There are a number of clichés bandied about in the reviews you’ll see of Scalped. Comparisons with HBO series The Wire abound. “Mind blowing”, “spectacular”, “gripping”: I’m happy to say they all apply. Scalped is, quite simply, one of the most exciting new series to come along in years. With the first two volumes now available in trade paperback, it’s a perfect time to jump aboard.
Volume 1 – Indian Country – introduces us to our hero of the piece, Dashiell Bad Horse. Returning with a violent hiss and roar to the Native American reservation he grew up on, Bad Horse is quickly recruited by local casino/crime boss Chief Lincoln Red Crow into the corrupt tribal police force. Working hand in hand with Red Crow’s hired thugs, Bad Horse comes face to face with the reality of life on the rez, not to mention the complications of an old flame, his estranged mother and – it goes without saying – a dark secret.
Having walked with Dashiell Bad Horse into the Prairie Rose Reservation of South Dakota, we spend most of our time throughout Volume 2 – Casino Boogie – with members of the supporting cast. Chief Red Crow, vision-questing drunk Catcher, one-sixteenth Kickapoo badass Diesel, itchy-footed teen Dino Poor Bear and Dashiell’s activist mother, Gina all take their turn in the spotlight. We explore their motivations and history as each plays their role in a single murderous night which promises to reverberate throughout the volumes to come.
Jason Aaron is one of the major new talents of the last several years. Originally breaking in as the winner of a Marvel talent contest, Aaron garnered a great deal of attention for his work on excellent Vietnam drama “The Other Side” (a work dedicated to his cousin, Gustav Hasford, author of The Short Timers). An ear for naturalistic dialogue coupled with a confident command of narrative make Scalped a compulsive read. The characters feel real: complex, layered individuals who are each burdened by their own demons, each striving for their own dreams. The story, too, is kept interesting and lively through twists, turns and the odd bit of non-linear trickery, all the while avoiding the pitfalls which could relegate it to a by-the-numbers crime story. Impressive work, made all the more so by the artwork of Spanish-based Serbian artist RM Guéra.
Guéra is a veteran of the European comics scene, long successful in Serbia, Spain and France. As the sole artist on the first two volumes of Scalped, he creates a consistently visceral atmosphere; a living, breathing environment for his well-realised characters to live in. His use of light and shadow feels natural and unforced and his storytelling is clear and dramatic. In short, he’s perfect for the material. As is colourist Giulia Brusco, whose muted palette of earthy tones communicate the arid, dusty feeling of South Dakota.
More than simply a good read, Scalped is shaping up to be a great crime saga with all the crossover potential of Vertigo TPB mainstays Y the Last Man, 100 Bullets and Preacher. Aaron is so confident in the work that he has given readers a money-back guarantee on the first volume. I recommend you pick up the first volume and discover why no-one has yet taken him up on the offer.