Thursday, March 14, 2013
Scalped - The Series Reviewed
As Jim has noted on several occasions, this may well be Jason Aaron's best work. Honestly, I can't say because I haven't read enough of his other work. What I have read has been superhero stuff like Ghost Rider or Swamp Thing. While both of those aren't the standard superhero fare, they're still limited by corporate ownership of the characters. I don't think an adequate comparison can be made between writing on corporate owned characters and creator owned characters.
The basic story is about Dashiell Bad Horse, a Lakota who left the Prairie Rose Reservation (aka The Rez) when he was a teen, sent by his mother, Gina Bad Horse, to live with relatives in Arkansas. Dash returns as a bad M-F, fighting with as many bar denizens as possible, until he comes to the attention of Lincoln Red Crow, chairman of the Rez and criminal overlord. Red Crow hires him as a deputy in the police department.
This novel, and it really is a novel with pictures, dives deep into human pathos. None of the main characters have an easy or straight and narrow time of it. Even the two pillars of virtue in the book, Granny Poor Bear and Officer Falls Down, have a hard way to go, especially Officer Falls Down, who's shot at least twice in the book.
With the main characters there's a lot of back story. Gina Bad Horse and Lincoln Red Crow were AIM radicals in the 1970s, along with Wade Rouleau (Dash's father), Lawrence Belcourt, and Arthur Pendergrass (aka Catcher). Gina and Lincoln were lovers until the group was involved in the killing of two FBI agents. Those two agents, in turn, had saved Nitz's life when he was a new agent and helped him exact vengance on his attacker. Of course, they were also smuggling heroin from Vietnam. Nitz has forever blamed all of them for the deaths of his friends and sought revenge ever since, with only Belcourt ever being imprisoned in the case.
Probably the most unrealistic element of the story is that Carol, a drug addicted mess for quite a few years, is incredibly hot. It takes almost no time for Dash to find himself first scaring off the guys she's been screwing then taking over the role himself. A poor drug addict like Carol, estranged from her father who she rightly blames for the death of her boyfriend and fetus some years ago, is more likely to look like hell after that abuse of the body. But I'm willing to forgive it.
This book is an emotional read. It's awash in sex and violence, graphically on both counts, but also makes you care about the characters. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Dash and Carol, having left one another in the depths of their mutual addictions and achieved some measure of recovery, are driving around a snowy Rez looking for each other now that they've cleaned up. They finally come across one another on a remote stretch of road, traveling in opposite directions. They come to a halt and have a conversation that is told far more in internal dialogue than in what they say to each other. The important things about the love they have for one another remains unsaid, as well as important things they should tell one another about what's happened since they separated.
The one issue story of Mance and Hazel is a marvel. It's totally unrelated to any of the rest of the book. The two characters make no other appearance in the book. None of the major characters in the book appear in this issue. And yet their story is an essential part of the book. They are the relationship that works. They are the contrast to Dash and Carol. Yes, they keep silent about many things, but they do so with the comfort of knowing one another so well that they don't need to speak. Dash and Carol have passion that's hot and dangerous. It might have developed into a simmering passion like Mance and Hazel have, but their inability to verbalize their feelings stunts the relationship.
Fortunately, the book as a whole doesn't end bleakly. It's not chipper, mind you, but two of the major characters are in a place of contentment that they hadn't had at any other point in their lives. A third has come to accept who he is but is separated from the land he loves, as well as a woman he loves who, without his knowledge, is pregnant. Some hope and some poignancy. It's a hard road to get there and a journey well taken.