“Scalped” is a comic that does an enormous and varied amount of things extraordinarily well. It tells long form stories through single issue vignettes, it deals with the soul-crushing pathos of crack addition in the same book as, say, a wannabe Indian on horseback is taken down by Merle Haggard’s tour bus. It has, for 26 issues, delivered an almost unparalleled level of quality in art and storytelling.
And so, when an issue comes along that merely delivers an adequate experience on one of those counts, it stands out all the more. Telling the story of Special Agent Baylis Earl Nitz, Dashiell Bad Horse’s ruthless FBI supervisor, “Scalped” #27 is simultaneously just as gripping as your typical issue of the book and a bit disappointing, as the artwork of Francesco Francavilla just doesn’t gel as well to the tone of the book as previous guest artists like John Paul Leon or Davide Furno. With a loose, small press style, Francavilla’s art would work extremely well on all kinds of stories, but in this instance, it robs the book of a great deal of its trademark grit and mood. In some sequences, it works. When Nitz sits down for a brief meal with his ex-wife, the mundanity of her suburban existence is captured well. In others, though, when Nitz is almost fatally injured, or when he takes revenge for that injury, a lot of the potential impact is lost, or muddled.
In trademark “Scalped” fashion, the issue sheds light on events and actions several issues old. The true nature of the vandalization of Chief Lincoln Red Crow’s office is fully revealed, and the story behind the two scalps that were retrieved is further explored. We learn a lot more about what exactly made Nitz such an unrepentant bastard, but it stops just shy of allowing us too much sympathy for the guy. This book always lingers between black and white, and it’s no surprise that what turned Nitz into the man he is today, the dangerous force in Dashiell’s life, is complicated, and in no way easily distilled.
While a stand alone story, it is also part three of “High Lonesome.” The storyline started with a whopper of a set-up, but as is typical (and ultimately very enjoyable) with this series, that story has been bascially abandoned for further vignettes focusing on characters that have yet to be really lingered on. Nitz’s story is an enjoyable one to be sure, I only wish it was told with an artist that worked just a bit better with the book’s established tone.