It’s a rare ‘milestone’ issue that can be both artistically satisfying and celebratory of a comic that has reached a ‘milestone,’ and “Scalped” #50 pulls it off.
Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra are joined by eight other artists, seven of whom contribute pin-ups. The melding of a meaningful, interesting story and showcase pieces is done with the skill you would expect from the people that put out 49 great comics already.
The issue begins with a nine-page story by Aaron, Guéra, and colorist Giulia Brusco called “The Art of Scalping,” and it’s notable for both taking place in 1876 and featuring Guéra lettering the story himself. Guéra’s hand lettering gives the book a European feel with the square word balloons and look of the words, something that seems appropriate for the story given when it takes place. A rougher, less polished style of lettering for a rougher, less polished time.
The story, itself, begins and ends the same way: a father teaching his son how to scalp a man using a still-living subject. Given the title of the comic, it’s a fitting story for the fiftieth issue. It leads to a story of the history of a family that has prided itself on wiping out Native American tribes in their hunt for scalps and the profits those scalps bring. It’s a horrifying story made all the better by Guéra’s detailed, expressive art that manages to capture the absolute worst, ugliest parts of Aaron’s writing and make sure that’s what you see. It’s grotesquely beautiful.
The final panel of “The Art of Scalping” leads into the first panel of “The Art of Survival,” a story framed by Igor Kordey art and featuring seven pin-ups that showcase different members of the “Scalped” cast. Jumping ahead 13 years from the opening story, “The Art of Survival” is about the endurance of the Bad Horse family as one member receives a vision of the future as he nears death at the hands of American soldiers trying to enforce the new reservation.
The shift from Guéra to Kordey is a smooth one, with Kordey offering a more polished, clean-lined style that definitely has the same roots as Guéra’s style. That same ability to draw your eye and focus in on the humanity of the characters is there. The pin-ups are lovely to look at. They’re also suitably chosen for each artist, with Brendan McCarthy handling the more ‘out there’ Catcher or Steve Dillon drawing Red Crow and Shunka. It culminates with Guéra returning on the final page to give a shot of Dash standing on a road, the reservation behind him, before two more panels by Kordey that bring it all home. It’s surprising how smoothly all of the disparate pieces come together here.
“Scalped” #50 is both a celebration and a reminder of the book’s consistent level of quality. While Jason Aaron has spoke of an end point, it’s hard to not want at least 50 more issues now. But, for now, why not just recognize one of the best ongoing monthly comics there are?