Review by Jamie McNeil
The Scalped Deluxe Edition Book 4 gathers Rez Blues and You Gotta Sin To Get Saved, the seventh and eighth books in the series. Essentially, it is a collection of short stories that develop supporting characters, weave plot devices into the main narrative, and pave the way for a blistering finale.
‘A Fine Action of an Honorable and Catholic Spaniard’ takes a closer peek at Lincoln Red Crow’s enforcer Shunka and what drives him. ‘Family Tradition’ reveals some significant plot points that revolve around Dash’s father Wade, a character who has featured briefly in flashbacks. ‘A Come-to-Jesus’ focuses on Sherriff Wooster T. Karnow in the border town of White Haven, Nebraska as he wrestles with ageing and a growing conscience. ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ is a glimpse at the fortunes of chief bastard FBI Agent Baylor Nitz. The best short story has little to do with the main narrative but ‘Listening to the Earth Turn’ is a touching reflection of growing old on the reservation and a searing criticism of the harsh poverty often found there. ‘Unwanted’ and ‘You Gotta Sin to Get Saved’ continue Scalped’s central plot. There are choices for everyone, some they can’t refuse and others that are best not to. Shaman Granny Poor Bear offers junkie Carol Red Crow a life-line, Chief Red Crow gives Dash an ultimatum. Drunken mystic Catcher is quickly losing a grip on reality, while Officer Falls Down draws closer to Gina Bad Horse’s killer. Young single parent Dino is losing sight of what’s important and someone nobody wants to see arrives on the “Rez”, much to Agent Nitz’s consternation.
Scalped is never short on fine art, this time from guest illustrators Daniel Zezelj, Jason Latour and Davide Furno, though it pales compared to R.M. Guéra’s essence-capturing artistry. His series sketchbooks – along with cover variants and commissions – feature in the extras, of note being his cover for a French translation. The quality of the paper enhances the artistic experience, breathing new life into the stories if you’ve only read the trade paperbacks. While Deluxe Editions are intended to showcase a series and thus occupy a shelf, the digital edition does ratchet the art up to 11. If you’re collecting, by all means go for the reasonably priced hard covers and the digital (at significantly less cost) for a magnificent reading experience. Good art is nothing without the writer, and Jason Aaron’s work on Scalped is considered among his best. He’s methodical in setting up and connecting plot devices, hence the reason for more short stories with a different focus. They’re good but Aaron is markedly better returning to the main narrative, yet the entire story heading in to the final arc pivots on them. What’s spectacular is Aaron’s eye for the minutiae and how it enriches the story. It’s a crime writing master class aspiring authors would do well to study.
Garth Ennis (providing the intro) notes that Scalped’s complexity makes it hard to classify. It is bleak and brutal crime noir but it’s also “neo-Western/political/historical/native/ultra-violent/black comedy”. Call it what you will but taken in its entirety it is possibly the best crime series Vertigo produced, a slow burning tale of legacy and regret, a raging against the injustices suffered by America’s First Nations brought to grimy, dusty, seething life.