Volume 2 of the noir comic series Scalped is a masterpiece of modern fiction. The trade paperback is made up of 6 individual comic book issues (called “floppies” by the initiated) that come together to tell one cohesive story “arc” in Jason Aaron’s world. Mr. Aaron used each of these sections to tell the story of one of the characters on the Prairie Rose Reservation. What really amazed me was that each “floppy” covers the same night; the grand opening of the Crazy Horse Casino. The author’s ability to tie each of these characters and their stories together over the course of “Casino Boogie” was awe-inspiring. Reading this trade it’s hard to determine who the main character of the story is, because Jason gives such care and development to each individual that he introduces us to. It dawns on me that the Prairie Rose Reservation may be the main character, and each tragic resident just another aspect of her existence. I’ve struggled with settling on the very best way to review this noir comic, simply because of how it jumps around so rapidly character to character. So I’ve decided to spend a little time on each character’s section.
1. Dashiell Bad Horse
Dash’s angle is treated in the first issue, gritty, fast-paced and violent to an extreme degree. Despair and Bondage are resounding themes of his character. We haven’t been given much of a glimpse at his past at this point, but it doesn’t take much guessing to assume that it’s pitiful. Dash portrays strong emotional resentment towards his mother and his heritage, and constantly wants to escape but lacks the means. He’s the quintessential anti-hero backed in a corner, spiraling ever downward to impending destruction. My one complaint with this section of the trade is that the artwork gets rather muddy. It seems like the inker/colorist combo for the first couple issues was brutal, because in some panels its hard to see what R.M. Guera drew. Noir comics should be dark, but not unreadable.
2. Chief Lincoln Red Crow
On the night that should be his greatest triumph (the opening of his casino), Red Crow must cope with disaster after disaster after disaster. He mingles among his thousands of guests, politicians and beautiful women spilling compliments and oozing gratitude, posing for pictures and shaking hands. While behind the scenes he is hounded by creditors, bribe-seeking officials, and tribal traditionalists who all want their pound of flesh. The pinnacle of this chaotic hell is when he finds his personal office ransacked and burgled, his dogs murdered and their blood used as paint for obscene messages. Jason Aaron does an amazing job of humanizing this would-be villain from the first trade, and breaking our hearts when Red Crow utters, “he didn’t have to kill the dogs.”
Diesel is an intriguing character because he provides a look at Native American racism from an opposite angle. As a 1/16th Chicktaw Indian, he has lived as an outcast from both white and rez communities. His whole life he has wanted to be an Indian brave like his ancestors, but all of his peers have mocked and ridiculed him for it. As a result, he is hardened, violent, and a very outspoken traditionalist. He’s the one who ‘redecorates’ Lincoln Red Crow’s office (putting his life in danger to do so). Couple that with a struggle of machismo with Dash and Diesel becomes a very dynamic character.
Catcher is the village idiot/drunk of the Prairie Rose Reservation. The only ‘catch’ is that he really isn’t. He is one of the few Native American’s left on the rez who believes in the “thunder-beings” (the creators of their people) and he is very outspoken about the visions that they share with him. He believes that Dash will play an important role in the future salvation of the tribe, and that the road is as bloody as it is long to get there. We get the feeling that Catcher will be a sort of guardian angel over Dash, and that his past with Gina (Dash’s mom) will complicate things. One of the coolest things I have seen in any of the noir comics I have read is when Catcher sees the “totem” or “spirit” animals of the characters in the story.
5. Dino Poor Bear
I believe that Dino’s character was introduced to show us the realities of rez life. He, like Dash, dreams of leaving everyone behind and escaping his fate. Sadly, the reality of this ever happening is slim at best. He is a single/teenage father to a baby his grandmother is raising, brother to a boy with a disability and a drug-addicted pregnant sister, nephew to a diabetic amputee, and friend to a bunch of drunk nobodies. Lastly, he’s a janitor at the new casino, and is tasked with cleaning up the mess in Red Crow’s office. It’s there that he has one of the most illuminating scenes in the book about the importance of his Indian heritage. I won’t spoil it, but its magnificent.
6. Gina Bad Horse
Gina’s chapter is a look at the past, particularly at moments and decisions that have cause hellish waves in her life. She spends much of her time in introspection and dwelling on regret. We catch wind that she has a past with Red Crow and Catcher, and that the events of today are a direct result of their shared history. We also get to meet one of her dear friends as she visits him in prison, and we guess at the injustice that placed him there. We know what the final page of this trade paperback will be, but its gravity is not diminished by our knowing.
Dashiell teaches us the pain of despair
Red Crow teaches us the weight of responsibility
Diesel teaches us the fruits of intolerance
Catcher teaches us to reconcile our future with the past
Dino teaches us to hope for something better
Gina teaches us it’s never too late
“this is a crime story, all right (a neo-western/political/historical/Native/ultra-violent/black comedy crime story, to be precise), but it’s not relying on any of the usual props from other genres for its survival. None of the aforementioned super-types, no horror, no fantasy or sci-fi, nothing. Not an elf or an angel in sight. And for an adult-imprint monthly in the current sales climate, that’s both refreshing and pretty bloody brave.” -Garth Ennis October 2007
The realm of noir comics will never be the same after Scalped : Casino Boogie. A believable story from an unbelievable creator team: Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera. I’ll be adding to our noir definition soon!