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

The Story: Dash and Carol begin two very different kinds of drug rehab.

What’s Good: It’s always enjoyable when a writer is able to bring together to plots that are dramatically opposite into a single, coherent issue and that’s pretty much what Jason Aaron does this month in Scalped.  Carol and Dash’s portions could not be more different in style, content, and tone and yet it feels only natural that the two occupy the same issue.  They essentially grapple with similar issues of family and addiction, and this allows for interesting parallels to be drawn between two very different stories that conjure very different feelings.

Aaron continues to reinvent Carol, as the character reinvents herself.  I expected this after last month’s fantastic issue, but the character only grows in likability and relatability.  She grows more empathetic still this month, as, for the first time, she finds herself standing on the periphery of a family environment, though a chaotic one.  It’s not a family without problems, nor is it ideal, but Aaron elegantly makes Carol’s trepidation, want, pain, and awkwardness clear as she stands on the outside, looking in, pondering to what extent to accept the subliminal invitation.  It’s muted, but fascinating stuff.  Much of this is due to just how subtly Aaron writes the Poor Bear family; Granny is the anchor that links together these disparate individuals, whether they realize it or not.  Aaron’s writing of their breakfast conversation is a thing of beauty; all the characters seem intent on their own, individual topics of conversation, and the result is oddly dissonant.

Dash’s drug withdrawal is the completely opposite of this warm environment, as Shunka essentially has him go cold turkey in the wilderness.  The result ends up feeling like a Native American, Hunter S. Thompson styled drug trip.  It’s brutal and nasty stuff as Dash goes out of his mind, completely isolated, but, like Thompson’s Fear and Loathing, there’s also a kind of humour to it as well, of a kind that mixes absurdity with schadenfreude.

Guera’s artwork is more restrained this month, but it’s the same dirty grit we’ve consistently gotten for years.  That said, the manner in which he contrasts Carol’s normal environments with the pandemonium of Dash’s hallucinations is really well done, with the latter having an old school, Hellblazer feel to it.

What’s Not So Good: This issue, for all its strengths, really does feel like the middle chapter of a trade paperback.

Essentially, while there’s good character work, there’s little in the way of actual plot progression.  Really, this book feels entirely transitional, or perhaps even more dedicated to establishing the mood and status quo of this arc more than anything else.  It’s intent is to hammer home of Carol and Dash’s situations more than anything else.

As a result, this ends up being a fairly cut-and-dry issue.  What I mean by that is that, while it’s very good, there aren’t any particular high points, let alone anything explosive.  Scalped #40 is just kind of there, humming along nicely but never really trying to even feign revving up.

I also found Wade and Lincoln’s scene to be a little weirdly placed given the dual focus on Carol and Dash.  Given that this issue was clearly meant to parallel the two, this scene jarred a little and ended up feeling like the weakest part of the issue, only because of it’s being structurally out of place.

Conclusion: A really good issue of Scalped, no surprise there, but ultimately one that will read better when collected.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans