Review by Jamie McNeil
The quality of creative input throughout Scalped is consistently high. The beauty of the Deluxe Edition hardcover series is that it enhances the quality, making it a worthwhile purchase for crime noir lovers. Book 2 collects the third and fourth paperbacks, Dead Mothers and The Gravel in Your Guts.
On the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, poverty and death are bedfellows. The Lakota Sioux once roamed the province, proud warriors and hunters. Now they scratch out an existence on arid infertile land. Substance abuse, gang violence and prostitution are only a few of the problems. The series revolves around two sets of murders. The first is that of FBI agents in the 1970s, the second a person central to three men: Dashiell Bad Horse, Lincoln Red Crow and the enigmatic Catcher. Special Agent Nitz was a friend of the murdered FBI agents. He bears a personal hatred for Chief Lincoln Red Crow and the entire Rez. Red Crow has his finger in everything, running a growing crime empire, but the past haunts him and exacerbating matters is a sadistic enforcer his associates have sent to protect their interests. The enigmatic Catcher is a Rhodes scholar turned revolutionary, now a drunken mystic who believes the spirits have given him a vision quest, one that involves Dashiell Bad Horse. Meanwhile Dash’s secret double life is piling on the pressure. When he investigates the murder of a young prostitute/mother, his feelings are compounded. He finds comfort with Carol Red Crow, Lincoln’s estranged daughter, but she has bad habits. On the Rez, learning bad habits will get you killed.
Having laid the foundations for Scalped in Book One, writer Jason Aaron spends time fleshing out his characters in short stories. These feature various characters like Dino Poor Bear, the tribal medicine woman Granny Poor Bear, and the Rez’s only honest cop Falls Down. Co-creator R. M. Guéra provides most of the artwork, other artists illustrating the short stories. It is all outstanding. John Paul Leon is a master at weaving angst driven tension in ‘Dreaming Himself Into the Real World’ and Davide Furnò (‘Falls Down’ and ‘Boudoir Stomp’) excels at capturing mystical elements and tender moments. Guéra’s use of shadows makes for a brooding atmosphere, grimy art heightening the violence and harsh backdrops. Desperation, pain, anger, lust and wrath infuse the pages with a looming sense of dread. Aaron facilitates his story with the use of flashbacks, creating a tense atmosphere, and he drills to the heart of his characters, crafting people damaged and formed by injustice and poor choices. It’s a magnificent use of the crime genre to explore social problems, like the relationship between crime and poverty. Aaron pours his own disappointment at those historical injustices into the narrative. It’s very effective, giving it a humane and emotional nuance.
Powerful, emotive and thought provoking Scalped is flint edged noir: sharp and piercing. It’s not an easy read, disconcerting on many levels, but never sub-par. Deluxe Edition Book 3 contains High Lonesome and The Gnawing.