Thursday, August 23, 2012

Scalped #60

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

Scalped is a rare book in so many ways.  It's become increasingly rare for a Vertigo title to live for sixty issues, with only The Unwritten and American Vampire poised to last as long (Fables and Hellblazer don't count, as neither one of them is likely to ever reach a story ending), especially with the consistently unspectacular sales that this book brought in (which has never made sense to me).

Scalped is rare for other reasons though.  It is a crime comic set on a poor First Nations Reserve in the American Southwest - a setting so far outside of the mainstream as you can get, while still being in America.  The series featured First Nations characters in a variety of roles - good, bad, and endlessly complex, something that is rarely done in any form of media in North America.  It showed the desperate poverty of reserve communities, and never shied away from depictions of drug and alcohol abuse, family instability, and many of the other problems that plague Aboriginal communities.

More than that though, it showed the community as real.  People in this comic do some pretty awful things, but they also turn around and surprise the reader with their kindness, compassion, dignity, and fortitude.  Over the years there have been charges of appropriation of voice levelled against Jason Aaron, which is a serious issue when depicting Aboriginal characters, but I believe Aaron did an excellent job.

A big part of why I say that is because I felt a genuine sadness in finishing this book, knowing that I won't be seeing these characters again.  There aren't too many series I can think of where this has happened to me.  I miss Yorick and 355 from Y the Last Man, Zee from DMZ, and a few of the characters that have been killed off in The Walking Dead, but there are a number of characters in Scalped that I began to feel real affection for, the same way I miss characters like Bubbles, Omar, and Wallace from The Wire.  (Is that sappy?  I often feel the same way about the characters of a really good book, but you don't spend five to six years with a novel.)

And therein lies the strength of Scalped.  Aaron created more than a kick-ass crime story, and his use of secondary characters transcended the travails of Dash Bad Horse and Lincoln Red Crow, the two central figures in this story.  It's the background folk that I grew to love.  Carol's transformation over the course of the series made me happy and proud of her, while Dino Poor Bear's made me very sad.  I'm going to miss Granny Poor Bear and Lester Falls Down.  These are some great characters.

This final issue closes off the book perfectly.  The final confrontation between Dash, Lincoln, Catcher, and Agent Nitz ends just as you would expect it to, and the survivors are left appropriately.  Aaron doesn't go in for the happy ending (except for Carol), but he does go for the correct ending.

I've felt for a long time that Dash stopped being the main character of the book before it reached its second year; really, this entire comic is about the redemption and growth of Red Crow.  He is one of the most nuanced and complex characters ever created in comics, and I love seeing where Aaron left him at the end of this book.

This series has featured a few great artists, but it is RM Guera who has worked on the lion's share of issues, who gave it its distinct look and feel.  Guera's rough art created just the right atmosphere for the Prairie Rose Reserve, and I look forward to seeing what projects he works on next.  This series has also featured some amazing covers by Jock, an artist who I consider to be one of the top three cover artists (with Brian Bolland and Dave Johnson)  I love the way this final issue's cover echoes the one he made for the first issue.

It is my hope that we will see these creators working on something that they own again.  I have yet to read anything by Jason Aaron at Marvel that matches or even comes close to matching the intelligence, balance, and insight of this series.  If you've never read Scalped, I urge you to start at the beginning.  I also kind of envy you the opportunity.

No comments: