Time To Get Scalped!
This is my bid ? my plea ? to save Scalped from possible extinction.
Vertigo’s Scalped is at less than 8,000 copies sold per month. Heck, I don’t even know if that’s right. Eight thousand may just be the final pre-ordered number to keep the book, at a minimum, on comic book shop shelves across the country. For all I know, there’s only ten of us actually buying and reading this superb ongoing comic.
But we’re ten happy campers.
For the time being.
Editor Will Dennis calls Scalped, “The Sopranos on an Indian Reservation.” I don’t doubt it, but I’ve never watched The Sopranos, so I can’t honestly confirm the comparison. But I have read Tony Hillerman, and Scalped writer Jason Aaron is Hillerman unleashed, hard-boiled, and hardcore. Aaron perfectly captures the harsh means of living in poverty on an Indian Reservation in southern South Dakota. Remember social relevancy in comics? It’s right here, fiercely implanted at the story’s core, along with sex, drugs, violence, gambling, crime drama, and mystery. These elements are blooming ugly all at once, seen at different perspectives from leading and supporting characters as Aaron weaves their personal dramas through different points in time, bringing one to the forefront for an issue, then to the background, then another off to the side takes center stage, and all overlap (particularly in the latest story arc, which takes place over the course of one evening). Yet the story relentlessly propels forward, even as Aaron keeps the mystery flowing at a slow bleed. I’m simply mesmerized, hungering for more.
The characters are unforgettable, and, man, are they tortured. There’s the savage pride of Lincoln Red Crow, whose dream of opening a casino on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation has reached fruition, but it’s come at a loaded, deadly price; the intense anger of Dashiell Bad Horse, who left the reservation at the age of 13 vowing never to return, but he has, and as an undercover FBI agent; the hidden guilt of Gina Bad Horse, Dashiell’s mother; the supernatural visions of Catcher, whose history with Lincoln and Gina involve a dark secret; the determination of FBI Agent Nitz, who wants Red Crow brought to justice for possibly murdering two federal agents in 1975; the just-out-of-reach dreams of Dino Poor Bear; the unstable smugness of half-white Britt (Diesel) Fillenworth, self-proclaimed baddest Indian on the rez; and the insatiable sex drive of one Carol Ellroy, daughter of Lincoln Red Crow, and whose actions are almost comic relief. Above them all is Granny, who just may be the heart of this story. But there’s no telling right now who is the soul.
There’s no happy camper in that bunch, as tragedy swirls around them all.
And to further add to its credibility, Scalped has a foundation based on actual events.
On June 26, 1975, two special agents were shot and killed at the Jumping Bull property in Oglala, South Dakota, which is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. An intense investigation and manhunt ensued, and several members of the American Indian Movement were picked up for questioning. Two years later, Leonard Peltier was found guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree. In Scalped, Lawrence Belcourt assumes Peltier’s role and is seen by both the Indians and the FBI as the scapegoat. Lincoln Red Crow, Gina Bad Horse, and Catcher were at the scene of the 1975 shooting. Someone pulled the trigger and committed the murders. Aaron has used this dark corner of recent American history as the springboard for his modern crime drama.
Artist R.M. Guera excels. I found his illustrations, especially the loud, bloody shoot-outs, too dark and claustrophobic at first. Ten issues in, and won over completely since the stunning end of issue five, I can’t imagine anyone else drawing this book.
Scalped is terrific. It doesn’t deserve to be languishing on comic book shelves across the country, and it doesn’t deserve an unjust fate of cancellation. It deserves to be told in its entirety. It deserves to be bought, read, and praised. It’s a story worth pleading for to keep alive.