Tag Archives: Scalped

Noir Comics | Scalped: The Gravel In Your Guts

Noir Comics The Gravel in Your Guts Cover

Cover

The fourth volume of the critically acclaimed Scalped series was full of powerful turning points and reversals in the story-line. Jason Aaron’s Indian Reservation-centric thriller is THE comic that all other noir comics are measured against. There honestly could not have been a more perfect title for this chapter of the story, because it’s gut wrenching and deeply disturbing. Before launching into an analysis of what I felt the most important aspects of this volume, I would like to say that it was nearly impossible to locate in the first place. I checked amazon.com and they were sold out, when placing the order they said that it would ship within 2-3 months. Additionally, they had NO OTHER sellers at the time that were providing this comic in its used state or otherwise. So I located a completely separate online comic book seller that had one issue left in stock and I purchased it again. That’s right, I purchased it from amazon (expecting to wait) and from the separate seller I had found who guaranteed delivery within 3-5 business days. Well, 3 weeks later I had still not received the comic, and all of my queries to both amazon and the other seller were going unanswered. At this point, the most infuriating thing was the fact that I had the fifth and sixth volume sitting on my shelf, but I didn’t want to skip a section of the story. Eventually, at the beginning of the fourth week it finally came, and I was able to dive in hungrily (and then the other copy came a week later).

There were essentially five events that I found to be extremely significant in this noir comic. I’ll give you a brief overview of each.

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Carol Ellroy

Minutes before the Tragedy

First, we found out why Carol Red Crow hates her father, and how his cronies caused the death of her baby. The father of the child had stolen money from the Chief, and was trying to leave the rez with Carol and his unborn grandchild. While they were on the road out of town, Red Crow’s men pulled alongside them and began raining bullets on them (not knowing that Carol was in the car). They eviscerated Carol’s beau, and a stray bullet plunged into her womb, instantly killing the child. Since then, Carol has had no interest in a relationship with her father, and has gone off the deep end in the drug world.

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Dashiell Bad Horse

Suicide isn't the answer

Second, Dashiell Bad Horse almost kills himself. He had been reminiscing about his childhood, and a time when his father had shown up at his house completely wasted. His dad proceeded to do cocaine in front of him, and said “I don’t ever wanna catch you doing this shit you hear?”

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Drug Abuse

another bad decision, learning to use drugs

Third, Dashiell’s self destructive tendencies take their final plunge when he asks Carol (who he’s been sleeping with) to show him how to do heroin.

“Tapping into the heart of noir, Jason Aaron tells a story that is really many stories, and which all have the same ending. It doesn’t get much more inevitable than knowing the ending through most of the book – but here’s the key… you don’t care. You turn each page just as fast, maybe faster, wanting to know how each character winds their way toward that conclusion. And that’s why I love noir, and why Scalped is a work of art.” – Ed Brubaker, January 2009

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Dino Poor Bear

On his way to make deliveries

Fourth, Dino Poor Bear starts doing shady deliveries for the police in order to make money for his family. This leads him to being in various horrible situations.

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Chief Red Crow

praying for the first time in a long while

And finally, Chief Red Crow reaches a turning point and decides to take his reservation back.

Scalped: The Gravel in Your Guts is a very hard noir comic to read because every character is plunging deeper and deeper into their bad decisions and the consequences they are incurring appear to be overwhelming any possible hope for a brighter future. Jason Aaron refuses to pull any punches, and constantly brutalizes his characters. I’m reminded of a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, he said of writing a story: “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” Noir comics are written by sadists.

A parting note, R.M. Guera and Davide Furno deliver BIG TIME in every issue. I’m never disappointed.

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Noir Comics | Scalped: Dead Mothers

Noir Comics Scalped Dead Mothers Cover

Scalped: Dead Mothers Cover

The third installment of the Scalped series was as powerful and heart-pounding as the rest. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra once again show their deft hand at crafting incredibly emotional noir comics.

The Prairie Rose reservation becomes the scene of two murders: One, a junkie found strangled, leaving behind a handful of orphans with more similarities to Dashiell then he’d care to admit. The other is Dash’s own mother, Gina, who has been brutally scalped and slaughtered.

Noir Comics Scalped Dead Mothers Dashiell Badhorse and Orphans

Dash tells the orphans their mother has been murdered.

“…gritty and honest, it’s a new type of noir and the best word to describe… [SCALPED]…is brilliant.” – Crimespree Magazine

The real beauty of this volume of Scalped is how the plot weaves the psychological torment of an estranged son craving redemption (estranged not only from his mother Gina but from his people). J. Aaron and R.M. Guéra are so incredible at speaking volumes without saying anything at all. Poignant emotions hang just beyond our reach as Dashiell and others act out in destructive ways and attempt to cope in unhealthy ways. Noir comics like these are one in a million.

Noir Comics Scalped Dead Mothers Chief Red Crow Acts Out

Chief Red Crow coping in unhealthy ways...

 

Noir Comics Scalped Dead Mothers Dashiell Badhorse Acts Out

Dash coping in unhealthy ways...

