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Farewell to Scalped

With the final issue of Scalped in the books, I can now safely say that Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera’s series is the greatest character-driven Vertigo epic since Preacher.

That said, let’s take a look the finale to their brilliant series.

In a brilliant fiftieth issue of Scalped that was set mostly in the past, Jason Aaron did a great job examining the cyclical nature of life. The idea of the sins of the father being visiting on the son is a powerful one in Scalped and it is definitely present in the finale of the series.

Honestly, as far as single issues go, Scalped #60 was more than a bit disjointed, but read as a prologue to our more than five year journey, it was stunning.

As I noted in the first sentence, Scalped was a character-driven work, and one of the ways Scalped let the characters drive the narrative was continually playing various characters against each other and in and out of various roles. Does character A belong in this box or this box? Where each of the characters end up from the start of the series is at first glance quite surprising, but the more you learn about these people the more their final decisions make sense. It is a great testament to Aaron’s skills as a writer that he naturally evolved all of these characters and gave them such great depths that all of their decisions were well within their respective character arcs.

Clearly, the most important relationship in the series is that between Lincoln Red Crow and Dashiell Bad Horse. As shown in this scene from the issue, Red Crow’s obsession with Dashiell as his heir (presumably tied to Lincoln’s love for Dash’s mother, Gina) clouds Red Crow’s judgment throughout the series.

It was a stroke of genius that the piece of information that actually drove Red Crow to temporarily work against Dash was news that Dash impregnated Red Crow’s daughter, Carol, who then aborted the fetus. Red Crow had an opportunity for a “real” heir, and he thinks Dash took it away from him (of course, Carol never told Dash about the abortion, which Red Crow discovers far too late).

It is certainly no coincidence that you could trace Dino Poor Bear’s descent into villainy back to the moment where Carol rebuffed his advances awhile back (unknowingly to her, of course). Just like how Gina Bad Horse choosing another set Lincoln Red Crow on his path, so too does a similar situation send Dino on his road to being the new crime boss of the reservation. Guera’s depiction of Dino is chilling. He is essentially a new (much scarier) man. Guera’s art in this final issue period is excellent. He can pull off the power of the early violent scenes with a ferocity that must be seen to be believed….

while also pulling off the quiet sadness of Maggie and the resigned nature of Sheriff Falls Down (and we even get a great reaction shot of Carol).

Red Crow and his daughter Carol find themselves taking on unexpected new roles, but both of them fit them well, especially Carol. If there is a “feel good” aspect of Scalped, it is Carol’s journey. As for Red Crow, I can’t get over the fact that he named the dog Shunka. Classic.

As for the lead of the series, Dashiell Bad Horse is a man who couldn’t wait to get off the reservation when he was a young man. He is a man whose father abandoned him when he was young. And now, in the end of his story in this series, he is a man who is finally at home at the reservation but must leave (as he is wanted for murder) and in doing so, he is also abandoning his unborn child. The sins of the father are repeating.

And it is beautifully and wonderfully tragic.

Just like Scalped.

12 Comments

It’s so weird that Scalped is over – it will be greatly missed. It is such a fantastic series and Red Crow has to be one of the greatest antagonists ever.

Damn, this renders most anything I was going to say about the book superfluous. Ah, that’s ok, I don’t think I came up with anything interesting or fascinating. OK, let’s try anyway :)

Did Red Crow change once Gina picked someone else? I thought when he went after the apparent FBI snitch back in the ’70s, it was before Gina had left him, but maybe I’ve got my details mixed up. If it was right after that, I totally agree with your assessment. I kinda cranked through the book over the weekend, so I may have glossed over some things, and there are certainly a number of times that the time period of events covered skipped around.

Even though the first issue was one of the greatest first issues ever, and I kept up with the book for quite a while, I ended up not keeping up with reading it by around issue 30-32. Not that I didn’t like it, not that I couldn’t have read it, I just got caught up in my own OCD of wanting to reread the whole thing before reading the new stuff, and then oops, last issue is out next week. I BOUGHT it all along, but I certainly could have just trade waited. I did catch up, and I think in reading it in one go like that, I may have appreciated how good each issue was on its own.

