The Prairie Rose Indian Reservation is a fictional South Dakotan locale populated by the somewhat less fictional Oglala Lakotas. In Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera’s crime saga “Scalped,” Oglala is the poorest American county, with an 80% unemployment rate and pitiable rates of alcoholism; every other store is a transparent front for a meth-lab; and Sheriff Lincoln Red Crow rules over his domain with the greedy rapaciousness of his animal name-sake.
Into this dead-end, one-horse town strides Dashiell Bad Horse, (turning Prairie Rose, I suppose, into a two-horse town.) Dash is an undercover FBI agent who has infiltrated Red Crow’s farcical “police” force; he’s also the Rez’ prodigal son, having lit out over a decade earlier for reasons that will only be slowly revealed. It’s a great / bad time for Dash to return to Prairie Rose. The new Crazy Horse casino is about to open, and with it a whole new can o’ criminal worms.
Dealing with the local ready-to-brawl toughs is easy. Much harder is dealing with the women from Dashiell’s past: Gina Bad Horse, the mother who perceives him as a race traitor; and Carol Ellroy, the former childhood sweetheart who once let Bad Horse watch her pee and is still waiting for reciprocity. Carol also happens to be Red Crow’s daughter- and the most openly, self-destructively promiscuous “heroine” in any non-erotic graphic novel I can recall. Maybe in any “novel” period.
Things get exponentially complicated over the 60 issues of this modern American classic.
By choosing to draw his cast from mostly corrupt non-heroes, Aaron is forced to explore the human complexity at the core of the inhuman criminality. We learn how the past influences the present through the secondary inhabitants of the rez: Diesel, the white boy trying to pass for Kikapoo; Officer Falls Down, the one un-bribable cop around; Dino Poor Bear, the kid who dreams of escaping the pervasive poverty; Baily Nitz, the FBI agent bitterly settling an ages old score; Catcher, a Rhodes Scholar/ alcoholic burnt-out who believes he gets messages from the Thunder Beings.
Dashiell is the familiar all-Native-American hero: ready to get violent on the quest for justice. Much more complex is the Big Bad, Lincoln Red Crow, a former Red Power idealist who traded integrity for success, wealth and power- all variables subject to the machinations of the higher-ups in the Tribal Council and rival gangsters.
Look past the grit and the deliberate ugliness of R, M. Guera’s work (best described as “Impressionistic Carnage”), this is a graphic novel of intense humanity, perhaps the most ambitious Native-American epic in modern pop culture, and even comparable to Sherman Alexie’s work in its unflinching understanding of the cultural dilemma of the Native American: The ultimate disenfranchised minority in its own native nation.
If you want the biggest representation fail in American culture, reflect on this. When you ask the average person what their favorite Native American actor or actresses are, they’ll stare blankly for a moment. After some deep thought, they’ll summon something like: “That one guy from ‘Longmire.’? Lou Diamond Phillips! Yeah, him!”
Lou Diamond Phillips is a Filipino-American.
RATING : MASTERPIECE!!!