My favorite scene occurs near the end of Dead Mothers, so brace yourselves for spoilers. [SPOILER] Dashiell goes to a bar to drink himself into oblivion, and he purposely picks a fight with a huge group of locals. They drag him outside and beat him to a pulp, and then he wanders off in a drunken stupor down the highway. Cars swerve to miss him as he walks down the middle of the road and mutters obscenities to himself. After several hours, he collapses. Crawling in confusion, he finally stops to gather his bearings and realizes that he has walked to his mother’s house. Her front porch is covered in flowers from friends and mourners, and the most prominent wreath reads “We Miss You Gina.” Dash sits motionless for many long moments, and then violently weeps. The scene ends as he stands up and walks inside, finally home. [SPOILER]

Noir Comics Scalped Dead Mothers Chief Red Crow Mourns Gina

Chief Red Crow mourns Gina Badhorse

 

Noir Comics Scalped Dead Mothers Dashiell Badhorse Mourns Gina

Dash mourns his mother.

After this moment in the comic, I finally realized that the central theme of the entire story is Dash’s journey home. His journey to redeem himself and reconcile with his mother and his people. He’s lost the chance to make things right with his mother… will he lose the chance with his people as well?

If you haven’t picked up these noir comics yet, please, please, please, please come to your senses and get it. You won’t be disappointed.

Noir Comics Scalped Dead Mothers Indian Land Page

"You are on Indian Land."

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Noir Comics | Scalped: Casino Boogie

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Cover

Volume 2 of the Noir Comic Scalped

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.

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Red Crow

the overwhelming weight of being the chief.

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.”

3. Diesel

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.

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Dino

life wasn't too attractive...

4. Catcher

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.

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Catcher Owl Totem

No one believes poor crazy Catcher

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

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Dashiell Spider Totem

this image is really blurry, but he's covered in spiders and webs

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Red Crow Elk Totem

this was my favorite image in the whole trade

 “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!

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“Noir On the Reservation” Scalped: Indian Country

Noir Comics Scalped Indian Country Dog

Bob Dylan enjoys Scalped: Indian Country as well.

Scalped: Indian Country is the very first trade paper back of the Scalped series. I picked it up because a good friend of mine recommended it while we were on a road-trip to Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Washington (If you want pics of that trip, check out my Facebook account). Knowing my penchant for noir, his exact words were: “Its like The Sopranos on an Indian Reservation.” Simply stated, I was extremely pleased with the story, and I rank it with my very favorite noir comics. I feel that the easiest way to break down this review would be to hold Scalped: Indian Country up to the noir definition that we have already created.

1. The Seedy Underworld

The Prairie Rose Indian Reservation is the setting for this noir comic. Litter-strewn highways, trailer park junkyards, feral dogs, and a brand new shining casino provide the backdrop for the characters. One of the very best depictions of a villainous underworld I have ever seen. If you can read this and not be wracked with “white-man’s guilt” then you are either don’t have a heart or you aren’t white. The art is so filthy in this noir that you will feel filthy touching it.

Noir Comics Scalped Dashiell Bad Horse

Dashiell Bad-Horse, uhh....pardon the profanity in the image....

2. The Anti-Hero

Dashiell Bad-Horse is about as hardened as they come. He grew up on the Prairie Rose when he was young, and he left (or escaped) as soon as he could drive. He joined the army, fought in Iraq, came back and joined the FBI, then found himself in prison. He is more crooked and brutal than any detective novel anti-hero I have ever read. And he uses nunchucks. Totally a tragic bad a** anti-hero, but you can’t help but root for him.

“…SCALPED is Jason’s distinctly American Western-slash-crime story about the people who had this country first. Starring Dashiell Bad Horse, the rare film noir protagonist who’s actually as cool as his name, this is the riveting tale of one mean cop with a big damn secret.”  -Brian K. Vaughan

3. The Femme Fatale

Dashiell’s ex-girlfriend Carol is the femme fatale of this noir comic. She is also the biggest slut on the reservation (in addition to being Chief Red-Crow’s daughter). You may have already guessed some of the problems this relation would cause. Well, Dashiell comes home to the Prairie Rose, working secretly for the bureau on a deal that got him out of prison, and it doesn’t take long for Carol to become the manipulative seductress that any great noir needs.

Noir Comics Femme Fatale Carol Red Crow

Carol Red-Crow is sluttily draped all-over that jukebox

4. Misogyny

Jason Aaron is the author of this noir comic, and he has got the misogyny down to a science. There are only two female main characters in the story, Gina Bad-Horse (Dash’s mom) and Carol Red-Crow the slutty femme fatale (the rest are strippers, old women, and prostitutes). SPOILER* And one of them is scalped by the end of the first trade paperback *SPOILER . One of the greatest scenes characterizing this misogyny is towards the end of the trade when Carol provokes Dash into angry, sleezy, aggressive sex. It seems that in this story a woman’s only value is her ability to wield sex as a weapon (and with all the sleeping around Carol does, she has definitely honed hers).

5. Redemption

Possibly the greatest theme in this entire noir comic is that of redemption. Redemption not only of Dashiell Bad-Horse but of each individual living on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, and redemption of the men that put them there. Can men redeem the wrongs caused by the misdeeds of their forefathers? Can Dash be redeemed for walking out on his family and Indian heritage? Can Chief Red-Crow redeem his people through taking money from the white-man? Each of these questions and more are asked by this excellent author/artist team. Also, if you recall the noir definition, “illusions of order” and “intellectual control” rear their heads in this tale as well. These themes are most prominent as Dash uncovers his mother’s past bit by bit. The revelations are astounding as they unfold, and easily entice  me into the next trade paperback.

Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera have made me an instant fan of Scalped, the most compelling noir comics series to hit us in quite some time. (I purchased my copy at ECCC ’11. )

Noir Comics Scalped Indian Country

Me enjoying an excellent noir comic

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