By: Jason Aaron (writer), R.M. Guera (art), Giulia Brusco (colors), Sal Cipriano (letters), Mark Doyle (associate editor) & Will Dennis (editor)

The Story: Dash and Red Crow grow closer, and since you know it isn’t legit, you wonder who is conning who.

What’s good: It has taken a few issues, but Jason Aaron has almost finished moving his chess pieces into place for a ramp up to a climax.  Really, it is no small feat to have done that.  I read somewhere that Aaron had originally intended/hoped Scalped to run through around issue 40 or so.  But he kept going and spent a few issues tying up loose ends and laying some foundation for “what’s next” before getting into story building again in earnest with issue #45.

And, it is a really compelling set-up.  Dash is now Red Crow’s right-hand-man.  Shunka (Red Crow’s enforcer) instinctively hates Dash and feels passed over by Red Crow (who is a father figure to them both).  Agent Nix, who had seemed on his last legs, now has major gas behind him in the form of an anti-terror task force.  And Catcher is up to something…  The interesting thing to me is how all of these characters (with the exception of Shunka) have a powerful connection to Dash’s mother and how important she is for a character who hasn’t had a spoken word balloon in ~30 issues.

But, the big highlight of this issue are the impending double crosses.  The traditional bad guys all have things that make you like them.  Red Crow is very much a Tony Soprano-type figure.  Even though he’s done some despicable things in his life, you get this sense that he really isn’t that terrible of a guy and that he has a lot of regrets.  As such, you feel badly every time it seems like Dash might betray him.  Then you have Shunka who is very much the less-favored “child” of Red Crow.  Shunka has really never been anything but loyal and you feel bad that Red Crow has anointed Dash as the right-hand-man and relegated Shunka to “muscle”.  Then you have the “good guy” Agent Nix who is a colossal piece of crap.

Guera again is really on his game again.  Two things really stood out in this issue.  One is the effective way that he switches from eye-level shots to bird-eye shots to contrast whether the reader is “in the scene” or whether we are just watching (as if from a helicopter).  The other is how well he draws differing body types.  There is a scene in this issue where Dash and Red Crow go to a sweat tent and strip down to have a spiritual experience.  Dash is long, lanky and muscular….really in the prime of life except for the abuse he’s done his body as a drug addict.  I think lots of artists could kinda get that image.  But where Guera shines is with Red Crow.  He looks old.  You can kinda tell he used to be a bear of a man, but time passes, things sag and you get a bit of a belly.  Guera draws him perfectly as being “in really good shape for an old guy”.  He’s the old guy who would have all the old ladies after him.

What’s not so good: I was a little bummed when I finished this issue because I’m pretty sure the explosion won’t happen next issue (the finale of this 5 issue arc).  It was probably unreasonable for me to expect all the build-up and action to happen in a 5-issue arc because that isn’t how this series has been thus far, but I still want to get to the fun part and now I’m pretty sure that’ll be next story arc.

I’m also not a huge fan of the mystical and spiritual creeping into the series as tangible things that the characters can actually see.  We first saw this a few issues ago, when Red Crow looked into a mirror and saw a disturbing sight.  That I could write off as “something Red Crow saw but may not have really been there”, but in this issue we see Dash with a spirit-being next to him in the sweat tent.  I’m willing to trust Aaron as a story-teller and see what he does with it, but I don’t think I want ghosts in my gritty crime story.

Conclusion: The build up is just about done and we should be getting lots of explosion from here on out.  This is a wonderfully written and plotted series.

Grade: B+

– Dean Stell