by Jason Aaron (writer), R.M. Guera, Giulia Brusco (colors), and Steve Wands (letters)
The Story: From the Vietnam War to the reserve, a character crucial to Scalped’s history is illuminated for the very first time.
What’s Good: It’s hard to write a comic centred on a character in existential crisis. The problem is that it’s difficult to have readers be sympathetic with a character with no fixed identity or to understand a character who doesn’t understand him or herself. Yet somehow, Aaron manages it.
I think it’s largely due to Aaron’s focus on mood, atmosphere, and environment (the end of the Vietnam War) despite the heavy character work. While we never fully grasp Wade’s motivations, aside from some vague ideas of destiny towards issue’s end, we are carried along the stream right with him. Wade seems to float through his life in this book and so, that’s what we do. Regardless of what major historical events he’s a part of or what completely spontaneous acts of violence or cruelty he commits, there’s a constant sense of meandering and meaninglessness, possibly because of that very spontaneity. Even when he does a fairly heroic deed, it doesn’t feel like a fist-pump; Wade rescues an old man from slavery, only for the man to spit in his face and say “go home.”
That sums up the effective moodiness of this issue, really. A constant sense of drifting lethargy and confusion encircles a man who bounces from day to day, surviving but not really living, making as few choices as he has to and often being unaware of it when he actually does. Due to Wade’s “curse” (by dumb luck, he seemingly can’t be killed), even war is made bland and un-invigorating. Wade’s life is just one big wash that sees him increasingly isolated on his existential island. By issue’s end, when Wade actually begins to have some sense of destiny, this lasts all of a couple pages before that is quickly inverted and problematized.
It’s hard for me to praise this issue in any ways more specific for fear of spoilers. Wade’s identity, and thus his importance to Scalped-lore, is the key secret. Suffice it to say, when Aaron finally does show his hand regarding who Wade is, he does it incredibly artfully and subtly when he could have just as easily dropped the hammer. The issue’s ending is also wonderfully bittersweet, as we discover how Wade’s child, who we’re already familiar with, is actually unwittingly following the same path as his/her child, trapped all the same. Yet because we’re only learning of Wade now, this seems like a kind of inverse tragedy; instead of the child emulating the father’s sins, it almost feels as though the reverse is happening.
What’s Not So Good: As I said, centering an issue on a character like Wade can be very difficult and, though Aaron gets over most of the hurdles, it’s impossible for him to fully acquit himself of all obstacles. Wade, his dialogue and narration in particular, can at times feel a little too one-note. It’s really just a never-ending, ever present tone of self-pity and self-loathing. His dialogue with a Vietnamese hooker is especially demonstrative of this.
Because of this, and because of Aaron’s focus on mood, part of me wonders if this is a case of “the less said, the better.” That is, I wouldn’t’ve minded if Wade had fewer lines. There’s no need to hammer home what’s already established.
Conclusion: Has there ever been a bad issue of Scalped? No, not really.