One thing I think, though, is that the first half or so of the book was so well done, and meandered, but in a good way, that the second half was something of a letdown. In reading some articles on CBR about the book, Aaron had an outline of the events of things to what became issue 34, and a few of the one offs right after that were in mind, but I felt that some of the book after that…it seemed to sacrifice some of the characterization for the plot. Not completely, of course, but it felt like to a degree, the book “had” to get to the showdown between Dash and Red Crow, had to get to the showdown with Catcher, and some of it felt like false endings that stretched out further. Some of the things that were introduced in the second half also could have been expanded on more, I felt.

It was definitely tragedy in the Greek sense, so probably some of the things that I found “inevitable” were that way because they had to be.

I would have liked to see more with Maggie, and Dash’s life post-Red Crow’s arrest. There’s also something of an error with Maggie — when we first see her (I think it’s her, anyway), she’s with the old guy that’s Red Crow’s mentor (and I wish we’d seen him earlier) who’s running against him for Tribal President, and she’s introduced as the old guy’s granddaughter, but near the end, when she spits on Dash before Red Crow’s arrest, she’s introduced as the old guy’s daughter. It WAS the same lady, right?

I like your comments on 50 — of any of the issues, it seemed like it was the closest to a “throwaway”, but as you say, it showed the cyclical nature of life and that’s obviously the theme here at the end.

And speaking of “throwaway” issues, some people might think 35, with the older couple who lives a ways from the rez, was a throwaway, but to me, that issue may just be the best of the series.

Carol’s journey was wonderful. I cried with the page where we find out her role at the end. Definitely the closest thing to a “happy” ending for the book.

I think there were enough unanswered questions, though, that I’m waiting for the inevitable “Before Scalped” set of miniseries. We need to know how Diesel ended up with Gina, full details of all the protests that she was involved with, exactly what Red Crow did to become leader of the Rez (and details of all the people he killed), more about that con man that showed up that tried to get Dash to rob the casino, more details of all the stakeouts Nitz had on Red Crow, a mini about Catcher in his shack all those years, a series where we see all the dudes Carol banged, Shunka’s full story, and of course, the story of Dash, from his military years, to his cop years, to whatever happened to land him in an Alabama jail, and so on.

I’m only half kidding.

Other things I noticed in the book that I liked: Dash in a car crash happens a lot.

Nitz taking a piss somewhere that’s not a toilet.

But yeah, of any of the books that have come out in the last 5 years, Scalped is probably the most satisfying. The ending of Glamourpuss this week was sad as well, but Scalped has been near perfect comics. Aaron and Guera are an amazing team, and I hope they get together on a creator owned thing again sometime.

RIP Scalped. NDN 4-EVER

That single story about the old couple was issue 35? Man, I feel like I read that just last year.

I’m getting old.

Scalped — what a great series! So unique! Such consistent quality throughout! (No crappy fill-in artists like the Big Two tend to stick us with!) Compared to the insanity and fluff of the Nu52 and NuMarvel, Scalped was a breath of fresh air. Like Preacher, or The Boys, or Strangers in Paradise, Scalped was a series with INTEGRITY. (Integrity meaning everything was integrated, all parts working together)

And I’m glad it ended. Great stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. One of my gripes with super-heroes is that they never supply the satisfaction of ending. (Spider-man will run on forever, like diarrhea after eating at Taco Bell and drinking American beer.)

Really enjoyed your column, Brian. Also enjoyed your comments, Travis.

I was thinking about what I wrote, and also other “errors” in the book (besides the Maggie thing, Hassell’s name is misspelled when it first appears, and in the last arc, there’s a misplaced word balloon sequence that was screwy. arrgh!).

I realized, then flipped through issues, that Red Crow had taken care of the supposed FBI informant, which THEN led to Gina dumping him (which made the reveal about the informant extra interesting). So while being spurned didn’t lead Red Crow or Dino to a life of crime, it made their choice seem inevitable. To them, at least.

One error early on, and I think it was more that the “31 years ago” was based on the date that issue came out, was when we saw Gina taking her pregnancy test and finding out she was pregnant with Dash. (And what a wonderful reflection with Maggie at the end there — police at the door!) Based on how old Dash was supposed to be, it couldn’t have quite been 31 years. I thought that was going to be addressed with Gina’s story in “Unwanted”, but I guess it was just a minor math error.

