Trading Up: Scalped Vol. 5

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Broken Frontier's Ryan Burton takes a look inside the latest trade collection of the critically-acclaimed Scalped series, currently on its fifth volume from DC's Vertigo imprint...

I’m drinking Bluemoon draft right now, with a twist of orange. And I have been drinking several beverages in the last 4 hours here in Las Vegas where, on my two hour and forty-five minute flight, I read the fifth trade paperback in the ongoing Scalped series, "High Lonesome", by Jason Aaron, R. M. Guéra, and various artists.

I’m drinking Bluemoon and listening to Nina Simone on my half-dead iPhone, and the combination of the two have me relaxed, and this in turn makes me brutally honest. You must first know that the trade starts off with someone forming a lie and ends with someone working their way up to the truth. (One is the protagonist, and one is a tertiary character. Both have their flaws, both are scummy in their own special way.) This needs mentioning because in order to plot something that minute is pretty incredible—it has a bit on the old Alan Moore flair to it. Careful plotting, careful symbolism. Part of me says that Aaron surely didn’t mean this to happen, since it’s so incredible precognitive it makes my synapses split in trying to comprehend the sheer talent it takes to pull something like this off. But the other part says that maybe he’s just easily becoming a writer worth his salt; a writer who understands the importance of character flaws, character development, and takes his time to carefully outline not only the story as a whole, but little nuances that makes this story so engaging.

High Lonesome collects issues 25 to 29 in the series that has grown from some dark, little tale set on an Indian reservation into an all-consuming beast. The story eats me up whole and spits me out. I hate each and every one of these characters—they’re cutthroats, whores, addicts, and filth. I hate them all, and I love every bit of it. No one character deserves my attention, my admiration. But they all have it. Because Aaron demands it with his taught, sharp dialogue, his careful pacing, and his uncanny sense of timing. It sickens me that I haven’t read one bad issue from Aaron. Not one.

I‘m three-fourths done with my Bluemoon draft, and I’m now listening to Gorillaz’s "Don’t Get Lost in Heaven", because I only had one song listed from Nina Simone called "Sinnerman", which is fitting for this review, I think.

Let’s talk about the art—which is to say let’s talk about the downside of the trade. You see, I believe R. M. Guéra is simply fantastic. The beautiful demons he portrays panel-to-panel in each and every issue of Scalped, on occasion, haunt me. His character’s poses, use of spacing, and line work blend together to bring life to the reservation in which the stellar badass that is Dash Bad Horse lives and breathes in.

While I enjoy Davide Furno' and Francesco Francavilla art on any given day, it’s hard to fully appreciate their work within this trade. For me, when the issues are broken up with different art, it’s distracting. I’m no longer in the reservation with these characters, I’m on my flight to Las Vegas, sitting next to the one person who doesn’t quite fit in their chair, and actually smells quite bad.

Yet the shift in art works in one way. Both stories in which Furno' and Francavilla lend their talents to are side stories, and not a part of the more dominant arc. In these two issues we find out a little bit more about Diesel and FBI Agent Nitz. Both incredible sociopaths with a history dragged in filth, a history that made them who they are. So, because Furno' and Francavilla are doing these one shots about stories that lend—that are a chassis—to the overall story...well, in that light, it works.

My draft is done and the orange rind is resting at the bottom of my glass, curled up like some dead insect; and I’ve just listened to the last song from the Gorillaz, "Demon Days". Which is equally fitting, because if Scalped has taught us anything it’s that we are reading about hopeless, loveless characters in which things will never be bright for. Things will only get darker. And I want to be there when they do.

Scalped Volume 5 is out now from DC/Vertigo priced $14.99.

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