Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jason Aaron's Calling Card - Scalped

The man hasn’t been in the field long but he’s already penning a masterpiece of the comic form that doesn’t show any signs of wavering at all. It’s unarguably a classic and easily my choice for Jason Aaron’s calling card. Hit the jump to see why I think you should be reading this title and why you will then go out and get the first trade, if you aren’t already elbow’s deep into it.

Jason Aaron is a man who seemed to jump into the medium fully formed. He knew all the tricks, he had the right friends, and he got the good breaks, but that was after proving himself with an Eisner nominated mini series for Vertigo, The Other Side, which was about two sides of the Vietnam War. It was an incredibly strong debut and there was no doubting this writer was going to move on to bigger and hopefully better things.

He’s now written Wolverine across 3 different titles, been about the only man the fans have responded to positively on the Punisher after Garth Ennis’s retirement from the character, given Ghost Rider a massive send off, and wrote possibly the best Secret Invasion tie-in arc in Black Panther. Every character that Aaron has handled for Marvel has been a gritty affair tale with brutal people doing violent things, and it always seems to work so well.

Aaron has a lot of exceptional works to catch up on but there is one title that is truly superb, a title that almost lifts the medium of comics and is certainly one of the best crime comics being published today and that comic as his calling card is:


It’s even got an economically violent and sharp title. That’s what this series is, it’s violent and bloody and not to be messed with. It’s there to make you uncomfortable and know that it’s in the room. Scalped is a comic that sets out to show you things you might not be getting anywhere else.

Scalped is the ultimate Jason Aaron comic because it’s takes you exactly into his wheelhouse, and then ballgags you and does plenty of others things you won’t admit took place once you’re set free with the leather burns on the corners of your mouth and your gait a little weaker for wear. It’s a harsh tale, it’s certainly not for the weaker crowd. It doesn’t make you weak if you don’t like it, don’t get me wrong, but you definitely need a certain disposition to be able to handle the casual racism and violence dispensed in most issues.

The comic is about Dashiell Bad Horse an old kid from the Rez who only wanted to do away and actually make good, and how good he made is debatable as he returns years later as an undercover FBI agent. The opening salvo of Bad Horse arriving is, plainly put, a kick ass sequence (“…whicha you mother^$^#&$ is gonna be the first to cry to Jesus?”) and you instantly see how life on the Rez is. Aaron doesn’t hold anything back in showing us that every character he writes has flaws, regardless of cultural origin. There is no one pure character and there is no path they travel down that doesn’t include hard choices that must still be made.

You might be lured in by the nun chuck violence and easy gun play but you’ll surely stay for the characterisation and the understanding that this is true noir, and the further down the rabbit hole you go the further away from the light you’ll be when you die cold, alone and unable to move. The opening trade for this series, Indian Country, sets up every player, the setting, and all of the conflict. I’ve written before that Aaron deals in Venn diagrams of blood and, be they violent or familial, they’re always nasty. This isn’t light soap opera, this is epic storytelling set in the dirt of the gutters. This is the beauty of a blood spattered prison wall and the serenity of a corpse in a bathtub being silently drained of all blood.

Once you understand the position Bad Horse is in, and you begin to understand how he’ll probably deal with it all, you can only watch on because to look away would be to not know and that might be worse. At least if you watch and know then you might not repeat these mistakes, though the chances of you being in even a quarter of Bad Horse’s messed up situations is hopefully pretty slim.

R.M. Guera draws a perfect landscape for this tale, and with each trade the art gets better. The characters are focused from the start and yet you see them deteriorate as the stories take their toll on them. The entire gallery of characters on the Rez are well thought out, intriguing, visually arresting, and just make for a great enseble without a weak link. There have also been a few fill-in artists who also manage to bring their A-game with them, but when you're talking about John Paul Leon, Davide Furno, and Francesco Francavilla your quality control is guaranteed.


Scalped truly is masterful comic storytelling. This tale could easily, and I mean really easily, been a tv show instead. The arcs are longform, the characters are intriguing, and the drama drips like treacle. If this isn’t picked up within the boom of comic tv shows after The Walking Dead makes good I’ll be shocked. This has HBO written all over it but you can see it first with six trades already sitting on the stands. Will Bad Horse take down the corruption in his old home town or will he contribute to it? And can he do both? Pick up the first trade of Scalped to find out, it’s the best comic you’re missing out on.

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Ivan said...

100% agreed. Scalped is fantastic.

brandon said...

Can't go wrong with any of his work and Scalped is amazing.

I could see the Other Side being his calling card simply because he true passion is clearly with the Vietnam War. It just fits him like a glove.

I wonder where his calling card will be in five years as his library grows.

Bill said...

My favorite thing he's written was the Penguin one shot from the Joker's Asylum series. Easily my favorite Penguin story ever. But, yeah, Scalped is great, and his most significant work so far.

Ivan said...

/\ That Penguin is penned by Aaron? I never noticed this for some reason. It really is a great story...Jason Aaron should be writing a bat-book. Damn you DC for losing him!

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