Review by: Nick Fovargue

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Written by Jason Aaron
Art by R.M. Guera
Cover by Jock

Size: 32 pages
Price: 2.99


I must be honest and say that my first reaction to Scalped #60 wasn’t overwhelmingly positive. First, I believe there was a storytelling problem with the revenge fantasy which through me off for a minute. Second, it was more open ended and less definitive than I was looking forward to. And third, things I expected to happen, was sure would happen, didn’t. The first was a very minor blip and the second two I will return to later on to discuss further.

Scalped has often been billed as “The Sopranos on an Indian reservation” but that never seemed appropriate to me. Elevator pitches never are very satisfying for such nuanced work but my disapproval goes beyond just oversimplification. The Sopranos has never struck me as either a crime or noir story, it reminds me more of a family drama with bigger stakes. Scalped is true noir in that it is a gritty or bleak modern descendant of classical tragedy. For me Scalped bares more comparison to Hamlet and Macbeth than The Sopranos.

As a writer, Jason Aaron seems drawn to the tragic heart of his characters, whether they are his own creation or corporate properties. Even in the midst of the recent big crossover event at Marvel, he takes the time to give the touching, heartbreaking back story of a minor character in Wolverine and the X-Men #13. In last year’s bombastic Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine, which was filled with such zany high concepts as Doom the Living Planet and a Phoenix Force gun, the series ends with moments of real gravity for the characters. We see the forces that make each of the characters alone and what it is in each of them that keep them from being a friend for the other.

It is this focus on character and tragedy that has always fueled Scalped. The story is a manifestation of the will and choices made by a group of highly damaged and flawed characters. Each has their own path and arc, each is guided by their own pain and hate and weakness; and in some cases by their arrogance or madness. As with any noir or tragedy, each character is the cause of their own downfall; you can see the moments where one better decision could divert their path, maybe save them from the dark end we, the reader, can see coming. Dash and Carol come within a few words of saving their relationship but fail to say them. Dash seems to damn himself in the middle stretch of the series, losing himself to rage and despair, he turns to drugs and unleashes a desperate revenge on Diesel. Red Crow, no matter how noble his stated intentions are or how deep his reverence for tradition cannot turn away from the violence and brutality he has built his life on. So like a classic tragedy, the fatal flaws of the characters build an intricate plot that twists in upon itself over and over until inevitably it consumes them all.

Or so I thought, until I read issue #60. In all my reading of Aaron’s work by focusing on the darker aspects of his character work, I missed something important. Redemption is as strong a theme for Aaron as tragedy and we see it here in the last issue of Scalped. Dash chooses not to throw his life away in revenge on Catcher, leaving that act instead to Nitz. Dash also chooses to save Red Crow and then reject the path that he offers. With these choices Dash and Red Crow, instead of the destruction that seemed inevitable throughout the series, seem to finally find new paths for their lives. Carol, too, once seemed bound for self-destruction but instead finds a new meaning to her life even in the face of having lost her chance for love and possible happiness for herself.

Earlier I wrote that issue 60 didn’t meet my expectations, that it wasn’t as definitive as I initially wanted and that it lacked certain events I had anticipated. Specifically, I am referring to the fact that I expected everybody, or almost everybody, to die. I was comparing it to classical tragedy after all. Instead this noir tale gives us something less neat and more truthful. There is no happy ending, the hero does slay the villain and get the girl. Nor is there a string of overwrought or conveniently plotted deaths. Our characters find some small redemption, they are set on new paths but they are not easy, nor even happy, paths.

The Rez itself is much the same. A great deal has happened and some things have changed, maybe even gotten a little better, but for the most part things go on as before. New individuals fill familiar roles in the community, the cycle of violence, abandonment and poverty play on. Carol takes up Granny’s legacy, Maggie leads a renewed activist movement, Dino sadly chooses the criminal path, and Dash’s unborn child will almost certainly grow up without a father. Cycles continue and so does the tragedy of life on the Rez.

The Prairie Rose Reservation is as much a character as a setting in Scalped and throughout the run RM Guerra has made this place real to the reader. Not just in the authenticity of the dusty, rusting look of the place but in how the reality of life on the Rez plays in the face and body language of those who live there. There is resignation, defeat and anger there. Poverty and what it does to a people and to an individual is a theme that has been constant throughout Scalped. And as good a job as Jason Aaron has done telling us stories of people in hopeless situations, it is Guerra who has unflinchingly made the poverty human and real. I think more than anything what I will take from Scalped is its depiction of the Rez as a place where the oppression of poverty is so pervasive it begins to feel like fate. It is the simple, real, human tragedy of the place that stays with me and haunts my conscience.

Guerra’s work throughout Scalped, and here in the final issue, is a masterwork and a lasting achievement. To think of the huge cast of characters he has given a face to, each one unique and immediately identifiable, is impressive. That he has given emotion and expression to every scene while still maintaining dynamic action and a sense of setting and place is mind-blowing. Everyone talks about how unique and perfect the style of Guerra’s work is for this book, and it is, but as a piece of storytelling and design his achievement is stunning.

That this is, for all intents and purposes, the first major work ever undertaken by Jason Aaron as a writer is amazing. He has crafted a world and a cast that feels completely real and authentic. His command of the voices of his characters is specific, it is detailed and it has existed from the earliest issues. Immediately you get a sense of who these people are, what their life may have been like and what motivates them. That I can think of the word noble to describe a man as ruthless of Lincoln Red Crow speaks to the gravitas Aaron has imbued in the character. I can’t remember villains I was happier to see dead than Diesel and Mr. Brass.

As Scalped proceeded through its 60 issues it would keep doubling back on itself, going back to fill in pieces of history, give new perspectives on previous events or just tell important character moments. These passes back through history would always add layers of understanding and depth to the main events of the series. We would learn just what Diesel’s problem was and who really did kill those FBI agents. We would learn something new about events we had already seen and realize we hadn’t understood them as well as we thought. It was fascinating, suspenseful storytelling and would always seem to happen just when it seemed the mysteries of the story were coming together and we had just been left at a cliff-hanger.

Despite the suspense of its plotting, the most powerful moments of Scalped have been those that break your heart. The grinder Aaron put these characters through, the lows and losses to which they have been subjected, has been almost punishing to read. The brutality has often been horrifying but that alone is cheap and without real meaning. The real emotional turmoil has come from Aaron building characters we care for. Dino losing an eye, Gina scalped, Dash’s drug abuse, the death of Shelton, and Dino’s decent into violence; each of these hit like a kick to the stomach, took your breath away. Think back on Dash’s execution and, really, slaughter of Diesel. That was a moment thrilling in its sense of vengeance and disturbing in its coldblooded violence. Scalped is filled with these complex and emotional moments.

From plotting to characters, from story to art, Scalped has been more than the sum of its parts. From Jock’s peerless covers and all the way through each issue, Scalped set a standard for great storytelling in comics and that includes this issue, the last issue. It took a little processing for me to see that it wasn’t that I didn’t get everything I expected in Scalped #60, it was that we got something much better. Scalped #60 is a rare thing in serial storytelling, a satisfying ending that stays true to the greatness of the series.

Way to stick the landing guys.

Story: 5 - Excellent
Art: 5 - Excellent


  1. Just realized I put an extra “r” on R.M. Guera’s last name. My apologies.

  2. This is, hands down, the best review I’ve seen of this issue & the series. Well done, man.

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