Review by Jamie McNeil
It’s always a little disappointing when a great series doesn’t end as well as it started. Scalped is not that series. No problems with performance anxiety for creators Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra, ending it the same way they started – bloody and brilliant!
The scene opens eight months after the events of Knuckle Up and life on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation has moved on. Murder suspect Catcher is missing and with Lincoln Red Crow in prison, Dashiell Bad Horse has finally found some peace. FBI Agent and major scumbag Baylor Nitz is gloating in his victory over Red Crow, although his celebrations might be premature. Just because he’s in prison doesn’t mean Red Crow will stay there, and bodies are piling up on the Rez as people are brutally murdered. To find freedom or revenge, peace or justice, people had to do awful things. Things best left buried, but dark secrets tend to crawl from the grave and demand payment in blood. There will be a reckoning, one that’ll bring them all to a violent Trail’s End.
Over ten volumes Jason Aaron has painstakingly constructed a character rich crime noir with plenty of twists and turns. Now he brings it to a breakneck, bone rattling, teeth jarring conclusion. Scalped is unflinchingly honest in its portrayal of life on the First Nation Reservations, critical of the United States government’s treatment of this people group and the cycle of poverty, crime and substance abuse it has perpetuated. Every grimy detail, every dark action is etched into each page, artist Guéra bringing the reservation and the shocking violence to life. Gun battles are a major feature of the series and Guéra produces yet more, bullets flying and muzzles flashing in bitter struggles to the death. The tension is expertly accentuated by dark shadows and reflections of light, a realism in the confusion and unpredictability that time of day brings. It forces you to read carefully, drawing the reader into the conflict and heightening the visual impact of the story. Obviously Guéra excels at the gritty elements of noir, but there’s intricate detail to dream/alternate reality sequences with proceedings around a funeral poignant and touching. It’s easy to focus on the rage pulsating inside many of the cast, yet there’s a deep sense of regret and sadness that Aaron and Guéra capture. Regret for choices made and not made, despair at the inevitable slide into hell, sadness over the cost of life and love. These characters feel real and it’s a large reason for the series’ success, as well as being consistently well-written and brilliantly illustrated. You can sense the admiration for the Sioux people that has developed, best described in Aaron’s own words:
“This is a place with blood in the dirt and voices in the thunder. A place for the runaways and the utterly immovable, for the stubborn and the bold.”
Trail’s End is simply put, an excellent end to an innovative series worthy of its place in the crime noir Hall of Fame. It can also be found with the preceding Knuckle Up in the Scalped Deluxe Edition Book 5.