Review by Jamie McNeil
The best description of Scalped is “American Western-slash-crime… film noir”. That’s quoting Brian K. Vaughan in his foreword to this first volume Indian Country. Jason Aaron sets his noir drama in the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The government designated home of the Oglala Sioux, it is a melting pot for the old ways and the modern. Not the best parts of modernity either. Crime is rife, poverty and substance abuse are high. The fortunes of the Sioux people have deteriorated since the government put them on the “Rez”. Some accept they will never leave, others like Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse hope they never come back. He’s spent fifteen years trying to get away, and the military, underground fighting – it’s made him hard as nails. A warrior born, he’s also a searing ball of anger and violence, yet he’s back on Prairie Rose, picking fights with the dangerous Lincoln Red Crow’s underlings. A revolutionary turned mobster, Red Crow is well connected. Tribal Council President, Chief of Tribal Police and owner of the new Crazy Horse Casino. Impressed by prodigal son Dash’s gumption, Red Crow press gangs him into the corrupt Tribal Police Force. Except Dash has a secret. He’s secretly working for FBI Agent Nitz. Nitz has a vendetta against Red Crow and revolutionary turned Nativist (activist for Native People’s rights) Gina Bad Horse – Dash’s mom. Opposed to the Casino she’s less than thrilled Dash is working for Red Crow. Neither is Dash’s old flame Carol, Red Crow’s wayward and angry daughter. Yet Dash isn’t the only one with dark secrets. Gina, Red Crow and the mysterious wanderer Catcher hide their own, one Nitz desperately needs to know and will do anything to find out. Death isn’t far away on the Rez, for some even closer than before.
Scalped started off as a revival of DC’s Scalphunter, emerging instead as a unique crime noir. May the Pop Culture Deities be ever blessed! It’s a phenomenal story birthing a saga spanning ten books. Based in part on real life events, it’s a blend of social commentary and Shakespearian tragedy. Aaron has created an array of complex characters woven into a gritty exposé of life in the First Nations. Never pulling punches, it features heavy doses of crime, sex, and visceral violence. Artist R.M. Guéra likewise never flinches from painting life as it is for inhabitants in Prairie Rose. His grubby style is visceral and powerful, black tones offset against reds, and accentuates the anger, poverty and injustice surrounding the characters. Flicking from one point of view to another captures the tragic reality Aaron creates. It all works to light a simmering anger in the heart. It’s proper noir, hopeless and brutal.
To quote Vaughan, Indian Country is “well researched yet imaginative, funny but serious, political yet politically incorrect”. It is gut wrenching, macabre, spellbinding and a heck of a page-turner. Vertigo is reissuing Scalped with new covers, but the original covers by Jock are superb and worth looking out.