Scalped, Volume 1: Indian Country (2007) Jason Aaron, R.M. Guéra
Trade paperback, 126 pages
A couple of years ago I walked into my local comic shop and asked the owner for a gift idea for a friend. “Her favorite TV shows are Sons of Anarchy and Mad Men,” I told him. He handed me the first volume of Scalped and said, “I think she’ll like this. It’s got the disenfranchisement of an American subculture like Sons of Anarchy combined with the deception and deceit of Mad Men.”
He was absolutely right. And my friend loved it.
Scalped, Volume 1: Indian Country opens inside the Badlands Cafe located on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where a young man has forcefully – and profanely – insulted a room filled with Native Americans. We think the man has a death wish and maybe he does. What happens next is brutal, yet it’s only a prelude to the carnage that awaits you further in the book.
We learn that this bold, reckless young man is Daniel “Dash” Bad Horse, a man who fifteen years earlier ran away from “The Rez,” looking for a better life. Now he’s back to settle some unfinished business, just as the powerful tribal leader Lincoln Red Crow is about to open a sparkling-new casino, which will no doubt further line Red Crow’s pockets and sink his people deeper into organized crime and drugs.
Scalped features the best combination of writing and art I’ve encountered in a long time. Aaron’s writing captures a brutal, unflinching slice of modern-day Native American life and Guéra translates that story by visually depicting a land and people so far broken you can’t even begin to think how any type of good might enter their lives. No two pages contain the same panel layouts, but all the pages share the same rough-edged darkness that this type of story demands.
Scalped is an extremely hard-hitting, violent, profane story, and definitely NOT for kids, but it’s also spellbinding. If Scalped is ultimately a redemption story, there’s certainly a lot to be redeemed. It’s one of those works that’s dark, but not completely bleak, at least not yet. Although this series ended in 2012 (You can read the entire run in 10 trade paperbacks from Vertigo), I’m just getting started with it, largely due to Aaron’s current work on Southern Bastards, another violent, hard-hitting title. It won’t be for everyone, but the Aaron/Guéra creative combination make Scalped a must-read title for me.