The issue of First Nations in America has long been a problem, and a largely ignored one at that. There are Indian Reservations that are more like Third World countries than reflections of the world leader known as America. Alcoholism, drugs and prostitution are plague these communities, not to mention corruption among the chiefs and those that run the different bands. Aside from a movie here and there that raises the issue, it is a topic pushed to the back in favor of more “popular” problems. Certainly, never has a comic book looked at this issue, until now. Scalped, by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra not only does not hold back on the problems the Reservations face, but beats you down and rubs your face in what is a very serious and often ignored problem.
Jason Aaron has made quite a name for himself in the comic book world in such a short time with last year’s The Other Side mini-series from Vertigo. Much like Aaron did with that story, he takes us down a very dark path of America in Scalped to show just what life is like for those who were here long before the Europeans came. However, this is not a tale that belittles America and its policies with regards to First Nations per se. Rather, it shows that there is more to the problem as well with the corruption of the First Nation leaders themselves and how this causes just as many problems as do outside forces. This is merely the backdrop for his story however; the real tale is about the return of a prodigal son (who is more than he appears) to the reserve and the opening of a new casino by a once radical, now corrupt band member.
R.M. Guéra’s artwork fits well with Aaron’s story, and he has been getting just as much praise. It is gritty and dark, but also you are able to discern who is who and the characters have a realistic look to them. The sketchy lines add to the darkness surrounding the story, and give everything a very “dirty” look. One hopes that this title does not use a fill-in artist and that Guéra stays for the duration, as his artwork helps make the look of this comic very distinctive.
This title kicks you in the balls and does not let up. Aaron creates characters with flaws, even the heroes of the tale, if there are any. He is also good at leaving a good cliffhanger at the end of each issue, which is essential if it is read in its serialized form. As a trade paperback collection, it is still fun to see and they even manage to leave you with an ending that shows that no one is safe, and things are just getting started. This comic book has been compared to HBO’s The Sopranos, and it is not surprising, although I think it also just plain feels like something you would see on HBO regardless. It has that feeling that the creators are not holding back and will do what it takes to tell the story, even if that makes the reader feel a bit uncomfortable. That may be the point really, to stir up the reader’s emotions and have them feel not only for the characters, but the issues that this comic book raises.
Vertigo has long had a standing for allowing edgier works to be published. Scalped continues that tradition and only adds to that prestige. This is one of the best new books currently out there and in particular from Vertigo. Be sure to give this collection a try, as it is only ten bucks and Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra will kick you in the teeth and having you want more. This book is not only well done it has meaning to it and will suck you in. Forget light summer reading, read Scalped instead.