I’m going to try to make up the most bad-ass setting ever for a comic: How about a gritty and brutal crime noir drama, set on a modern-day Indian reservation, revolving around organized crime, drugs, sex, alcohol, depression, poverty, and extreme violence? Plus, for good measure, let’s throw in a dash of Hmong gangsters and a Neo-Nazi or two. Bad-ass enough for ya? Well, I didn’t make that up (although I wish I did). Mr. Jason Aaron did, and in Volume 4 of his serialized crime drama “Scalped“, he continues to blow me away with this twisted and demented ballet of tragedy.
“The Gravel in your Guts” is the 4th collected volume (of 7, so far) in the Scalped series, which is ongoing.
As you may have picked up from the intro, I’m a big fan of this comic. I’ve honestly never read anything quite like it, and that’s saying something in the modern world of comics where crime stories are a dime a dozen.
The most glaring difference with Scalped is its geographic setting, and the heritage of its characters. One might surmise that setting the series on an Indian reservation could present a cultural-sensitivity minefield. But in my humble and admittedly uninformed opinion (as a dumb white guy), I think Aaron does an pretty good job of depicting many of the real-world issues that modern Native American society faces, without wandering into the land of stereotype. This is especially commendable if one assumes (and this is very presumptuous of me) that Jason Aaron is not in fact Native American. However, there are a lot of details in this story that indicate that Aaron has done his homework, and genuinely gives a shit about his characters and their struggles.
So let me try to give you a glimpse into Scalped, without giving too many spoilers away.
The story really centers around two individuals: Our protagonist (although certainly an anti-hero if there ever was one) is Dashiel Bad Horse, a young, troubled, tough-as-nails SOB who grew up on the reservation, left for a number of years, and has returned to work for Chief Red Crow. Red Crow is the story’s big bad guy, who runs the glamorous and corrupt casino, heads up an organized crime syndicate, and may just have a little bit of good left in him. Maybe. Where things get real interesting is when we learn that Bad Horse is actually an undercover FBI agent, sent to nail Red Crow by a superior G-Man with a vendetta.
The main story line is intertwined with several other side narratives in which the residents of the reservation are either trying to escape the reservation, lose themselves in drugs and alcohol, or run from the demons of their past, which are sometimes born of the cultural upheavals of the 70’s.
As I said, this is classic noir, where there are really no good guys, everyone is tragically damaged, and you get the feeling that all parties are unfortunately going to meet a grisly end.
Scalped has been expertly illustrated by a couple of artists up through Volume 4, namely R.M. Guéra and David Furno. Both Guéra and Furno make use of a very similar dark, rough quality of line and dusty earth tones which set the mood perfectly for this hopeless, hot, dry tale. While I generally prefer Guéra’s work to Furno’s, both do the story justice, and honestly their work is so similar that the difference between the two would most likely go unnoticed except perhaps by the comic connoisseur. Long story short, the art of Scalped is damned fine, and it will absolutely serve to enhance your reading pleasure.
If you’ve happened to read about My Favorite Comics, you may be surprised to see that Scalped is not among that list. Rest assured, it’s not because Scalped doesn’t qualify, but most likely because I hadn’t yet started reading this series when I wrote that post. However, I can assure you that this story is well worth your time, and indeed among my favorite comics.
In fact, as mentioned in an earlier post, I borrow most of these books from the library, and when I realized that the library’s copy of Scalped, Volume 4: The Gravel in your Guts was long overdue (and in all likelihood lost), I actually spoke to a librarian and requested that they order a new copy. That’s how stoked I am on this series. I honestly didn’t expect much to come from that conversation, but several months later I got a notification that Volume 4 was waiting for me down at the Central branch. And that singular event more or less led to the rekindling of my temporarily-waning interest in comic books, which brings me to writing this review today. So do yourself a favor, run out and buy (or borrow) Scalped, Volume 1, and dive headlong into the horrific spectacle that is Jason Aaron’s “Scalped”. You won’t be disappointed.
And, as always, happy reading!