People often talk about comics ‘getting serious’ or ‘growing up’ but the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of comics aren’t brilliant pieces of art or entertainment. This isn’t to put comics down – the same rule can be applied to movies, TV, the theatre, literature and any other consumable entertainment product you might care to think of. Scalped, however, is a serious, grown-up comic, and it’s also a brilliant work of entertainment. Its execution brings to mind top-class television like The Sopranos, perhaps in part because it’s episodic (this book collects the first five issues of the monthly comic) but also because it’s simply that good.
After 15 years away, Dashiell Bad Horse returns to the Native American reservation he escaped when he was 13. The first part of this book follows his return to his homeland, where he picks fights with locals until he’s brought before the Tribal Leader, effectively the mayor of the reservation. Lincoln Red Crow appears to be a corrupt politician though, who hires Bad Horse to the local police force – really little more than Red Crow’s private army. As we progress through the book we uncover dark secrets from the past and find out there’s a lot more to Bad Horse than he’s letting on.
Writer Jason Aaron adds more to the mix though. Bad Horse’s relationship with his activist (borderline terrorist) mother is fraught with complications, while he also seems to have held a flame for his pre-teen love interest. Unfortunately, she’s spent the last 15 years furiously copulating with anyone who so much as glances at her.
It’s a compelling story. The characters are caked in anger, proud of their Native American blood but resentful of the society that put them where they are. They have rich histories that are masterfully revealed to us as we read through the book. It’s well written and pulls no punches, but is as entrenched in the real world as you could possibly ask for.
The art is great too. Guéra has a scratchy style that suits the gritty script perfectly. If this were television it would probably be shot with handheld cameras and Guéra recreates this lo-fi style with his seemingly effortless, grungy visuals.
With its range of themes and super-tight plotting, Scalped is a great piece of modern, adult storytelling. Do yourselves a favour – turn off the latest reality TV fiasco, give the latest blockbuster a skip and settle down in front of a good comic instead. We doubt you’ll regret it.
Other titles in the Scalped series: