Saturday, June 30, 2012

Scalped #59, or, When It All Comes Crashing Down

Scalped #59
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera
Colors: Giulia Brusco

Quick, grab a rubber band. Loop it around your two pointer fingers and slowly start stretching it out. That’s issues #1 through #58 of Scalped.

Eventually you’ll reach a point where there’s no stretch left in the rubber band. It’s given you everything it has. That’s Scalped #59, and on the last page, the rubber band finally snaps.

For a comic that’s been building tension since issue #1, there’s really no other way to do it. The characters have come too far, and been through too much, to release the pressure and keep the rubber band in tact.

In the penultimate issue of what I consider to be the best comic book on the shelves today, the characters we’ve seen at their very worst and their very best come back to their roots; back to their most basic motivations. In fact, these are summed up eloquently on a single, four-panel page.

For Red Crow, it’s his never-ending fight to do what’s best for the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, no matter how gruesome or morally questionable it might seem in the moment.

For Catcher, it’s trying to reconcile the pain and guilt of a lifetime of bad decisions.

For Dash, well, I’ll just let him speak for himself, “Everybody in this place deserves to die. Me most especially. Just so long as I go last.”

Even FBI Agent Nitz, for whom we’ve been given a laundry list of reasons to hate, reminds us of his original, heart-wrenching motivation: revenge on the person who killed his best friend, hero and mentor.

All of the main characters in this comic are the type of people you would not want to run into in a dark alley. More than your traditional anti-heroes, throughout the course of the series there have been times when the reader has no choice but to root for them, only to despise them two issues later.

What makes this issue such a fun read is that it reminds us who the characters truly are and makes us root for all of them simultaneously, in some cases begrudgingly. The only problem is, they’re all pitted against each other (in a fight that involves a burning casino, a pack of wild, rabid dogs, a tomahawk, more gunshots than were fired at the O.K. Corral, oh, and a cliffhanger of a Mexican standoff).

By the last three pages, three of the main characters are hanging on by a thread. There’s nowhere left to run, and they wouldn’t be running even if there were. It’s the showdown we knew all along was inevitable. The final scene, absent of any words, is brilliantly paced and drawn, and drips with desperation.

After I read the last page, I let out an involuntary gasp. It was all I could do to release the tension. I turned to my wife and said, “That is one of the best comic books I have ever read.”

Some long-running series end ambiguously, or let the reader interpret the final outcome. While these types of endings have their place, they sometimes leave me feeling a little cheated.

It doesn’t appear that Jason Aaron has one of those endings in mind for Scalped, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Still, it will be bittersweet reading issue #60 next month, as it means the wild ride has come to a close.

Oh well, time to get a new rubber band and start over again with issue #1.

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