Scalped #39-40

Posted by on September 8th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Review by Nathan Wilson


©2010 Jason Aaron and Rajko Milosevic.


Scalped #39-40: “Unwanted”
Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera
DC/Vertigo; 32 pp.; $2.99; Color

With the release of Scalped #39, writer Jason Aaron returns to one of the central dramas plaguing the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation and the series itself — the relationship between Dash Bad Horse and Carol Red Crow. This latest issue comes in the wake of a series of one or two-shot vignettes that explored peripheral characters that were a welcome departure away from what few if any reviewers have identified as potential problems for the book itself. Having been with the series since the first issue, having covered its initial seven issue run in a book manuscript, and having spoken with Aaron several times about the series, one of the things that truly brought me into the title was its brash and often times brazen use of violence and language juxtaposed against an environment that is often times overlooked in American popular culture — Indian Country. Yet, this defining aspect of a series once called “the Sopranos on an Indian Reservation” by Vertigo, and which once served as a potential catalyst for more contemporary, more modern, and some cases, more realistic portrayals of Native peoples, became, for a time, a stereotype in and of itself.

And therein rests the problem in producing a critical analysis of Scalped and its value as a cultural representation of modern American popular culture. Throughout the series, Aaron has reinforced stereotypes and cultural expectations regarding Native peoples while simultaneously challenging and critiquing them.

Although the often worn tropes of mystic shaman, tracker, and warrior-healer are absent in Scalped, Aaron has, in some instances, inadvertently created new ones by focusing his crime drama within Indian Country. At times, Aaron has used his platform as a voice to educate readers about the plight and poverty facing Indian Reservations or the tragic histories involved in Indian and Euro-American encounters over the decades. Aaron is oftentimes championed for his “dark” and “gritty” approach to writing. This is very true and it is definitely one of his strong suits as an author. And, in selecting a reservation as a locale to explore such themes is commendable and usually quite intriguing; however, the major trap that the series has fallen into is that the “darkness” and the “grit” are overwhelming the characters, specifically the cultural landscape upon which the entire book is founded. Yes, Aaron has done a masterful job of having characters whose ethnicity is not their sole, defining element, characters whose “Indianness” is neither a vehicle for plot exploration nor a barrier to creative depth and growth. Native American audiences have very few places that they see themselves reflected in mainstream comics (let alone film or television), and for every harsh, “dark,” and “gritty” storyline that depicts the brutality of rez life, Aaron would do well to give his Indigenous characters more agency and allow the “bright spots” of certain story arcs to be achieved by the people themselves, rather than simply acted upon by outside forces beyond their control. Scalped #39 is a move in that precise and positive direction.


©2010 Jason Aaron and Rajko Milosevic.


Issue #39 opens as many of Scalped’s stories do with a short recollection connecting present characters and dramatic conflicts to ones in the past. The central theme here is the question of abortion and whether or not Carol will terminate her pregnancy by Dash or keep the child. As he often does, Aaron succeeds in linking Carol’s decision with similar events and episodes that plagued her own mother, and instead of a simplistic vehicle to present “adult” or controversial topics as some Vertigo titles tend to do, abortion in Scalped is given its significant political, personal and cultural weight. Unfortunately, the same depth and character development attributed to Carol has been absent with Dash, who again is simply presented as a victim of his drug addiction. Although narcotic abuse is a critical issue facing modern Indian Reservations and while Aaron’s introduction of the topic in early issues and arcs of Scalped dealt with its severity, it has become little more than another tool for showing brutality without any social or cultural relevance to the character of Dash.

In Scalped #39, agency is reserved only for Carol and it is a welcome shift for not only the character but for the series itself. As identity politics play a crucial role in Scalped, Aaron has done a magnificent job here of tying Carol into this larger, more developed concept. And, while the mystery and criminal intrigue still play a major part in the issue and the series that harkens back to the noir novels of Jim Thompson in the 1950s or the modern works of James Ellroy, Aaron appears to have achieved a firm balance between the crime genre and the portrayal of American Indian characters.


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One Response to “Scalped #39-40”

  1. […] in Scalped #39 and #40 to The Comics Journal that was published earlier this week.  Here is a  link to the […]