I’ve said it before, Jason Aaron is the best writer that Marvel has, and he is definitely in the top ten writers currently in the industry. I loved his Ghost Rider stuff (excepting issue #25). Then I loved his Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries (4 issues). The Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries was pretty damn close to perfection, in my world. Best 4-issue miniseries ever. Aaron has another series being published by Vertigo Comics. According to Wikipedia: “Vertigo books are marketed to a late-teen and adult audience, and may contain graphic violence, substance abuse, frank (but not explicit) depictions of sexuality, profanity, and controversial subjects. Although many of its releases are in the horror and fantasy genres, it also publishes works dealing with crime, social satire, speculative fiction, and biography. Each issue’s cover carries the advisory label “Suggested for mature readers”. I usually avoid Vertigo for these reasons – not that I am at all opposed to gore and mayhem, its just, well…. my life has/had enough of that in it and I don’t always like a lot of “rough” in my entertainment. On the other hand, when I am certain of a high-level of quality and am expecting the gore and mayhem – I can adjust to accept a limited amount of it in my world. I’ve followed the reviews for Aaron’s Scalped series for several years now, and the reviews have been very impressive. Average customers as well as comic book industry leaders (let’s call them) all have given a heckuva lot of praise to Scalped. The fifth tradeback for Scalped was released on October 27th, 2009, the seventh tradeback in March of 2011.
Anyway, Aaron is also writing the Punisher Max title for Max Comics. Max Comics is an imprint of Marvel Comics (like Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics) and, like Vertigo, Max publishes the more adult comics. You know, the violent, bloody, cussin’ sort… as opposed to the goofy adventures of Franklin Richards or something. (Please note!!!! N.B.!!!! I also love all of the Marvel Adventures comics.) ANYWAY, Aaron is the writer for the re-launch of the Punisher Max title that Tim Bradstreet and Garth Ennis made so popular throughout the 2000’s. Well, I’ve already said that I keep the “adult” in my entertainment to a bare minimum. But I’ve also said, I can accept it when its expected and purposive. For example, Frank Castle the Punisher is a bad dude. He’s gritty, grimy, merciless, gun-toting, mob-slaying, avenging, human-bad-ass. In other words, it makes sense for the Punisher to be an adult title. In fact, one can justifiably ask: “should there be Punisher titles that aren’t “mature audiences” rated?”
Why do I like Aaron’s writing? Well, I don’t think he’s a match for every title/character. He probably shouldn’t write Spider-Man, but he is definitely the correct match for things like Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine. Why? Because those characters are not capes in the ilk of Superman or Thor. Aaron lives in Kansas City, but he’s really from Alabama. He writes with an Alabama style. This has no meaning to you unless you have lived in the South. Nevertheless, his style is distinctive. Aaron listens to things like classic rock, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, etc. and it shows through in his writing. When he writes, his stories have this unique flavor to them. Reviewers call it a “hillbilly” flavor. I don’t think that’s accurate, because this is not redneck / hick stuff. Aaron’s writing is deeply relevant, smoothly expanded, and carefully studied. But whatever you want to call it, it is very unique in the comic industry and it fits perfectly (and charmingly) with the particular characters that he writes. I like that his stories are so unique and so far, I have ranked everything that I have read by him quite high.
When I read (January 2010) the first volume of Scalped, I really had no idea what to expect. This was good because I feel that I approached it with no expectations – good or bad – and just let the writing and art do their job. I was slightly taken aback by just how “mature audiences” it was. Immediately, I realized that while I was familiar with Aaron’s writing, the artist was someone I was not sure about. Straight away, though, this artist’s work blew me away. Really. Its excellent. The main character, Dash Bad Horse was written well enough for me to have an emotional investment in his story – and the art deserves a fair share of that. The storyline was decent. I wasn’t immediately on the edge of my seat or anything. Generally, I wouldn’t select a noir-esque crime story set on an Indian reservation as a red hot priority read.
The artist is R. M. Guera, but the colorist is Lee Loughridge. While I love the pencils for this series, I have to tell you, I think this colorist is stealing the show. Rarely do colorists get much praise, I think, but its done so well in this series, that I cannot help but attribute some of the success to Loughridge. This volume “Indian Country” collects issues #1 – 5 from 2007.
I finally got the second volume of Scalped (“Casino Boogie”) in May 2011. I read it immediately. It was very good, but somehow just not as good as the first volume. These collected issues focused a bit on a few other characters and the events of the Casino that is built on the reservation. I don’t think there was anything wrong with these issues, it just did not resonate with me as much as the first volume did. I still enjoyed it quite a bit and it was still the original and unique storyline that the first volume introduced me too. Of course, the art was still fantastic and meshed perfectly with Aaron’s writing.
I talk about the art being good, but its hard to explain why its so good. First of all, and most importantly, the art does not clash with the story – in fact, in places it tells the story. Artwork that is incongruous with the writing will kill a graphic novel / comic. Second, the coloring is perfect. The usage of shadow, darkness, and this particular color palate is exactly what one would expect to color a run-down reservation in the plains. The usage of browns, oranges, and reds draws the reader in so that you can “see” the events. Third, facial expressions, body posture, etc. – the characters are drawn exceptionally well. In all three volumes, its sometimes striking how accurate, telling, and perfect Guera illustrates the people in the story.
This volume collects issues #6 – 11, which brings us to the 2008 issues.
In July 2011, I got the third volume of Scalped (“Dead Mothers”). If the first volume is in media res and introduces us to the gritty crime world we can expect, and volume 2 tells us some background and gives us some perspective, then the third volume is all about the psychological and emotive reality of the characters. Its full of irony and attitude. In this volume, all the connections surrounding Dash Bad Horse and Chief Lincoln Red Crow come to a head and the reader is swept along in Aaron’s cool storytelling.
The artwork in this volume is even better than in the first two. Clearly, Guera and Giulia Brusco (colorist) are a perfect match for Scalped. I cannot think of another series in which the art is as striking as in these issues. This volume collects issues #12 – 18. This volume is the clincher – here you know you are going to read the rest of the series no matter what.