I sometimes have a debate with myself regarding “Scalped” and what sort of stories I like best: the one-off issues or the multi-issue story arcs? Both have their advantage, obviously. The one-off issues can focus on one or two characters and shed some light on an unknown event or part of the larger story, while the story arcs can push a lot of characters and plots forward, often changing things in unexpected and dramatic ways. So, which is better? Then, it hit me: whichever one I just read. Which brings us to “Family Tradition,” the one-off story presented in “Scalped” #38, and it is yet another brilliant issue of the series.
This issue goes back to 1975 and a former soldier named Wade. His family tradition is dying in combat going back to his great great grandfather, but, during his tour in Vietnam, Wade survived. He didn’t just survive, he survived under the most unlikely and, frankly, lucky circumstances you could imagine: a dud bomb, a sniper round bouncing off his helmet, a king cobra in his sleeping bag that doesn’t bite, and two instances of soldiers around him all dying but him. Some called him lucky, but he saw it as a curse of some kind, and it dragged him down. He stayed in country after he was given his papers and that’s where we join him, just as the US forces are pulling out of Saigon. Since leaving the military, Wade has been working in a heroin smuggling operation and with it moving out of Vietnam as well, what he does next is uncertain.
Together, Jason Aaron and RM Guera get across the sad and pathetic inner workings of Wade. He’s a man who only planned out his life so far — as far as his death — and when it didn’t come, he hasn’t figured out how to keep on living. There’s an element of guilt in not living up to the tradition of his family, but, more than that, he liked the idea of dying in battle like that. It’s a whole lot easier than actually having to keep on living, so his six years since leaving the military are spent doing what he can to simply not live. He does scumbag work with bastards, wallowing in booze, and when that non-existence is taken away, he seems to have two options: go home and figure it out, or just die.
Guera’s art is always a perfect match for Aaron’s writing. While Aaron pushes the story and characters in a realistic direction, Guera can’t help but go the other way, exaggerating characters, making them grotesque and ugly. The dissonance there should create a mess of a comic that isn’t sure what it wants to be, but that never happens. The two styles complement one another. The real elements of Aaron’s writing always have a touch of the grotesque, while Guera’s ugly, dirty art reveals what’s real about the characters and their world.
How this issue will affect the larger picture of “Scalped” isn’t entirely clear, but the end of the issue shows us, in part, how Wade relates to the rest and he’s a very important character –probably the character most wondered about since the series began. As always, “Scalped” is an emotionally turbulent read and a wonderful one at that