By: Charles John Babcock, Managing Editor
Comic book writers are sometimes few and far between. Some get the jobs done plainly and ordinarily fun and concise, but some like Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore, blow the others out of the water. Jason Aaron is the newest name going into the conversation about great comic book characters, and “Scalped” is one of the prime reasons why.
Set on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse comes back to his home and finds Chief Red Crow setting up a new casino, and the head of both the local crime, as well as the police. Right from the first chapter, the intrigue is staggering when Dash joins Red Crows’ men after having attempted to take on about 15 by himself, meeting his mother’s new boyfriend, dealing with a mother he hasn’t seen in years, and by the time you find out Dash is an F.B.I agent, you’re sucked right in.
The interesting setting works wonders for the team on the book, giving R.M. Guera the kind of quiet and moody panels he can draw so well with his uneasy line work, and Aaron has a helluva time writing the people on the reservation. The characters look like they’ve had a rough life, which any reading of the story can tell you: they have. Their stories are deep and plentiful, and by the end of “Indian Country,” the first volume of the series, you can tell you’ve barely seen even the tip of the iceberg.
Take for instance Dash’s old love, Carol, who just so happens to be Red Crow’s estranged daughter. To say that Carol and her father are at odds is an understatement, and it only becomes clearer as it goes further. Dash’s relationship with Carol will lead him down some strange paths as well, not before having physically fought with her, and then made love to her, of course.
The plot of “Scalped” is so well done, it ranks up there with great crime narratives like “The Wire” and “The Sopranos.” The tension between Dash and Red Crow, and the fear that Dash will be found out for the undercover he is, never stops, and at each turn of the story, it is clear that the next page could spell the end for Dash.
The imagery of the reservation and the world that is “Scalped” is something of a vicious undertaking. The Midwestern beauty and the decay of the reservation are omnipresent at all times, owing no small part to Guera’s fine work and Lee Loughridge’s expert colors (sidenote: Loughridge is one of the finest colorists working). There’s an energy to the art, subdued and heavy, representing the land and the characters within in a kind of accuracy and painstaking reality that aches.
There are multiple story lines within the collection, from flashbacks involving Dash’s mother and Red Crow’s old days as part of the “Red Power” movement, and connections to Dash’s contact within the Bureau, to Dash’s memories of his mother and the place from where he came. It is all juggled well, and with a fantastic execution that makes the last page of the collection such a heart-stopping one, that no one will see coming.
Currently “Scalped” is ending soon, and the story continues past this first volume amazingly, getting better and better as it goes along, both in writing and art. Jason Aaron currently is a writer at Marvel comics of things like “The Hulk,” “Wolverine and The X-Men,” as well as being part of the big summer crossover-event “Avengers Vs. X-Men.”