The library is a great place for readers to discover comics, and it’s a great place for comics readers to check out things that they want to try without spending their hard-earned cash. I’m looking at comics that I find in the New York Public Library system.
Lots of people have been recommending the new DC/Vertigo serial Scalped to me, so I figured I’d check out the first trade paperback collection, Indian Country. Perhaps the hype had me expecting too much, because I see potential in the series, but it’s not quite there. At least not yet. Jason Aaron writes this critically popular series, and R.M. Guera is the illustrator.
Here’s the gist: Dashiell Bad Horse returns to the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in South Dakota, from which he left/was exiled from at the age of thirteen (which we are told repeatedly, just as we’re reminded he’s been away for fifteen years). He gets a gig as hired muscle for the local crime boss and casino owner Red Crow. His mom’s furious at him, yet secretly loves him still. To complete the core family dynamic, Red Crow’s daughter is the local whore/alcoholic who Bad Horse had a youthful crush on. Oh, and Bad Horse’s secretly an FBI agent, blackmailed into returning to the reservation by a jerky superior.
Guera’s art is wonderful, gritty and stylized, wallowing in its poverty and desperation. The characters have lived their lives, and it shows on every line of their faces. The storytelling’s pretty solid to boot. So the art’s working pretty well, supporting the decadence of the script and conveying information clearly. So far so good.
Unfortunately, the story’s just not clicking for me. Bad Horse is just too much – too much posturing, too much cocksure smartassness, too damn superheroic for a down-on-his-luck loser. At one point, he get ambushed by a half dozen gunmen – he walks through an open door into a barn, everybody is training a gun on that doorway and is sheltered from his direct line of sight – and he still manages to kill or maim every one of them. It’s so over the top, completely ludicrous and out of place with the hype I’d heard about how gritty and realized the series is. Again, perhaps it’s my expectation just being too jarringly off from what Aaron’s delivering here.
Then again, the character arcs aren’t doing much to overcome the over-cooked hard-boiled absurdity of it all. The characters’ language is like Raymond Chandler dialogue on anabolic steroids. You can guess six pages into the story that Bad Horse’s mom has a secret history with his nemesis Red Crow, just as you can count pages until Bad Horse and Red Crow’s daughter get down in violent fashion. It could be cool and shocking, but it’s all just laying there on the page, predictable, obvious.
But, like I said, a lot of people have recommended this series to me.