2012 is the year that “Scalped” ends. Consistently one of the best ongoing titles, “Scalped” concludes “Knuckle Up” this week, a story arc that clearly points towards the series ending. Released on the same day as “Punishermax” #21, also written by Jason Aaron, “Scalped” #55 does something astonishing: it has a better fight scene. Both comics feature two characters fighting one another; the knock ’em down, drag ’em out between Dash and Shunka is not just a big turning point in “Scalped,” it’s a brutal fight that manages to outdo Punisher/Wilson Fisk as drawn by Steve Dillon.
The first half of “Scalped” #55 is devoted to Dash and Snuka trying their best to rip each other apart with their bare hands. The dialogue is minimal, leaving R.M. Guera’s art to carry the fight. His art is rough and messy, like always, and that conveys the passion and pure blood lust of the fight. These are men that hate one another, both skilled fighters, and both willing to do anything to kill the other. Guera’s layouts are stacks of panels that overlap and are chaotic to a degree. It’s a dark, ugly fight that’s always moving and hard to follow at times. And that’s a good thing. The lack of clarity in some panels reinforces the nature of the fight. If we could see everything clearly, it would lose the energy and chaos that drive it.
Giulia Brusco’s colors add another dimension to Guera’s line art. The majority of the fight takes place in the warm red glow of Dash’s house, giving the entire scene a sickly passion in colors. When the fight leaves the house, the reds shift to blue, signaling the break of the passion as Shunka gains the upper hand. The tone becomes somewhat more ominous: no longer angry passion, there’s a cold, chilling calculated feel to the scene. Shunka’s face is no longer one of rage, it’s one of pure hate that’s not interested in beating Dash to a pulp, but in ending it painfully by scalping him.
The structure of this issue centers around the confrontation between Dash and Shunka. Like I said, it takes up the first ten pages before three pages provide a break to show what’s happening to Catcher and Agent Nitz before returning to Dash and Shunka. That small break advances the plot beyond them and acts as a needed breather. Their fight was so overwhelming that a small intermission is needed before we can see how it resolves. However, the ‘break’ is one full of tension and conflict that, normally, wouldn’t be much of a respite, emphasizing the strength of the fight.
“Knuckle Up” is a story arc that’s pushed a lot of characters towards the end of the series and no issue does more of that than this one. The fight between Dash and Shunka is a definitive one and, somehow, isn’t the biggest, most surprising part of this issue. This is one of those mythical ‘nothing is the same’ issues that publishers promise often and rarely deliver upon. Drawn by anyone, this would be a good comic, but, in the hands of R.M. Guera, it’s a great one, one that ensures that “Scalped” makes many ‘best of 2012’ lists already.