Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its thirty-sixth choice, Scalped: Deluxe Edition volumes 1-4 written by Jason Aaron and drawn by RM Guera, reviewed by Tripwire editor-in-chief Joel Meadows…
Scalped: Deluxe Edition Volume One to Volume Four
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: RM Guera
Colours: Giulia Brusco, Lee Loughridge and Patricia Mulvihill
Ever since the publication of books like Scene of The Crime, Johnny Double and of course 100 Bullets, Vertigo has always had a great eye for exceptional crime and thriller series. Thanks to editors like Axel Alonso, Stuart Moore and Will Dennis, it is one of the most impressive parts of its publishing legacy. Scalped began in 2007 and from its start, it grabbed its readers by the balls. Writer Jason Aaron, who had a CV at this time that included a few miniseries for Marvel and a Vietnam-set war comic, The Other Side, for Vertigo, which did point to his unique writing abilities, introduces us to the comic’s central protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse within a few pages of the first issue in Volume 1. Bad Horse is a mouthy Native American cop who has returned to his home reservation to work undercover for the FBI to bring down the decidedly dodgy tribal leader Lincoln Red Crow, who owns the local casino but has his fingers in more pies than Mister Kipling. Bad Horse’s handler is FBI Agent Earl Baylis Nitz, a figure who doesn’t seem any more trustworthy than Red Crow and so Bad Horse is stuck in the middle of a situation where neither side seems to occupy the moral high ground. Aaron, with the aid of regular artist RM Guera and a number of guest illustrators, has created a rich demi-monde of junkies, drug dealers, whores, psychotic FBI agents, double agents and power-crazed gang bosses.
Like the best TV shows, Scalped manages to juggle an ensemble cast without sacrificing attention to detail characterisation or character development. Bad Horse is a very intriguing protagonist: spending years away from the reservation, he has come back but he doesn’t fit in there anymore. Red Crow, the criminal mastermind, is an equally complex character: he is happy to hire thugs to do his violent bidding or even to do his own dirty work, but there is a human side to him, thanks to his previous association with Bad Horse’s ne’er-do-well mother Gina. Aaron isn’t afraid of subverting characters or archetypes: Red Crow’s assassin for hire Shunka isn’t who or what you think he is and there is one story where we get to witness this different facet to his personality. The world that Bad Horse and co-inhabit is a hermetically sealed one which rarely intersects with the world outside the reservations but it doesn’t matter. Aaron has weaved a degraded panorama with enough depth and complexity in it to keep the reader occupied for some time. Scalped pulls no punches when it comes to violence and like HBO’s The Sopranos, it feels true to its source. The moral ambiguity on show reflects real life and Aaron shows a deft ear for clever and inventive dialogue and situations. You do feel for Bad Horse even though you know, like Tony Soprano, that he is not beyond doing things that are morally questionable to further his own aims.
It would be remiss of me to ignore the art here. Aaron’s regular collaborator Guera is brilliant at bringing Aaron’s sleazy world to colourful life on the page. The colourists on the series including Giulia Brusco, Lee Loughridge and Patricia Mulvihill create a colour palette that is the perfect foil for the art. I also have to mention Jock’s brilliant covers, which like Dave Johnson’s images on 100 Bullets, draw you into each chapter with style and panache.
Scalped is a dark, brutal, blackly amusing and very well-conceived series and deserved of the hardcover format. If you never read the series the first time around, you are in for a real treat and even if you have experienced them before, like a quality TV series, Scalped does reward a return visit. There was talk that it may end up on the small screen at some point and it could certainly translate to a fantastic TV show. Scalped is one of the best adult comic series of the last decade and sits comfortably with the likes of Preacher, 100 Bullets and The Unwritten.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far