You Should Be Reading…


Scalped

Scalped

Publisher: Vertigo

Story: Jason Aaron

Art: R.M Guéra

Caution: Some minor spoilers

This is probably one of the best series out now and I don’t say that lightly, I started reading it on the recommendation of a friend and I have never regretted it and I recommend it to anyone who’ll listen.  The series follows the continued operation of F.B.I agent Dashiell Bad Horse, who has infiltrated the Native American reservation he grew up on. Dashiell is treading on thin ice here as he investigates the goings on of local casino owner and crime lord Red Crow by becoming one of the most trusted members of Red Crows reservation police force. This set up alone is enough for an interested crime story but this story, while maybe not transcending the genre, perfects it. Like all good modern crime stories there is no moral black and white in Scalped, there are only shades of grey and even the cruelest, most violent of characters are fully fleshed out to give some sort of explanation as to why they act the way they do. Which if not excuses them of their actions at least humanises them and allows us to empathise with them. A perfect example of this is Red Crow who I will talk about more later.

The story so far has followed a complex route that constantly leaves you wanting more. The plot twists are never obvious but also are never so random as to feel forced in the story. Everything moves with the smoothness of not only someone who is clearly adept at story telling but also someone who clearly understands the motives and actions of all his characters. The story is completely led by the characters rather than the plot, there is never a point when it feels that a square shaped character is being forced in to a circle shaped hole for the sake of a clever plot twist. This doesn’t mean that the plot is anything less than stunningly thought out and executed, it’s just that it is always informed by the characters needs and motivations. Aaron unfolds the plot to us in ways that keep the reader constantly in the dark, feeding us information slowly and subtly, letting us connect all the dots ourselves rather than explaining the plot to us. One technique Aaron uses to achieve this is his confident use of time. He easily goes back and forth through time and, despite the initial confusion, always makes coherent sense in the grand scheme of the story. He doesn’t limit this manipulation of time purely to flashbacks and events many years in the past. The events of one event filled day will not be shown to us chronologically but will skip back and forth, giving us a slow release of information from through out the day until finally we piece it all together and the plot makes perfect sense. This makes it all the more fulfilling in the end and is welcome break from the traditional linear storytelling of other stories.

As I mentioned above, the series is heavily based on the perfect characterisation of all the characters. Each character, from the supporting to the main are all fully fleshed and believable personalities. Dashiell Bad Horse, at first comes across as one of those classic badass ‘I don’t take no shit from no one’ characters so heavily used in cop shows and he is. But he’s also so much more than that, his badass attitude is completely justified when we gain more knowledge about his past and his reasons for resenting being sent back to the reservation he grew up on. His hatred of the world he grew up in is in equal measures tempered and exacerbated by his sense of belonging to it, wanting to escape from the place until it gets to a point that he cannot leave.   His ‘boss’ Red Crow is at first introduced to us as the local crime lord, who also runs the soon to be opened casino and local police force. We see him as being purely motivated by greed for money and power but as we gain more incite in to the character we realise that this is not all there is to the man. The complexities in him are huge, a man who deeply cares about the reservation and people on it, yet at the same time supplies it with poisons that are slowly destroying it. His past exploits as a Native American activist not only tell us more about his personal motivations but also give us insight in to his relationship with Gina Bad Horse, Dashiell’s mother. Gina continued her activism until the present day, something that keeps her at odds Red Crow and also keeps also goes some way to explaining Dashiell’s rejection of his Native American past. Dashiell’s disdain for his mother is complex and the reasons given are slowly unfolded through out the story so that we can fully understand why Dashiell has rejected her. These are some of the main characters through out the story and I could go further but the list is almost infinite and there isn’t enough room to go in to that much detail but some of the highlights are Red Crows drug addled, nymphomaniac daughter Carol, Dashiell’s openly racist, angry, drunken, disgustingly horrible F.B.I handler, who has such strong ulterior motives in investigating the reservation that he couldn’t care less about anyone who dies along the way, Dino Poor Bear, a young man caught in the crossfire of reservation life while trying to feed his baby daughter, Catcher, a mysterious man who spends most of his time having visions and escaping something horrible from his past, Diesel Engine, Native American activist and self proclaimed 1/16 Kickapoo Indian, who desperately over compensates for his pale skin and finally the Hmong gang, a constant threat to the reservation after a deal that Red Crow sincerely regrets making. This list of character doesn’t even scratch the surface of characters and each one is a fully fleshed personality, none feel as if they are placed in the story to just to keep the plot going.

None of this characterisation or story telling would anything though without the art of R.M Guéra. Everything about his art is perfect, something that becomes clearly apparent when a fill in artist is required. While the fill in artist have always been impeccable it becomes obvious that the book works because of Guéra’s art. His style perfectly suites the dirtiness of the reservation and his fight scenes have a visceral quality that makes you almost smell the blood and sweat coming from the page. While a traditional American art direction would have made this look like any other comic on the racks, Guéra’s more European style gives it a unique quality that sets it apart from any other comic being produced right now.  
A special mention should be given to Jock who has produced some of the best covers being released at the moment each one conveying something of the story while at the same time being individual pieces of art.

This is definitely a book everyone should be reading and there is really no excuse not to, if you like good stories and good art then it’s hard to see how you can go wrong here. If you haven’t been reading it so far get all the trades and put it on your monthly standing order, you will not be disappointed.

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