I've just finished a fresh re-read of the five issues collected in this trade specifically for prep in writing this review. Jason Aaron, previous to giving us Scalped, penned a mini-series called The Other Side, also published through Vertigo. Prior to that, Aaron was basically unheard of. The fact that he's hit a bullseye with his very first monthly series is incredible but I assure you, dear pondering reader, that it is a fact. Indian Country introduces us to Dashiell Bad Horse, a native to The Prairie Rose Reservation, South Dakota. The first thing Dash does is get into a fight with fifteen guys in a bar. With nunchaku, no less! He is, to put it mildly, looking for trouble. He's been off the Rez for fifteen years and has just come back for reasons made clear at the end of the first issue (or part I of the Indian Country arc). Right away Jason Aaron assaults the reader with abrasive language and since we're reading a Vertigo book, there are no asterisks, ampersands, question or exclamation marks to cover up the naughty words. It's hardcore, is what I'm saying, and it reads like real talk for real thugs and hoodlums.
It isn't long before the main "villain" is introduced, Lincoln Red Crow. Red Crow is the Council Tribal President and essentially runs the reservation. His introduction leaves no question as to how ruthless a character he is but I don't like to use the label of villain to sum him up, hence the quotation marks above. Again, putting it mildly, he's complicated. In describing these two characters, I do hope I'm implying the excellence in Aaron's writing and characterization. All the characters in this book are, at best, morally grey. They're whole humans, not caricatures.
Without spoiling too much, we learn very quickly that Dash is back on the Rez for a reason, even if he knows he's in over his head. He's an undercover FBI agent who's been sicced on Red Crow by probably the most miserable and hateful FBI minder ever to "grace" South Dakota with his presence: Special Agent Nitz. Nitz has an axe to grind with Red Crow that goes back twenty some years to the murder of two FBI agents on the Prairie Rose Reservation. All of this is deftly explained over the course of this five part collection. Meanwhile we get to see Dash kick some teeth and break some heads as he's quickly hired on as Tribal Police under Red Crow. Through this, the character becomes re-initiated into life on the Rez and the reader gets a glimpse of what life might be like there.
This is a crime story but it's told in a way that's as unique as it's setting; an American Indian reservation. Aaron uses some slick time displacement gimmicks to trade back and forth between past, immediate past and present as he brings us along on a ride through this poverty stricken wasteland. When we meet Dash's mother, Gina Bad Horse, all question about the tone of the book should be laid to rest. Gina's first reaction to Dash is to slap him and call him a fascist. Later on, Red Crow uses eloquent phrasing toward his own daughter, Carol. These are HARD people with no illusions and to go back to the title (a quote from Red Crow in part I) of this review, supremely disenchanted.
Jason Aaron masterfully captures this cast off world and sucks the reader in and after reading the first five issues again, I'm craving more even though I've read up through issue sixteen already! Another thing I like is Aaron's use of Lakota dialogue (sans subtitles). It's little touches like that, especially without translating it for us, that lend to the authenticity of the book. But is it good? Yes! There's shootings, there's meth lab busts, there's rampant sex(!), there's organized crime intrigue, there's betrayal, there's scalping(!!), and there's plenty of meat on each perspective of each of the characters to satisfy all your crime/noir needs. R.M. Guéra (Heavy Metal) handles the art and his style totally fits the book. The facial expressions are perfect and the action scenes flow cinematically. Plus, he has a way of depicting the residents of Prairie Rose Reservation that clearly divides them as two tribes: young and old. It's interesting to note all the little touches he puts in and oh! His women look ridiculously sexy too. It's hard to compare him stylistically to other artists but if I had to do it, to save my life, I'd say he's very reminiscent of Eduardo Risso from 100 Bullets except less polished (not a knock).
If you're looking for a new venue in crime fiction, this book is it. Buy it!