Indian Country collects the first five issues of the monthly series Scalped.
The art in Scalped is very good. Offering up shadows with hidden depths at times and bright, clear and detailed panel at others that may represent the duality of the story. Perhaps indicative of the pervasive skin tones of the characters or just a reflection of the sandy deserts where the story takes place there are a lot of red tones and shades in the art of Scalped. Just about every issue ends in a great cliffhanger moment that compels you to read further and the art accompanies these tense moments becomes fraught with peril and potential destruction.
Scalped is a great crime fiction story told in a medium that many crime fiction fans may not typically read, comics. They will unfortunately have missed out on what, when all is said and done, might just come out of left field to be one of best crime fiction novels of the year. But its much more then just a crime fiction story, it’s a bit of a hybrid that combines elements of action and crime stories bundled up neatly together with strong noir elements.
The action is unmistakable from the opening bar fight, where we first meet Red Horse, when, right before the action starts, he proclaims “Whicha you motherfuckers is gonna be the first to cry to Jesus.” From that point on fights will be started, weapons will be pulled, buns will blaze and the action will be relentless. The crime elements will feel familiar to some but only at the most superficial levels as it will only take a light scratch to reveal the depths of these characters that are anything but simple clichés. From the simple synopsis of the story these two elements can be surmised but the pervasive noir story was a pleasant surprise. Red Horse may be a tough guy but we quickly understand that he is an every-man that we can relate to in a lot of ways. He finds himself compelled, by forces largely beyond his control, to enter into a situation where he becomes little more then a pawn. With all these outside forces working against him the urge for his individuality to assert itself becomes stronger and stronger; but as these forces become practically insurmountable this simple task becomes harder and harder. Before long a complex mousetrap has been set for Red Horse.
At the end of the first issue there is a major revelation about one of the characters that changes the face of the entire story; enough to make you want to go back and re-read the first issue again before continuing on to the others. I’ll not go into specifics here about it but I do want to say that I think Aaron made a great decision to have the revelation happen so early on. A lesser writer would have been tempted to wait until much later in the series for the reveal, savoring the build up and trying to cleverly keep it hidden from the reader. Except that at some point it would have become guessable and the impact would have been lessened. As it is since it happens so early on the reader isn’t given time to try and figure such things out because we are becoming familiar with this new world, so its approach isn’t seen and the impact is greater. This was a great decision and really illustrates the care and attention paid to the construction of the story.
Readers entering this vivid and gripping world will be introduced to some of the most complex characters, loyalties and relationships in recent years. Not only are they created with three dimensions but their personalities, and again their relationships, have multi facets. There is a lot of depth and material to be explored here. Red Crow has a confusing sense of identity. An activist mother with strong ideals and beliefs raised him. But then he left everything behind, now all these years later he is both insider and outsider. Red Crow, of all the characters here, might just be the most lost, not knowing, at times, even which way is up. His mother Gina, trying always to stay true to her youthful ideals has become an anachronistic annoyance on The Rez, causing a lot of problems for the new power structure. She runs into problems trying to recruit member for the cause from the younger generation, who would much rather use a gun to win. Does Gina love her son more, or the cause? Then there is Lincoln Red Crow. What happens to a Red Power activist to make him betray the cause? Has he betrayed the cause? Or, is he furthering it by gaining some measure of economic power for his people? As these complex characters and their complex relationships, histories and loyalties intertwine it will become hard to know whom to root for, whom to root against and who will survive.
Through all of these characters, and this story, a lot of tough questions about America, race, class, vice, identity, history, cultural identity, loyalty, youthful ideals and their potential corruption will be asked. Some answers will be given but none of the questions and their potential answers are easy or neat and pretty.
This is a book that both entertains and makes you think.