Scalped: The Gravel In Your Guts and High Lonesome

Scalped #19–24 and #25–29 by Jason Aaron and RM Guera and various artists

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy Scalped, although ‘enjoyed’ isn’t perhaps the accurate term for the complexity of emotions produced by reading this excellent comic book series – the intensity and power and the inevitability (as Ed Brubaker describes it in his introduction) can be depressing but in a good way, in the tradition of noir. It is also vivid, richly detailed, powerful and extremely good. Every time I get a new trade, I have to read it a few times just to absorb it all because it is so good and because you want to relive those amazing moments again.

The fourth trade, The Gravel In Your Guts, has some heartbreaking moments as we witness the descent of both Dash Bad Horse and Carol, as they come so close to recognising that they might have something special but their pasts and their current courses get in the way. The rest of the book focuses on Chief Red Crow and his past and his current problems with Mr Brass and the Hmongs (who provided the money for him to get the casino built) – Scalped is so rich, it has a wealth of fascinating characters whose stories deserve telling.

The only slight issue I have with the book is that RM Guerra is the perfect artist for the Scalped, which means that any other artist unfortunately comes up short (in my unsophisticated artistic eyes). Davide Furno is a good artist but his art style – a very Vertigo style – just feels slightly off and the characters don’t look quite as they should. That’s completely illogical, but I never said I always have to make sense. The same irrational reaction happens in Scalped: High Lonesome – Furno and Francesco Francavilla provide art for chapters focussing on Federal Agent Nitz and Diesel, respectively, but it just doesn’t feel like Scalped if it isn’t Guera.

Guera provides art for the bulk of the fifth book, and he does an amazing job: his has defined Scalped, so the characters look as they should, but he’s a great storyteller and creates the gritty, moody, visceral and intensity of the world of Scalped with seeming ease. Scalped: High Lonesome is a turning point in the book because it reveals secrets about the back story, and Dash has a very lucky escape (in a particularly high-octane sequence, kinetic and exhilarating, and one of the benchmarks of Scalped and the Aaron/Guera combination) as well as a moment of clarity, leading to a game-changing final page.

This trade feels far too short – it’s only five issues – and leaves you hungry for more. I haven’t broken down and started buying the individual comic books, but it is always a close thing after I’ve finished reading each trade. Aaron is doing an amazing job on this book – his razor-sharp dialogue, his plotting, his characterisation and his feel for the grimy side of life are incredible, and Scalped is an amazing book.

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