This new arc is titled ‘Knuckle Up’ and that explains everything pretty damn well. For a comic that has built its reputation on being hard, this issue stirs in a few extra shovels of concrete. In only 20 pages, Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera light the fuse on the final set of crackers for this title. The finale in #60 is months away but the slope skids down right now. At least five characters are given defining moments on these pages amidst the action and forceful dialogue.
The underlying emotion in this issue is rage. Men are angry with the world they’ve built or the cards they’ve been dealt or the opportunities missed or the choices that must be made. These men are acting from a place of hatred, and the result is a dark exploration of how things implode. Each man is lashing out at the world but might as well be tightening the noose around his own neck.
Aaron is generally known as a great dialogue writer and this issue is a sublime example why. There’s nothing false or hollow about the way these men interact. Each word chosen is authentic for the tone of the scene and the heart of the character. The scene in the hospital around Dash Bad Horse feels like breakneck television at its finest. This isn't to say Aaron won’t let actions speak for themselves, as Shunka is given two pages in near silence to deliver violence like you don’t want to see again.
As with all good crime drama, you can set up the tales and seed in the plot twists but, in the end, it comes down to character. The people must carry the story forward on their backs; everyone pulls their weight in this issue. There are no easy choices to be made, and a cloud of rage blocks off any foresight. There is only the moment and what must be done directly next.
“Scalped” has always looked pretty, and unlike any other title on the shelf. The double splash at the start of this issue is the sort of art you’d pay money just to be allowed to look at it framed on a wall in a cavernous building. Guera infuses a character moment into a silent beat of a burning landscape. The violence is brutal and real, and the men are somber and unstoppable. Giulia Brusco’s stamped out color palette makes you feel these pages like a dust cloud in your eyes.
“Scalped” is a book that will become a rite of passage. To become a man, you’ll read this tome and then you’ll understand. The truths of masculinity presented on the page, both the nice and stupid ones, are starkly set against the eventual demise of all that we love and strangle to death. If this is just the start of the descent to the end of “Scalped” then I shudder to image what awaits us at the abyssal conclusion.