BUT, it did lead me to think about how in this last issue, there’s a neat little bit of characterization for Gina. When Dash is ruminating at the end, he thinks about how he was born in a house his grandfather built, and so on.

Except we saw when Dash was born. Gina had been in jail, and Nitz was waiting to put her back in as soon as Dash came out.

So that means that even though Dash knew Gina got arrested for various protests and stuff, she still couldn’t face telling him that he was born while she was incarcerated. Interesting bit of knowledge there.

That’s one of the great things about the book — different characters operated with different knowledge, and we got to see “all” of it, where the characters were limited, and because of that limited knowledge, they “had” to act in certain ways.

Also, at the end when Dash is visiting graves, wasn’t it delicious that a certain person ended up buried in the rez cemetery? Man, I did a double take. Great “tribute” from Dash, too.

What a great book Scalped was. I hope the reason there aren’t more comments is only because people haven’t read the end yet. It’s a shame that such a good book isn’t praised to the heavens.

[...] the conclusion this week of Scalped, writer Jason Aaron took to his blog last night to offer his final thoughts on the acclaimed [...]

I tried to read Scalped a while back but couldn’t get into it for whatever reason…this really makes me want to take a running start at it again. Might dig in again this weekend. Incidentally, thanks for doing write-ups like this…you never know what might pique (or in my case, re-pique) someone’s interest and turn ‘em on to something cool.

I’m surprised I haven’t yet read any suggestions that Jason Aaron’s a fan of THE WIRE, which ended similarly, with the cyclical nature of things, characters essentially switching roles, etc. Carol becomes Mama Pooh Bear, Dash abandons his kid and leaves even though he’d rather not, Dino becomes Red Crow, and you might say Red Crow becomes a version of Catcher. So the story repeats itself and only the details change.

Anyway: great series.

@ Adam – I don’t agree that Dino has become Red Crow. Dino doesn’t have the redeeming features of Red Crow for me at least. Red Crow’s past as a Dog Soldier and his refrain (whether we believe him or not) that everything he does he does for the good of the rez makes him a much more sympathetic character than Dino. Dino seems to be out for himself – and with the multiple chances he has been given from Dash and Red Crow just comes across as selfish and needlessly resentful.

But I’m guessing, Rolacka, that Dino will in the future justify all his actions as being for the good of his daughter, if not the rez as a whole. And I think Red Crow probably thought the same thing when he was raising Carol after her mother left, that he was trying to improve things for the rez and thereby for his daughter. After Carol tried leaving and basically disowned Red Crow, he didn’t try that reasoning/justification, even to himself any more.

I suppose they do say that everybody considers themselves the hero of their own story. I don’t know, I think we saw that Red Crow was always interested in the Rez with his history as a Dog Brother, before Carol was born. I do see where Adam is coming from, and there are plenty of cyclical elements, but I don’t feel that Dino became Red Crow. Falls Down took over part of his role as sheriff – he seems to be the guy who cares about the rez (well actually he cares more about law and order).

@Travis & @Rolacka

I just read the final trade, so forgive my late chiming in. I think “Dino becomes Red Crow” is just enough of an ambiguous statement that you’re both right.

Rolacka is right in that Dino doesn’t become Red Crow in terms of personality, motivation, world view, depth, etc.

But Travis is right that Dino does become Red Crow superficially, as in, from the outsider’s perspective, Dino is now Red Crow. Dino fills Red Crow’s shoes as the boss, the crime lord, the chief of the rez, in a way. Dino performs the function citizens of the rez perceive Red Crow as having performed.

So Dino becomes Red Crow in all of the peripheral ways, but the characters are still wholly dissimilar in all of the internal ways. It’s interesting how Aaron has made this a cyclical situation, yet also decidedly and fundamentally different.

For those of you that have seen The Wire (and if you haven’t, for shame), it’s a bit like the way Michael essentially becomes the new Omar at the series’ conclusion. But while Michael performs Omar’s function and takes his place as Baltimore’s new stickup guy, it’s unclear (and unlikely) that Michael retains Omar’s moral code. As Bunk said earlier in the seres regarding Omar, “A man must have a code,” and Omar did.

So while Michael sort of becomes Omar, it’s up in the air whether he really becomes Omar in the important ways. It’s the same with Dino and Red Crow.

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