REVIEW: Scalped #56

There’s a storytelling device that’s quite common in the noir genre, though perhaps more common in the original novels than the films they inspired.  The climax, the catastrophic event the whole narrative has been building towards, doesn’t happen at the end.  Instead, the story continues on after this pivotal moment, and we get an extended epilogue in which we see our protagonist’s world in the wake of whatever devastating choice he has made.  Such seems to be the case with Scalped as it begins “Trail’s End”, its final arc.  The big story throughout the series has been Bad Horse’s status as an undercover FBI agent, and when/how Red Crow was going to find out.  That was resolved in shocking fashion last issue.  And now, we almost immediately jump forward in time by 8 months, and Bad Horse and the Prairie Rose Reservation have moved on.  But the thing about those noir epilogues always was, much as it seemed like the story was done with, in the end it was these parts where you’d find the real meat of the story.  And sure enough, it seems like this story isn’t quite done with yet…

By this point I’ve pretty much run out of hyperbole I can lavish on Scalped.  It’s Jason Aaron’s masterpiece, it’s the best comic on the shelves, it deserves to be recognised in the canon of all-time greats, yada yada yada.  It’s all still true, but when I say it so often, even I sometimes forget just how consistently great this comic is.  Even now, as this journey enters its home-stretch, Aaron continues to take his characters in surprising directions.  Given the bitter, self-destructive path Bad Horse has seemingly been on since the series began, perhaps the one thing I didn’t expect was that 8 months later, he would be… happy!?  He seems to have matured.  He’s settled down, grown his hair out, is in a healthy relationship.  He seems ready to put the demons of his past behind him.  But since this is Scalped, it seems people can’t be happy for too long, and one aspect of that troublesome past I’d almost forgotten about seems ready to come back to haunt Bad Horse…

Aaron also gives us some intriguing material to work with when it comes to Red Crow.  If they’re like me, plenty of readers will have been dying to see Red Crow’s furious, violent reaction to Bad Horse’s betrayal.  Instead, his immediate response is disappointment, even hurt.  When we flash-forward in time, Red Crow is stewing in a jail cell, the casino that was to be his legacy shuttered down.  It’s actually possible to view him as a wronged party here, as the only concrete crime that Red Crow is caught bang-to-rights for, that he has no hope of fighting against, is based on a lie.  Red Crow killed Shunka to save Bad Horse’s life.  Bad Horse testified that it was a murder in cold blood.  But in spite of this, Red Crow has made no move to damage Bad Horse’s credibility by casting up the multitude of dirt he has gathered on him.  Perhaps it is because, with his donations to local charities and his new, prominent role in the community, Red Crow sees that, ironically, Bad Horse has become the leader that Red Crow always envisioned he could be, perhaps a better leader than Red Crow (with his checkered past and corruption) could never truly be.  I could talk about the character dynamics of Scalped for hours.

R.M. Guera’s art continues to be absolutely stunning, raw with emotion.  And the colors of Giulia Brusco are the perfect complement.  The colors are unusually bright and bold for much of this issue, perhaps reflective of the happier state some of the characters are in.  But by the end, when darkness creeps once more into the narrative, that is reflected in the murkier palette.

Tbroughout this issue, more than anything, you get a palpable sense that the end is nigh.  Scalped #56 feels like it could be the final issue in itself, but thankfully there’s four more to go.  Still, I can’t help but feel really sad: in a few months, I won’t have a new issue of Scalped to look forward to!  This is the same feeling I got as I neared the end of the final seasons of The Shield and The Wire.  It’ll truly be the end of an era.


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