12.18.2009

My 13 Favorite Things of 2009 (Part 4 of 17)

Scalped (DC/Vertigo): I tend to think that books reach a heightened level of success when even other creators take notice. I remember talking with Brian Wood at San Diego this year and us remarking incredulously how it could be humanly possible that Scalped was so good every single issue. It seems somehow superhuman that Jason Aaron can just keep pouring it on, issue… after issue… after issue. Scalped started with an extremely strong hook and has managed to sustain a high level of execution for the duration of the run. Now that the world is fleshed out and somewhat built, Aaron has been carefully ratcheting up the dramatic tension, with plenty of twists, turns, and complicated plot developments intertwining along the way. Aaron and regular series artist R.M. Guera have pulled off a clever move, constructing a storytelling engine in the form of “The Rez,” itself being the main character that they can spin countless tales out of. There’s no dependency on ostensible series lead Dash Bad Horse to be around or, conversely, no risk of his appearance creating a stale feeling. They’re free to digress into minor characters or events that buzz with the same gritty, visceral, socially relevant energy that the title excels at. Scalped has long presented a microcosm of a closed society collapsing in on itself. It’s the type of fictional storytelling that has sociological legs worthy of academic examination. When I see Dash Bad Horse stroll onto the scene, it’s impossible for me not to hear the lyrics of The Hollies song “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” building in my head. “Saturday night I was downtown… working for the FBI… sitting in a nest of bad men… whiskey bottles piling high…” He’s a pretty complex character; being the primary protagonist it’d be easy to wrongly assume that he’s “the good guy,” but we quickly become accustomed to his questionable choices. True of all the characters in the saga, no one is presented as purely good or evil, they’re all depicted as multi-faceted individuals with many layers and unique motivators that comprise their personalities, one of the many true to life touches the series has to offer. Dash struggles to find something or someone to be loyal to, and he usually fails. It’s not his actual employer, not his pseudo-employer, not Carol, not his culture, not his career, not his shifting allies, not his friends, and not his family. He’s on the classic hero’s quest for self that all epic stories possess, all amid amazingly brutal action, clever dialogue, and moody pencils. Scalped has managed to attain a level of uncomfortable realism and dangerous beauty in a way that so few pieces of pop culture manage to capture. It’s flawed, realistic, and plausible in the same disturbing ways that Reservoir Dogs, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, or The West Wing all were. In my reviews, I’ve had a tendency to keep comparing it to cable TV shows because from about the sixth issue, I’ve been saying all along that I want to see this on HBO. It’s no slam against our beloved comic book medium, it’s simply a testament to the fact that Scalped is deserving of a more widespread audience, one in the millions and not the tens of thousands.

2 Comments:

At 3:21 PM, Blogger Matt C said...

That's a great write up for Scalped, Justin. Good enough to convince people not already picking it up to give it a look, I think!

 
At 8:50 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks, Matt!

 

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