You know what’s so great about “Scalped”? Well, there are many, many things, but what I’m talking about is Jason Aaron’s willingness to open an issue with a so-common-it’s-cliche scene, because it’s shocking regularity is why it’s cliche: two teenagers about to have sex and the guy basically saying, “We don’t need a condom, I just want to be close to you, I don’t want a baby, COME ON.” There’s nothing new here, nothing surprising, but Aaron uses uninspiring, horribly realistic scenes like this to great effect.
The teenager in question, Dino Poor Bear, spends “Scalped” #23 making bad choices because of that first bad choice. He’s young, he’s poor, he lives with his grandma and he’s got a baby daughter. He wants a better life, to get off the reservation and take care his daughter, but the only way he sees to do that is by acting a courier for a drug dealer. Of course, in a previous issue, we saw that Dino had the chance to leave, but, unsurprisingly, made a bad choice.
The third part of “The Gravel in Your Guts,” Aaron is juxtaposing Dino with Chief Red Crow, both men who have spent their lives making poor decisions — though one is just starting out and the other is middle-aged. This issue spans two days as Dino sees exactly what kind of life his decisions have created for him. It’s not too far a jump from delivering drugs to beating up old men, and while he doesn’t like it, what else is he supposed to do? This issue implies the question of how much is Dino’s fault and how much is because he had the bad luck of being born on that reservation. No answer is given aside from maybe the suggestion that it doesn’t matter, because it’s still Dino’s responsibility either way.
R. M. Guera’s art continues to be evocative and almost mired in the dirt and destitution of the characters. No doubt, Giulia Brusco’s muted colors, which are heavy with browns and dark, washed out colors contribute greatly to the general feeling of poverty and hopelessness the art has. Guera’s art also has a certain meanness to it. The characters are slightly grotesque and almost more caricatures than realistic depictions, but this is balanced with a general sense of realism inherent in his style.
The art and words work best in emotional scenes, like Dino on the phone with his parole officer. The panic and angry frustration in his words is matched perfectly with his body language and facial expression. Aaron and Guera are perfectly in sync here to the point where it’s hard to tell who does his job better sometimes. They are fast on their way to being one of the top collaborative teams in comics today, just as “Scalped” is just about the best book coming out monthly.