GUT CHECK: Jason Aaron Talks "Scalped"

Undercover FBI agent Dashiell Bad Horse is the protagonist of writer Jason Aaron and artist R. M. Guera's hugely acclaimed Native American crime series “Scalped,” but he's not the only principal. Aaron has populated his Vertigo series with a number of compelling and colorful characters, and in the series’ current story arc, “Gravel in Your Guts,” the spotlight falls on two in particular; Chief Lincoln Red Crow, the crime and casino boss Bad Horse is investigating, and the teenager Dino Poor Bear. CBR News spoke with Aaron about the arc and what's next for the Eisner-nominated book.

Red Crow is a wealthy man is his 50s, while the adolescent Poor Bear comes from a low income family and is struggling for a better life. At first glance, the two characters may not appear to have anything in common, but the effects of crime and a life on an Indian Reservation that bind Red Crow and Poor Bear together and drive the story in “Gravel in Your Guts.”

“Right now, they're sort of two sides of the same coin,” Aaron told CBR News. “Red Crow is looking back over his life of crime, feeling a lot of regrets about the things he's done over the years and trying to change his ways. Dino meanwhile is just starting down the same sort of road, just getting his feet wet in the violent side of life on the rez. By the end of the story, both men will be dealing with shocking acts of violence that will change the course of events for them.”

“Gravel in Your Guts” kicked off in “Scalped” #21, in stores now, an issue that saw big developments for both Red Crow and Poor Bear. Red Crow was tasked to be the keeper of a “soul bundle,” an act requires him to live a harmonious and purifying life for one year. Making things especially complicated is the fact that the “soul bundle” is that of the deceased Gina Bad Horse, Agent Dashiell's mother and a woman Red Crow had great affection for.

“Red Crow is grappling with the ghosts of his past, trying to put them to bed and live a good life going forward,” Aaron explained. “He's honor-bound to do so, now that he's the keeper of Gina's soul. Of course, after reading the opening flashforward for issue #21, we already know he's doomed to fail, but to me that only makes his struggle all the more poignant.”

For his part, Dino “is feeling pretty good about himself, feeling like he's in control of his world, like he's smart enough to dabble in this world of cutthroats and criminals and still come out all right at the end of the day,” Aaron said. “Unfortunately, he's about to have a rude awakening.”

“Gravel In Your Guts” is a four-part arc, the second installment of which hits stores October 22. “The title comes from the song 'A Boy Named Sue,' which was written by the great Shel Silverstein and most famously sung by my idol, Johnny Cash,” Aaron revealed. “Issue #22 focuses on Red Crow, #23 focuses on Dino, and the finale in #24 brings them both together, picking up where that opening flashforward in issue #21 left off.”

The characters in “Scalped” are usually never prepared for the obstacles and adversaries they encounter. One of Red Crow's main opponents in “Gravel in Your Guts” appears to be Mr. Brass, the representative of one of the chief investors in his casino. In “Scalped” #21, Brass calmly ate brunch in the same room as the bodies of two people he had tortured and murdered the night before. This utter disregard for human life and suffering makes Brass a scary individual, but not necessarily an insane one.

“[Mr. Brass is] not crazy,” Aaron stated. “He's instead very calculating. He's been sent to the rez by his gangster boss, Johnny Tongue, to keep an eye on Red Crow, to keep him in his place. Johnny Tongue invested a lot of money to build that casino on the rez, and he isn't about to let Red Crow forget it.”

At the end of “Scalped” #21, the most prominent criminal figure in Dino's young life was Rath, the white supremacist who paid him for delivering a mysterious package. “He becomes a big presence in Dino's life over the next couple issues, but I don't know how much we'll actually see of him beyond this arc,” Aaron remarked. “I guess that depends on how things turn out for Dino.”

Another important supporting character in “Gravel in your Guts” is Dino's grandmother, Granny Poor Bear. “She pops up quite a bit, interacting with both main characters,” Aaron said. “She's become one of my favorite characters to write in the series, and I love working her into different scenes, having her connected to different characters.”

At the end of the last Scalped arc, “The Budoir Stomp,” undercover FBI Agent Dashiell Bad Horse asked his lover, Red Crow's daughter Carol, to show him how to smoke heroin. Readers will get a hint on how that's affected him in “Gravel in Your Guts.” “We will see Dash at some point in this arc, though it's only a brief glimpse,” Aaron explained. “Nevertheless, that glimpse will tell us a lot about his current situation.”

“The Budoir Stomp” was drawn by artist Davide Furnio, while “Gravel In Your Guts” marks the return of Aaron's regular artistic collaborator on “Scalped,” R.M. Guera. “Guera is drawing his ass off on this current arc, as you'd expect,” Aaron stated. “He continues to amaze me with every new issue. The arc after that will probably be by a mix of artists, Guera included, which should work just fine since it's basically an arc comprised of stand-alone issues.”

That next arc is called “High Lonesome,” and begins with “Scalped” #25, scheduled to hit stores in January. “[It will] focus on some characters who haven't had a moment in the spotlight yet, like FBI agent Nitz and Shunka, Red Crow's right hand man,” Aaron said. “And those issues will also be building up to the really big arc that follows it, which is tentatively titled 'The Gnawing.' And that's when things really go to hell.”

Things may be going to hell very soon for Dashiell Bad Horse and his fellow “Scalped” cast mates, but their eventual fates will be decided further on down the road when the series comes to a conclusion. “It's a finite series, and yes, there is a definite ending I'm working toward, but I don't know exactly how many issues that will take,” Aaron revealed. “We'll get there when we get there, I guess.”

When Aaron gets the chance to tell his final “Scalped” tale, whenever that may be, he knows it will be because of the series’ growing legion of fans, and for that the writer is eternally grateful. “The third trade paperback of 'Scalped' is out October 15. Look for it in finer comic shops everywhere,” Aaron said. “And thanks to everybody out there who's supported the book. The odds were stacked against us when we first launched the series, but people have really responded to it and gone all out to help spread the word and keep it alive. I owe them all a debt of gratitude.”

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