By Jerome Maida
However, with such a plethora of quality material to choose from, there still is only one choice when it comes to the best that the comic-book medium has to offer. So for the third year in a row, "Scalped" is Comics Guy's pick for Best Comic Series of the Year.
Once again, Jason Aaron--Comics Guy's choice for Writer of the Year--has given us characters and story lines that are extremely compelling.
He is mining the story possibilities few dare to touch, let alone explore, about life on an Indian reservation, and gives us sharp yet real dialogue.
Most of all, he gives us moments--not only in every issue, but on virtually every page--that readers will remember forever. Whether it's Chief Red Crow proving that he is the wisest, most dangerous mob leader ever put on the printed page, the emptiness and desperation evident in many of the lives there, double-agent Dash being confronted by his deadbeat father or Red Crow's daughter Carol deciding whether she should keep her baby--there is extremely powerful stuff here.
In contrast, I have read enough SCALPED to judge whether it's stereotypical. It is.
Aaron isn't exactly exploring life on an Indian reservation. That would mean his stories are true to life rather than stereotypical. What he's exploring is his invented, imaginary idea of how hellish Indian life is. It's an exaggerated version of the worst Indian reservations in America and a complete fabrication of Indian life in general.
Even saying it "explores" rather than "invents" Indian life gives credence to the stereotypes. Would anyone say The Sopranos explores Italian American life? I doubt it. If someone said The Sopranos gave us an honest or revealing look at Italian Americans, people would protest in anger. As they actually did:
Italian-Americans eye 'Sopranos,' HBO protest
Italian Group Weathers The Rain In 'Sopranos' Protest
Italian-American groups protest 'Sopranos'
In short, SCALPED is to Indians as The Sopranos is to Italians. 'Nuff said about that.
The abortion issue
It's nice that Aaron is tackling issues such as abortion. It's about what I would do if I were writing a mainstream Native-themed comic. Stories about corruption, alcoholism, suicide, and other social ills are valid because these things definitely happen on reservations. And stories about legal victories, business openings, and cultural preservation are also valid because these things also happen.
Of course, Aaron has the freedom to write about abortion in a Vertigo comic for mature audiences. It's not as if he's pushing the envelope on a regular DC or Marvel comic. Speedy shooting heroin on the cover of GREEN LANTERN #85 (1971) is still more daring than an abortion story or any other comic in 2010.
I'm not sure Aaron's readers want stories about drug use, prostitution, and abortion...but they probably don't want stories about rebuilding a reservation with schools, clinics, and community centers either. In that sense, he's taking the easy way out: giving readers the dark, despairing, grim 'n' gritty stories they expect. Write a stereotype-free comic book about Indian life as it actually is and then I'll consider you a groundbreaker.
Anyway, I guess I missed the moments that "readers will remember forever." Other than Red Crow's murdering and scalping someone in SCALPED #1, that is--a heinous act for which any tribal leader today would be imprisoned. But that's probably not the kind of moment Maida is thinking of.
As I've said before, I found the comics good but not great. If you've never read or watched any noir fiction, SCALPED may impress you. If you have, you'll deem it a decent variation on hundreds of crime/mob/gang stories.
For more on the subject, see Native Women = Whores in SCALPED and Okay to Stereotype in Noir Comics?