Scalped Volume 1: Indian Country
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by R.M. Guera, Cover by Jock.
The worst thing I can say about Scalped is that it looks, feels and reads like a host of other Vertigo books. It’s just too damn similar to many things that have gone before. I could easily finish the review here by telling you it’s Hellblazer/ Losers/ Preacher/ 100 Bullets/ Transmetropolitan transplanted to an Indian reservation and leave it at that, because you’d have a damn good idea of what to expect from the book right there.
Now, having said all that, you’d think I hated it wouldn’t you? But in truth I actually quite liked it.
It’s a story about returning to your past and identity, both personal and racial. Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse left the Reservation fifteen years ago as a boy, looking to find a better life away from the Reservation. He got as far as Kosovo, serving with the US Army before taking a slow return home, but he returns to find that home is undergoing rapid and violent change as well. When he left, he walked away from the poverty and despair of the Reservation and now, on his return he finds it’s merely become worse. The people still live in poverty. The despair is still there, but this time it’s exacerbated by their own Tribal leader; Lincoln Red Crow. He’s set himself up as Al Capone, ruling the Reservation, controlling both organised crime and bureaucratic corruption. He controls both the crime and the law in the Reservation and is currently trying to present a clean façade to the developers of a new Casino on Reservation ground. Within the first few pages Bad Horse runs rampant through Red Crow’s men and then ends up working for him in his Tribal Police.
(Spider Jerusalem’s back? Not quite, although the similarities don’t necessarily end with the imagary. Dashiell “Bad Horse” returns home to a less than warm welcome. From Scalped Volume 1, art by R.M. Guera, published DC Comics.)
Everyone in Scalped is struggling against their identity or disguising their true nature, whether it’s Red Crow trying to be the respectable property developer, Bad Horse’s mother trying to keep her Indian Pride movement clean and away from a militant path or Bad Horse himself, returning to his home a changed man. Because he’s been away and served with the white man and has returned as an FBI agent to bring in Red Crow for the murder of two FBI agents committed 30 years previous. This is his big secret, and his reason to return (not entirely dissimilar to the film Thunder Heart – Joe). But it also marks him out as different from his people. And that’s really what elevates this above being just another Vertigo standard story. It’s that element of mixed identity, of moving beyond a cultural and racial stereotype and the trouble that can bring that makes it worth reading.
But whilst the story rises above what sometimes seems like Vertigo by the numbers the book has been badly let down by it’s art. The page above perfectly illustrates the muted colour palette of the book, all earth tones, subtle lines and detailed facial work. Unfortunately this is from the online issue of Scalped #1, free to download from the DC site.
The actual book isn’t so much earthy tonality as plain muddy, dark and a bit of a mess. This must have been devastating for the artist and particularly the colourist on the book as R.M. Guera’s art relies on a grim palette of earthy colours, yet it’s got that muddy colouring that Vertigo books always seem to have for a start (DC: If you’re going to do really nice art with muted subtle colours would it not be a good idea to invest in better paper that will take the colours properly?). So it seems that the original art and colouring is much lighter and sharper and the pages look so much better for it. It’s good art, especially when viewed online in it’s original form. But the finished product never really shines enough to be more than functional and enough to carry the story and move the plot along in an entertaining and easy fashion.
Scalped is superficially a mix of standard Vertigo styles and stories but there’s more than enough here that marks it out as new and interesting enough to make it worth keeping an eye on. It puts an interesting spin of the traditional noir crime genre and holds up pretty well to the comparisons I’ve already thrown at it of Preacher, 100 Bullets and The Losers. Whether it lives up to this initial promise will be seen in Volume 2 no doubt. Which is already out it seems – must look into that one. Scalped author Jason Aaron also wrote the Vietnam war tale The Other Side, which was reviewed here on the blog.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.