You could take any scene out of this comic, even without context, and it would explain in no uncertain terms why “Scalped” is one of the best books being produced right now. This is a classic unfolding in the present and each person plugged into the monthly experience is getting what comics deliver best when they get it right: tension that percolates over months of story. For those who want literate comics without spandex or ridiculous conceits, you can thank Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera on your way through the door.
The previous issue left us on one hell of a moment and the first three pages here capitalize, twist, and deliver on the set up. The first page is gorgeous in many nuanced character ways; it’ll break your heart that you did not see this coming at all. Shunka has quickly risen to the very top of this book and his noir trail certainly looks as bleak as he probably wants it.
Aaron weaves together a series of short scenes, and a wide multitude of characters, into a cohesive whole that is the story equivalent of a mile high wave of concrete slowly descending upon your soul. Every page makes you read slower and smarter. You turn the pages because you must. It’s rare to be so gripped by a tale and want to know where it’s going to end without ever actually wanting it to end.
Each character arrives on these pages fully formed. When they are matched into a scene with another weary soul is the moment things amp up. It’s the connections of these people — and invariably these connections are drawn in stringy ropes of visceral red — that make the book twist like an Alabama Corn Snake with a broken back. Aaron pits people in steel cage matches of wits and brutality that never end well for anyone and the victor is merely the one with the least blood lost.
Guera pulls no punches whether it’s a ghoul-faced meth cooker or an ink-filled location full of dread and death. People want to see this as an HBO-show and yet the acting and motion of tension won’t ever get better than Guera puts it on the page. The man knows how to pick each moment to catalogue and control the tempo and flow. This book is constantly a slow dirge, as each character matches the story arc title as they ‘Knuckle Up.’
“Scalped” is closing in on the end like it’s holding a dowsing rod tweaked to find the tears of broken souls. Long form tales like these so often find it hard to stick a landing and yet there aren’t many “Scalped” fans worried about this. Aaron and Guera are bringing this violent crescendo to a majestic peak and there’s no doubt things will be just as horrid and dark as we expect.