July 24, 2007

Critic revisits SCALPED

Correspondence from Mathan Erhardt:Rob,

Sorry it took so long to respond but I [had] stuff at work and a wedding to attend so the last few months have been super busy.

After reading the series thus far (I'm assuming you've dropped it) it's obvious that you were spot on with your theory that he was remixing "Thunderheart." Dash actually resentful to be in the position that he's in, an even more extreme view than Kilmer's character had in the movie.

I also think that you're right in that he's trying to make a Tarrantino comic book. Aaron is clearly applying a crime forumula to a reservation setting. Best case scenario (my view) it's fiction. Worst case (your view) it's damaging offensive fiction.

I'm still reading the book though. I kind of like the way the story is developing. I like that Red Crow was once an idealist. I like that Nitz is on a vendetta. I'm honestly curious what Dash sees in Red Crow's daughter beyond being his first crush (she's way gross.)

I do love your point about "mostly unlikable" and "totally unlikable" characters. And it's completely true; I'm not really that invested in the characters, I'm more interested in where the story is headed.

I also love your blog in general. I'm sure that most people are aware of the offensive mascots, but you do an amazing job of shedding light on other jabs at your culture. Your blog is eye-openning and, as a Black man, oddly comforting. I guess it's nice to know that it's not just "us" and that someone else is calling attention to it.

I promise the next time you drop me an email I won't take forever to respond.

My reply:


Someone asked me if I'd give SCALPED another chance, so I've read it through #6. I'll grant that there's less violence and more characterization in #4-6. We've gained more background on Bad Horse, and Red Crow merely seems bad, not evil incarnate.

On the other hand, the characterization is mostly a rehash of Wounded Knee II, with Red Crow and Dashiell's mom as stand-ins for the actual participants. In fact, it's a pretty straight ripoff of the Leonard Peltier case. This may be news to many readers, but it's old news in Indian country. It's not representative of what's happening on reservations today.

Bad Horse's soft-core affair with Red Crow's daughter is also unsavory. She's as voluptuous as a Playmate, a perfect male fantasy, totally unlike most Native women. There's an extremely long history of Native women as sex objects and Aaron is continuing the tradition.

Again, other than a few Native phrases and the fictionalized Peltier case, there's no Native culture or history here. Judging by Aaron's dark version of the casino opening, he doesn't have a clue what goes on in tribes. And what about the stereotypical covers?

SCALPED's totem pole and tomahawk

Despite the bits of characterization, I'm getting less interested in the story as it goes along, not more. Bad Horse and Red Crow have become one and a half-dimensional rather than one-dimensional, but that's nothing special after six issues. At least the first couple of issues had the advantage of being fresh, bold, and unexpected, but that advantage is gone.

In short, I don't think I'll be spending more money on what, to me, is a middle-of-the-pack comic. The Sopranos was rich and deep from the start, while SCALPED has been Tarantino-lite. When Red Crow goes to a psychiatrist and begins questioning his beliefs, then maybe I'll take SCALPED seriously as a work of fiction.


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