The world is a terrible place full of bad people—and Vertigo Comics wants to keep it that way. In its nearly two-decade existence, Vertigo has given readers the epic — and sometimes disturbing — tales of Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Y: The Last Man and 100 Bullets. Sadly, all of them have ended, leaving a gaping hole where those flagship titles used to be. Luckily for everyone who reads comics, though, Scalped has stepped up to claim its rightful place at the top.
A crime comic through and through, Scalped focuses on the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and the down-and-out characters who are doomed to a life of drugs, abuse and ridicule. Dashiell Bad Horse escaped the downtrodden life of “the rez” years ago but finds himself right back in the thick of things again—only, this time, with a whole new perspective. Bad Horse is an undercover FBI agent gathering information on the chief of the Oglala tribe, Lincoln Red Crow. Red Crow is the head of the police force on the reservation and also a wealthy mob boss. He’s under investigation for his involvement in the murder of two federal agents in the ’70s, when Red Crow was a militant Indian American activist alongside Bad Horse’s mother, Gina. Bad Horse is tasked with infiltrating Red Crow’s crew to help build a case against him. Of course, as with every great crime story, things are never that easy, and for every minor victory notched, a crushing defeat isn’t far behind.
Taking inspiration from the true story of imprisoned American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier, Jason Aaron takes this story down one dark alley after another. Corruption, greed and loyalty all come into play, giving the story a film-noir feel with Indian casinos, badlands and meth labs standing in for the traditional noir staples of seedy bars and big cities. Artist R.M. Guera embodies the dark tone of Aaron’s writing to the fullest extent, giving everything a dirty, gritty feel. The colors are washed-out and shadows loom in nearly every panel. Even when the story takes place during the day, it still looks as if the sun isn’t quite bright enough to get anyone out of the darkness.
While the story focuses on mostly bad things on the reservation, Aaron and Guera find ways to illuminate the quiet moments that make any good story compelling. The heartbreak and tragedy that most of these characters experience is realized through the powerful storytelling of these two relative newcomers. As long as they keep shining that light on the dim corners of Prairie Rose, Scalped will be welcomed among the Vertigo pantheon.
By Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera
Die Hard: Year One
Finally, the origin story that no one asked for! Ever wonder what life was like for John McClane in New York City years before the incident at Nakatomi Plaza? I sure didn’t—and I’m probably not alone. The involvement of veteran writer Howard Chaykin made this an interesting project, but the reasoning behind it makes no sense. It seems as if Chaykin had a ’70s cop story ready to go and simply changed his protagonists name to McClane when the opportunity presented itself. It’s good they didn’t try to shoehorn in a silly origin of “yippie ki-yay” but there are still a few issues to go. (Howard Chaykin & Stephen Thompson; BOOM studios)
The idea of “retro future” isn’t a new one, but Warren Ellis finds full potential in Ignition City. It’s 1956, and personal space travel has become commonplace after World War II was interrupted by a Martian invasion. Taking influence from Buck Rogers and Deadwood, Ellis throws a good old-fashioned whodunit mystery into a setting where unregistered laser pistols and broken-down space ships are normal. Originally projected as an ongoing series, it was cut to a mere five issues, and it would be a shame if that’s all we’ll get. There’s too much great stuff to not expand on it further. (Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani; Avatar.)