Saturday, May 17, 2014

First Impressions: Scalped (Comic Book Review)

Scalped is a comic book series taking place in present day, on the fictional Prarie Rose Lakota Reservation between Nebraska and South Dakota.  I've read two volumes out of 9 published in 2011.  The series is composed by Jason Aaron with art by R.M Guera, John Paul Leon, David Furno and more.   The genre is crime drama (noir), and if it were made into a TV series, it would be compared with shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Deadwood.   

I wasn't sure what to make of this series after reading the first graphic novel.  I'm a little tired of the adjective 'Gritty' and this series is very gritty.  No heroes to be found here, just anti-heroes and villains who are somewhat sympathetic.  Also some unknowns and straight up bad guys.  Granted, I kind of like moral ambiguity, and maybe that's what keeps me reading.  Also, I really like the fact that the story takes place on an Indian Reservation and 90% of the characters have lived there  their whole lives, and families for generations.  This is a setting that is sorely underrepresented in popular culture.  Sorely.  So Scalped got in the door just for that, and even though it's an ugly gritty crime drama, I decided to stick it out.

I'm glad I stuck it out.  By the end of the second issue, there is more character development, and I have myself a new favorite character.  He'll probably be your favorite character too.  The sympathetic villain is becoming more sympathetic, but no less villainous.  The grittiness is expanding to include the banalities of abject poverty.  I'm really glad this is coming into the story more, because everything I've ever read or been told about life on Indian Reservations is that it can be very hopeless for the inhabitants.  Again, I repeat, sorely unrepresented in popular culture.

Now, I think it's important to point out that the writer, Jason Aaron is not Native American.  He's a white guy from Alabama.  But so far, he's a great writer, and has a really good sense of the gritty crime-drama motif and how to build a rounded cast of characters.  I do think that it is problematic for a white guy to be writing about the struggles of a people not his own, a people colonized by Europeans.  However, as I mentioned before, the subject of life on the Rez is sorely underrepresented, so at this point I think I'll just take what I can get.  And to his credit, I think Aaron is very respectful of his subject, and tries to give a well rounded variety of points of view.  But, of course, that's just the opinion of another some-white-guy, you can take it or leave it.  With any luck, stories like these can get more attention which may lead to a positive change.  One can only hope.

So would I recommend giving Scalped a look?  Yes.  So far, midway through book 3, Scalped has a dynamic and interesting cast of characters, fantastic art that I sink right into, and a light enough touch of mysticism to pique my interest, without laying it on too thick.  Also, yes, there are some scalpings, mafia style.  I picked up my copies at my local library, and I suggest you do the same.


P.S.  If super-gritty-noir isn't something you want to see, but you're still interested in modern life on Indian Reservations, you should check out this clip for a much more family friendly version.  

(The book that the linked movie is based on is a lot grittier)

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