkness of some of the art, thinking it lacked clarity. On this re-read I see how important the shadows and heavy lines are to the storytelling. This is a dark book with the threat of violence hanging over it at all times.
Should I buy it? Only if you enjoy great characters, graphic violence, sex, language and awesomeness. And jaw dropping art. And Jock covers.
Next Week: Due to Matt Fraction and David Aja getting the band back together and blowing the internet up with their new Hawkeye book, and because I love Kung-Fu comics, I review the second volume of the Immortal Iron Fist: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven.