Scalped v.6: The Gnawing
Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by R.M. Guéra
Colored by Giulia Brusco and Trish Mulvihill
Lettered by Steve Wands
Cover art by Jock
Published by DC/Vertigo
Some time ago, I read the first Scalped collection and was underwhelmed. I always intended to give the series another chance to reach its potential, but at the time my library didn’t have the second book (they do now) and Scalped just slipped off my radar. When the most recent collection, issues 30-34 of the monthly series, was placed under my nose, I decided to dive into the deep end.
Amazingly, I feel like I barely missed a beat. Oh, events have occurred since that first book, but the emotional core of each character has remained. I immediately remembered what I liked and disliked about the first book and where each character was at that time.
I didn’t like the first book, feeling that the characters were too obvious, too extremely distressed and unbalanced and “noir,” verging on caricatures. Writer Jason Aaron continues to push his cast deeper into a self-destructive spiral, but he’s also unearthing different facets of them in The Gnawing. He’s uncovering their humanity.
Dashiell Bad Horse’s conflict, caught between crime boss Lincoln Red Crow and brazen FBI chief Baylis Nitz, feels more real; his wrongs against both sides are palpable, human failings, as is his desperation to save himself. Red Crow’s scheme against a rival boss is smartly played, showing intelligence and even humility that I hadn’t seen previously. Aaron’s deliberate pacing builds the tension to a fever pitch, and his ear for angry, vulgar dialogue is superb.
Granted, The Gnawing lost a couple points for its much-too-pat finale. With Bad Horse and Red Crow, and even Nitz, just seconds away from one fatal discovery or another, Aaron tied up the ends somewhat too conveniently in order to justify the saga’s continuation. A big, ugly ending would’ve felt more satisfying.
R.M. Guera’s artwork suits the book’s gritty, seedy voice to a T, as does Brusco’s flat, dark coloring. Loose and sketchy, Guera’s line work resists direct stares, giving readers a sense of nearly out of control chaos. The sketchiness sometimes makes scenes difficult to read when it’s not always clear which character is which, but the ambience Guera provides to every sequence enhances the brutal themes of Aaron’s script.
Scalped is gripping, emotionally bruising and very sordid, and v.6 The Gnawing proved the case to me. It remains to be seen how long Aaron can keep his cast aimed severely toward destruction without paying off that inevitable end, but appearances indicate that he’s got some life left in these characters.