Review by Jamie McNeil
Saying you ‘enjoy’ reading Scalped is like saying you enjoy being kicked in the crotch. It’s hard hitting noir, the kind that leaves you feeling like your face has been smashed off the table. What creators Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra put their cast through is awful and real, but you keep reading in morbid fascination. It is undeniably a fantastic bit of storytelling, so good it is being transferred to the small screen. In case the TV show disappoints, pick up Scalped Deluxe Vol. 1 collecting the start of the saga, Indian Country and Casino Boogie.
Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse swore he’d never come back to the “Rez”. And yet here he is, an angry, muscular ball of venom and spite. His facility for violence attracts the attention of Chief Lincoln Red Crow who “offers” him a job. Red Crow is revolutionary turned part businessman, part police chief, part community leader and all gangster. Special Agent Baylor Nitz has a long torrid history with the inhabitants of Prairie Rose Reservation. He badly wants to take Red Crow drown and has spent thirty years trying to do it. He’s a deviant, misguided and callous man who will use anything and everyone to get what he wants. Gina Bad Horse is a Nativist (activist for Native People’s rights) and prominent community figure opposed to Red Crow’s new Casino. Back in the 1970s she was in a Red Power group with Red Crow and the mysterious wanderer Catcher. Nitz tried to take them down and failed, an innocent man taking the fall. Gina’s less than thrilled Dash is working for Red Crow. Neither is Dash’s old flame Carol, Red Crow’s wayward and angry daughter. Dash doesn’t want to be here but has no choice. The Rez is full of dark secrets, and people who will do anything to uncover them or keep them secret. Death isn’t far away on the Rez, closer for some than others.
Set in the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, it mirrors the real life Pine Ridge Reservation. Both are the home of the Sioux people. The issues in both are similar: prostitution, crime, poverty and substance abuse. Viewed through the eyes of Aaron’s players, they’re broken and bruised, yet defiant. These people are survivors. Aaron also has a big cast of supporting characters, all as complex as his leads. Some cling to the old ways, others are holding on to a scrap of integrity in a corrupt and lawless system. Some want recognition they will never get, others have notoriety they long to shed. Some like Dash and Carol punish themselves to punish others. Neither Aaron nor Guéra pull their punches. This is a compelling human tale, Aaron’s vitriol rising as he uncovers more injustice. The tone is bleak, lashed with scenes of drug use, sex, and visceral violence. Glimmers of hope do shine through and there isn’t a weak character present. Guéra’s grubby style is perfect for portraying lives affected by crime and extreme poverty. His images are powerful and unsettling, more so with the higher page quality used here. All this combines to make Scalped among the finest stories Vertigo has ever published.