Page 45 Review by Stephen
I've plenty more to say about SCALPED below, which was the first series from Vertigo, I believe, to reduce me to tears, and within this very volume. However, for the moment from SCALPED BOOK 1:
"Yet, here we are, still forgotten, still a third world nation in the heart of America."
Crime and grime on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, South Dakota, "where the great Sioux Nation came to die".
Gone is the majesty, the beauty, the health, the wealth and the freedom to roam. They've been replaced by grinding poverty enforced by unyielding societal shackles, dilapidated housing patched up with corrugated iron, refuse-strewn streets, gutted car wrecks abandoned on pock-marked asphalt and a burned-out people deprived of any opportunity but to drink themselves to death.
That's all that we - the colonising, genocidal White Eyes - have given back to them, in lieu of their true heritage and of the bounty which was already their own. For more of that history, please see the great graphic novel INDEH by Ewan Hawke and Greg Ruth: it will tear your heart out.
What ripped mine to shreds here wasn't the strange death of main protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse's campaigning mother, Gina, which hangs over this volume like an enigmatic shroud, challenging the degenerate Dashiell to actually give a fuck about his own mother. (You will be surprised to learn that it is the ostensible central villain of series, Chief Red Crow, who is most devastated by her murder, unexpectedly prepared to risk all to find out who did it.)
No, it's the reaction of Shelton, the eldest of five children of another murdered mother, which got to me, several times.
It also gets to Dashiell who swears blind that he will bring the perpetrator to justice until he takes its news to his FBI boss - whose sole dogmatic focus lies in the discrediting of Chief Red Crow - and in so doing learns the full and sometimes ugly meaning of the word 'compromise'.
Young Dashiell, you see, is undercover for the FBI, posing as a cop in the pocket of crooked casino-owner Red Crow in order to bring him down. What he doesn't know is that another FBI agent has been assigned undercover to the Reservation, and how much of a callous, ruthless bastard their shared boss is.
But then Dashiell was by no means the perfect son, as you'll learn in flashback. In fact, rearing the ungrateful little brat was a particularly thankless task, something brought home to him only too clearly by Shelton's unwavering fidelity, and the realisation that it's now way too late to make amends.
R.M. Guera is fast becoming a favourite illustrator of mine: fully fleshed-out figures in relentless (yet not murky) shadow, even if it's cast at high noon. There is tremendous humanity in the faces, and his mouths are particularly expressive, whether they're old and pursed in barely controlled anger, or young and trembling with barely controlled grief.
As always with SCALPED, for me it's the combination of the story structure and the art in its telling. The opening scene in the third story, 'The Gravel In Your Gurs' takes place in three weeks time, at night, as Chief Red Crow pulls up outside the Badlands Cafe, apologises to the cloth bag on the back seat, then enters under the bar's distinctive neon sign before there's a final, four-panel page as the sign goes out, shots are fired, and the neon reignites. It's so visually distinctive that it will lurk in your head throughout the next several issues until - having since witnessed the events leading up to that scene and knowing now exactly who's in the cafe - the bar front reappears, when your heart will sink.
This is a key turning point in the Indian Reservation power struggle, but it's also the story of how silk-haired Dino, father to a toddler, through a single encounter with a speeding ticket, descends into running with bent cops, selling drugs, collecting debts and inadvertently stabbing an old man through his lower jaw. There's an arresting panel after he's dropped off at home, the house owned by Granny, from which she has sworn to eject him if ever he once again got into trouble with the police. Having snuck past his baby, his forearms splattered with blood, he makes it back to his own room... and it's still full of remote-controlled cars and Tonker Toys, reminding you just how young he still is.
I love 100 BULLETS but the characters here are more than albeit blindingly directed ciphers for Azzarello's witty wordplay: they're living, breathing individual and fallible human beings broken by their environment then damned by their decisions. Very highly recommended.
This larger "book 2" takes you up to end of the old, smaller "volume 4" exactly.