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Comic Book Review – Scalped: Dead Mothers

Scalped #12–18 by Jason Aaron & RM Guera (with John Paul Leon and Davide Furno)

Scalped has been my personal discovery of the year – a visceral, gritty, taut and gripping thriller set on a reservation in South Dakota, it continues to enthral and entertain with each collection. The first collection [my review] was the attention-getter, the second collection [my review] informed while set around the proceedings of one night, and this third collection goes for emotion and character.

The title of this trade lets you know the truth – Gina, the mother of our protagonist, Dashiell Bad Horse, has been found murdered. Gina was always trying to get Dash to take up his Lakota roots but he spurned them and her; now he has to face this. In the first issue, drawn by Leon, we see Dash after having undercover night terrors, as he worries that Chief Red Crow will kill him when he finds out the truth (that Dash is working for FBI agent Nitz to take Crow down, in a vendetta Nitz has for the death of two agents many years ago). In a variation on his dream, he is visited by his mother who tries to impart some words of wisdom to her son about the history of their people and their place in the world. It will be later in the day that Dash will find out she is dead …

Aaron then parallels this story (as Crow wants to find out who killed Gina) with that of a meth-head prostitute who was murdered by Diesel, a Kickapoo wannabe who is also working for Nitz; the meth-head left behind five kids, with the eldest wanting revenge for the death of his mother, even though he is only about eleven. Dash wants to take down Diesel and hand him to Crow, knowing that Crow will want to kill him for ruining his office on the opening night of the casino, so he’ll have a murder to pin on Crow. But Nitz torpedoes this idea: he says that Diesel is not to be arrested for this and, if Dash does, he’ll make not only Dash’s life a misery but that of the orphans. Dash is not happy with this Catch 22 situation and obviously things don’t end happily …

Everything that combines to make this book is just right – Aaron’s blend of police procedure, life on the rez, the mysticism of the Lakota and the intricacy of the plotting; Guera’s art, which handles raw landscapes, violence, talking heads, emotive silent panels and detailed realism in a vivid and dirty style; and the greatness of the idea and the characters (I love that Dash had posters of Bruce Lee and Batman on his walls as a teenager). Scalped is a brutally brilliant story that I’m surprised isn’t being made into a television series by someone who wants to make money from damn good comic books.

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