If Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse had forgotten how little he missed the life he left behind on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, by the time the five days chronicled in “Scalped: Indian Country” have passed, it’s a certainty that, should the opportunity present itself, not only will he hightail it out of South Dakota forever, but the only time Prairie Rose will cross his mind will be in his nightmares.
Dash has returned to the land on which he was raised after abandoning it for fifteen years. While there was no doubt that trouble would find the nunchucks-wielding man, he dives head first into it with so little concern for life or limb that you’d think it was “some fucked-up plan for committing suicide”, as one of his barroom-brawl opponents puts it. The man has pent up aggression. Not enough to take out a tavern full of hoods, but enough to take out a good number of them. This is enough to warrant a meeting between Dash and Lincoln Red Horse, the kingpin of Prairie Rose, a vile human being who demonstrates very little in the way of being human.
“Indian Country” flips forward and backward from one scene to the next. Writer Jason Aaron was intent on denying readers a linear story and the book is better off for this. It is filled with large and small surprises that might be more easily identified were it presented in a straightforward manner. Though Dash’s reasons for leaving the reservation aren’t implicit, we get a glimpse into an uncustomary childhood that most kids would have a difficult time surviving. Even so, things have taken a turn for the worse in the years that have passed. Aaron only serves to introduce his cast of lost souls and the world they inhabit in this first volume of “Scalped”, and it isn’t pretty.
Gina Bad Horse, Dash’s mother, is a longtime activist who seemed to put her son second to her crusades for Native-American causes. Carol Ellroy is the reservation’s resident whore and Dash’s childhood sweetheart. She has grown from a mischievous girl into a woman with no boundaries and little in the way of self-control. Officer Falls Down is one of the few honest cops on the reservation. Unfortunately, being a Prairie Rose officer with morals is probably more hazardous than running headfirst into gunfire. Finally, Lincoln Red Horse rounds out Aaron’s cast. We get glimpses of each character in this first volume, but it’s clear that there is much more to be explored as their stories continue to develop.
To discuss much more of the plot would only be a disservice to Aaron’s unpredictable story. There are small twists, others are huge, some you may see coming, and some will catch you completely off guard. But there is nothing gimmicky about the revelations that are disclosed as the story spins about. Aaron has crafted an intensely structured piece with emotionally complex characters who find themselves lost in world of crime, violence and depravity. Aaron’s strength is that he can reveal these dark corners of the world, presenting them within a thoroughly enjoyable read.
In one unforgettable scene, a bust on a Meth Lab goes sour when a cop gets acid thrown in his face, something that I promise will stick with you, and the thuggish cops assure unconstitutional retribution for the derelict responsible. “Beat this here acid-throwing pussy with a pump handle and find out who his girlfriend is,” whispers an officer. “Then when you’re burying his ass alive, be sure he remembers… that I’ll be pissin’ in the bitch’s face when she dies.” The brutality of what is about to happen to the junkie is bad enough, but Aaron devises an even more sadistic end by forcing the poor loser’s girlfriend into the horror. It’s so barbaric it’s comical.
What makes “Indian Country” compelling is the corner that Aaron has forced his protagonist into. We know that Dash is stuck on the reservation for the time being, but it isn’t clear why. While he’s there, trying hard to stay alive in a place that’s hard to stay alive, he’s confronted by the two women in his life with whom he’s got years of emotional baggage to resolve. Aaron keeps the pace of “Indian Country” swift as it moves back a few hours, then forward a few days, then descends by a few decades, then returns to the present, and so on through the end. You won’t be lost and you won’t be bored.
R.M. Guéra’s style is befitting “Indian Country.” The artist fully realizes the raw, tough world of “Scalped”, from the outbursts of violence to the dramatic encounters between its cast. Guéra utilizes a good deal of negative space throughout the book, giving it something of a noir flare from time to time. Guéra’s characters are filled with life; they scream, they scowl, they grit their teeth in anger. When Gina sees her son for the first time in fifteen years, Guéra makes certain that readers can identify the look of utter shock that is plastered across her face.
Lee Loughridge keeps the palette in muted tones and neutrals for much of the book, but brightens up the scenes with oranges and reds when things take a violent turns. One chilling effect is when a young boy is forced to stare at a dead corpse propped against a log cabin during the middle of winter. Everything is white with light shades of blue and gray, except for the blood coming from the gunshot wound to the dead man’s head. The blood is a definitive red and the scene is more startling for it.
There’s an authenticity to Aaron’s work. The dialogue is filled with flourishes of Native-American phrases and he’s specific about what life on the reservation is like in the 21st century. Don’t be surprised when you find that, days, weeks, or months later, the book has stuck with you. Thankfully there’s a second volume to satiate the quench brought on by “Scalped: Indian County”.
Scalped, Volume 01: Indian Country
Written by: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guéra
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Phil Balsman
Original Publication Date: March 2007
Pages: 126 pages