by Jason Aaron (writer), RM Guera (art), Giulia Brusco (colors), and Steve Wands (letters)

The Story: Red Crow and Nitz instigate competing manhunts to find the witness as the Hmongs finally reach the Rez.

What’s Good: I’m not sure that there’s ever been a bad month of Scalped, and #33 continues that trend.  This is one of those issues that’s solid if only for its ability to successfully juggle all of its many plot threads.  Despite this, it never feels scattered or thin, and every one of these threads remain entertaining and integral.  Not a single scene feels overly divorced from the rest of the book, and all of them feel honest and engaging, easily dodging the danger of becoming mere “updates.”

Overall, this issue further validates this arc’s title, “the Gnawing.”  Heading into said arc’s final installment, the tension has never been higher, as this month ratchets it up to fever pitch.  The manhunt for the witness remains as thrilling as ever and a confrontation between Nitz and Shunka is a great read, if only because of its being the first time any member of Red Crow’s organization has ever actually gotten physical with Nitz.  The scene also recalls Nitz’s issue in the High Lonesome arc, as Aaron again insinuates the disgruntled agent’s seeming deathwish.

With R.M. Guera putting out his usual quality, scratchy, “dusty noir” look, this Aaron truly succeeds this month if only because he has written exactly what a pen-ultimate issue should be to any storyarc.  So much is left dangling, and you know that most all of it will be resolved, most likely in cataclysmic fashion, next month.  Of course, that’s not to say that this issue is purely set-up either; there’s several developments that are sure to have long-lasting ramifications well beyond this arc, chiefly some new developments in Dash and Diesel’s alliance, particularly as it relates to the death of a long-running character.

Yes, I did just say that someone dies this month, and the manner in which he/she is killed and by whom is sure to cause all sorts of havoc down the road.

What’s Not So Good: The final page is a little less than ideal, and I suspect that it largely has to do with Aaron running into page-count difficulties.  It’s meant to leave us on a cliffhanger as Red Crow walks out to meet the Hmongs, but the book ends a little abruptly if only because Aaron only has one page to work with.  It’s clear that ideally, the book should’ve ended with a splash of some sort following this.  Pacing-wise, it’s as though someone tore out the last two pages of my comic.

Also, I felt that Aaron was wasting his time a little in his attempt to make Agent Newsome a little more likable.  The guy’s been a complete jackass for the entirety of the series, that dumb jock in a position of power that you love to hate, and there’s no way Aaron’s going to make the guy particularly sympathetic in just a couple of scenes.  In fact, it feels a little strange.

Conclusion: Scalped is an awesome series, and this is another really solid outing.  I can’t wait for next month’s installment.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans