Monday, 18 September 2017

Scalped Book 6: The Gnawing (#30-34)

"This is our home.  This is not a fucking battlefield" - Red Crow

More Scalped, the critically acclaimed Vertigo series that mostly tells the tale of Dashiell Bad Horse an FBI agent undercover on the Prairie Rose reservation he grew up on.  The reason he is undercover is that his immediate boss Agent Nitz has a vendetta that he's kept going for thirty years over the deaths of two FBI agents who were murdered in 1975 by a man known as Catcher.  He doesn't know that Catcher both did the deed and also scalped the agents, he is fixated on tribal chief and casino owner Red Crow who was present at the murder as was Gina Bad Horse, Dash's mum who has also been murdered by Catcher.  Dash unfortunately hooked up with the self destructive Carol, Red Crow's daughter and has picked up a heavy heroin habit from her.  Another FBI agent was placed on the rez by Nitz, a man nicknamed Diesel, currently being held in prison for killing a woman and her vengeance seeking twelve year old son whom Dash had taken under his wing.  Finally Red Crow has a serious headache in the form of Mr. Brass, a sadist who has been sent by the East Asian criminal gang who part funded the casino to deal with any threats to its profitability. Brass raped and murdered two runaways just for his own enjoyment and was caught by Red Crow gouging the eye out of Dino Poor Bear's head.  This was the final straw and Red Crow shot Brass's goons then broke his nose and had him arrested for the two murders.  Now in this volume we see the fallout from those actions as he has to deal with the possibility of war coming to the reservation.  Jason Aaron writes and thankfully R.M. Guera's fantastic art graces all the chapters of this arc.

Officer Franklin Falls Down is sitting on Granny Poor Bear's porch chatting with her as day breaks.  He tells her of a dream he had, he was falling and the whole world was falling with him.  Gina was there, she fell past him while he tried to grab her but missed.  He asks Granny what she thinks it means.  "Means you still got a lotta work to do" she tells him.

She says the Cheyenne have a story, which says there is a great big pole holding up the Earth. And the "Great White Grandfather Beaver of the North" is always gnawing it.  It's been gnawing a long time and is halfway through..  When people do things to make him angry he gnaws faster and pretty soon he'll have gnawed all the way through and the pole will topple and "the whole world will crash into bottomless nothing and that will be the end of everything.  The end of all ends."  Falls Down asks if she believes that and she just says that sometimes when she first wakes up she can hear the gnawing.
Falls Down and Granny sit and talk.
Dash has arrived at White Haven Sheriff's Office with extradition papers for Diesel being held in jail there. Sheriff Karnow is not being cooperative though saying he won't release the prisoner to him unless Red Crow comes and asks in person.  But he can take a different prisoner off his hands, Catcher was picked up the previous night for "drunk driving on a horse".  If Dash takes him, Karnow will consider handing over Diesel.

So Dash drives back to the rez with Catcher in the back.  Catcher tells him he talked to Dash's mum the other day.  Dash says she's dead, but Catcher says he knows and that Dash has spoken to her as well.  Dash asks if he knows him and Catcher says they met in a bathroom where he told him he was on a "long black road."

He tells Dash to get his life together or he'll be the next to die.  He must stay away from Carol, she's a parasite who'll bleed him dry.  He says Dash needs to stop being afraid of who he is and he's going to have to kill a lot more people which Catcher can help him with.  Dash is confused, who the hell does Catcher think Dash is?

Catcher: "You're Dashiell Bad Horse.  You're a drug addict and a Lakota warrior and an undercover agent for the FBI.  You've been sent here to save us."

As Dash turns angrily towards him, Catcher says "eagle" and an eagle flies at the windscreen causing Dash to swerve into a tree.  When Dash comes round, Catcher is gone.
We cut to Red Crow as Shunka asks what the fuck they are going to do with Mr. Brass.  Red Crow strokes his chin saying he hasn't figured that out yet.  Shunka says they have got to make ready for war, "When Johnny Tongue finds out you pistol whipped his pet psycho, he'll come gunnin' for us."  Red Crow says they will be no war on the rez when they are so close to turning things around.  Shunka says he's made war inevitable, but Red Crow says he doesn't want anyone else getting killed around here.

He calls Dash into his office and asks if he has heard of an Agent Nitz, Dash says he hasn't but Red Crow goes on to say he believes Nitz has managed to get an agent undercover in his organisation.  Dash's new mission is to root that person out. He says Dash hasn't been performing so well lately so this is him auditioning for his job again.  Dash leaves and Red Crow says to Shunka, "give him a week.  If he doesn't get it together..."  And Shunka grins saying "my pleasure".

Dash walks outside in a daze, ignoring Falls Down asking to speak to him about his mother.  He gets to his truck and vomits hard with a look of utter terror on his face.  He then rings Nitz in a panic, but Nitz says if Red Crow thought it was him he'd be dead and buried already.   Dash want's out but Nitz says no.  The situation with Brass and the Hmong's will blow up into a full fledged war and sooner or later, Red Crow will pull the trigger on someone. 
There's a lot of vomiting in this series.
Dash says what if it's him having the trigger pulled on. Nitz says not to worry, so Dash should go beat the shit out of someone, look like he's pounding the pavement in search of answers and buy himself some time.   He tells Dash it's what he trained him to do and not to let him down now.  Dash slams down the phone. "I give him a week" says Nitz to Newsome. Newsome asks if word has really leaked out about there being an agent on the rez and Nitz says it was him who leaked it.  He did it to turn the heat up on Red Crow in the hope he'll fuck up and then "he's fucked."

Red Crow stands outside Mr.Brass's jail cell. Brass asks if Johnny Tongue has called yet, because he'll enjoy watching Red Crow squirm when he does.  It's at that point Johnny does call.  He tells Red Crow to let Brass out and give him a million dollars.  Red Crow says no.  Make it two million then says Johnny.  "You can make it two trillion for all I care.  I'm not doing it" responds Red Crow.

Johnny starts ranting and make a series of crude threats towards Red Crow, he says he helped build that casino and he'll come and take it apart piece by piece if he'll have to. He wants to speak to Brass so Red Crow hands the phone to him. 
Thus perished Mr. Brass.
Then he shoots Brass through the cheek.  Johnny wants to know what the fuck just happened. He says Brass better not be dead.  Brass groans, so Red Crow empties a full clip into him.

Red Crow: "Now he's dead. And you will be too, you slant-eyed mongrel fuck, if you ever dare set foot on my fucking rez".

Johnny Tongue is rendered speechless as Red Crow hangs up on him.   He then tells his men to gather everyone and get a many guns as they can find, they're going "to kill a bunch of Indians."

We return to earlier, Falls Down tells Granny he wants to speak with Catcher, all roads in Gina's murder lead back to the FBI murders in '75.  Grannt says that was a long time ago.  Falls Down says plenty of people think Lawrence Belcourt is innocent and in that case where's the real murderer.

Granny: "Lots of folks got killed back then.  Lots of murderers still running loose.  Some secrets is best left buried."

Falls Down says he knows Gina left the prison in tears and hurried back to the rez but never went home.  Granny says Catcher can't have killed Gina, he loved her.  Falls Down says in his experience there's often a "fine line between love and murder."

He says he just wants to speak to him and Granny says she can tell him where to look but he may not find him, he's a hard man to pin down.  But she advises him that no one will want to talks to him about the old days, lots of people did things they weren't proud of back then, "you ain't got no right makin' 'em relive all that". They sit in silence for a while then Falls Down asks after Dino.  She says he lost the eye but is otherwise holding up fine. She knows Red Crow saved him.

Granny: "I don't know what to make of that man no more. I surely don't.  Just when I'm ready to give up on him for good, he ups and surprises me.  Maybe I'm crazy but something tells me...he may surprise us all yet."

Back in the jail.  Brass lies dead and Red Crow yells that no one saw a thing.  Unfortunately sat in the adjoining cell is a young drug dealer called Ben White Elk who witnessed everything.  Red Crow is about to shoot him, but Shunka stops him saying "no boss. Not like this."  He orders the removal of the body and Ben to be put in the interrogation box.  And everyone else get back to work.
Didn't see nuffin' guv'nor.
Dash is sat in his truck on the rez's border, as if he was considering making a break for it.  But Nitz calls him saying there is a tonne of radio chatter at the police station and to get his ass back and find out what happened there.  Dash arrives to see the blood being washed away and asks "what the fuck happened here?"

Shunka and Red Crow are watching Ben through the one way mirror.  Red Crow says he can't believe he shot an unarmed man in a cell in front of a roomful of people.  Shunka says the people are loyal to him, but that leaves Ben.  He's a two-bit burnout who'd sell out his own mother if a fed flashed a badge at him, "and he saw me commit murder.  What choice do I have?"  Shunka says he'll sneak him out after dark and deal with him andhe'll spin the Brass murder as self-defence.  No need to worry about the feds.   It's Johnny Tongue they have to make ready for.

Outside the station Dash phones Nitz and tells him Red Crow killed Brass.  And there is a witness as well he's in the interrogation room.  Nitz tells him to not take his eyes off Ben and not let him be taken out of the station.  Nitz and Newsome then set off to go confront Red Crow. Dash meanwhile thinks how this looks like his job is finished and he can finally leave the rez and never come back.

Dash: "Goodbye shitheads.  You fucks are stuck here for the rest of your lives, but not me.  I'm getting the fuck outta here. I'm getting the fuck outta here.  I'm getting the fuck outta here. So why don't I feel good about it yet?"

Ben comes in shackled to use the toilets where Dash is.  He begs Dash to help him he knows his days are numbered. When Dash says he can't help, Ben says he'll out Dash as a heroin addict to Red Crow as he's been dealing to him, "get me the fuck outta here, or I'll see you in hell."  Dash has a flash of what could happen if Ben told either Red Crow or Nitz, a bullet to the head or jail.  He smacks the wall in frustration.

Nitz comes into the station and says to Red Crow that he knows there was a murder there today.  Red Crow says it was a man trying to escape and if he wants to read the report he'll send Nit a copy.  Nitz says all the witnesses will back his story?  Red Crow says they will.  Nitz asks who they have in the box, meanwhile Ben is being held in the back of the station away from Nitz.  Dash sneaks up behind the man holding Ben.
Dash has a decision to make
Then we look in on Carol.  She is phoned up by Diesel who calls her Dash's girl, she says she's not Dash's anything she threw him out.  He leaves a message with her, he got his papers he's getting out.  She puts the phone down saying she probably won't pass that message on. She gets up, takes a few steps and faints.  We end this chapter with Johnny Tongue and his boys tooled up and driving to the rez.

In a gun store, Catcher is buying a high powered scoped rifle.  He also buys ammo, a single bullet.  In the police station, Nitz forces his way into the interrogation box to find no one there.  Ben is still being held in the back of the station  Dash then knocks the man holding him out from behind so he isn't seen. He takes Ben outside and they hide behind some dumpsters.  Dash gets out a knife and Ben thinks he's going to kill him so panicking he smashes Dash over the head with a bottle and runs.  He finds a car with keys and makes his getaway just as Red Crow and Nitz appear wondering what the fuck just happened. Both Nitz and Red Crow tell their second-in-commands they need to find Ben.

Meanwhile Falls Down is knocking on doors looking for Catcher, or "Arthur Pendergrass" to give him his real name.   After another interview fails to help him he murmurs "it's like chasing a damn ghost" as Catcher watches him through the rifle scope.

Dash goes to Carol's house but she holds the door shut saying she doesn't let FBI agents into her house. He tells her to keep her voice down but she starts yelling "FBI! FBI AGENT, RIGHT HERE! HEY, EVERYBODY!"  He slaps her hard telling her to shut up.  She looks at him on the verge of tears as he says he's sorry. Then she gets angry again, slaps him and throws him out saying if she sees him again she tell her father everything.  As he drives off, she runs to the toilet and vomits down it.

Later that night, Shunka tells Red Crow they found the vehicle Ben escaped in.  Red Crow tells him to find out who let him escape and kill him.  Left alone he broods for a while then goes to visit Carol who opens the door with a knife in her hand.  She asks what the fuck he's doing here.  He asks if he can come in just for once.  She says no.  Then he says he wants her off the rez tonight, he'll give her any money she needs. 

There's trouble coming and he doesn't want her in danger.  She says last time she tried to leave he killed her boyfriend and baby and now he's coming to "buy me off like some cheap goddam whore?"  She isn't going anywhere then suddenly she swoons and Red Crow catches her.
Something it up with Carol.
Dash is sitting by his mother's grave.  He tells her that she would have told him to face up to who he is, "only thing is. Who I am ain't nice.  For the things I got to do now, momma.. I'm sorry."  We then see him with Diesel, he's getting out the next night, they have a plan worked out and Diesel laughs saying he knew only they could trust and look out for each other.  And they shake hands on it.  Meanwhile Johnny Tongue's crew has reached the rez and got a hotel.  Johnny Tongue looks at a poster of Red Crow advertising the casino and says "bang."

Next day Catcher is walking alongside is ancient horse Festus, still carrying the rifle.  He notes a helicopter over head saying "I guess pigs can fly."  It used to belong to channel 7 news, now Red Crow's crew are using it to do an aerial search for Ben while the mountains are crawling with FBI also after Ben who is quivering in terror behind some rocks.

Dash is at the motorlodge where Nitz and Newsome have their office.  Dash asks Newsome what was he supposed to do.  Newsome says he was supposed to keep an eye on the witness, now Nitz is away to clean up his mess using FBI from the local city to search the mountains.  He tells Dash he better pray they find the witness alive.  Dash then says he heard Diesel is getting out.

Newsome says they pulled some strings.  As far as the Nebraska cops know he's being transferred to federal custody.  He's done, Nitz want him out of sight when they get Red Crow.  Newsome says that he know how Dash feels about Diesel, Newsome feels the same.  He's actually arranged for a mental hospital in Wyoming to take him, "to hell with the guy right?  He's a drug addict and an murderer.  He'll get what he deserves".  And Dash looks completely shame-faced at that.  Later Diesel is passed a note in his cell that makes him whisper, "motherfucker."

Red Crow is standing in hospital where he took Carol after she fainted.  They are still doing tests on her and she doesn't want to see him.  He looks furiously at the nurse telling him this, then walks away.  Elsewhere Dash has found Catcher and they are both pointing guns at each other.  Dash asks how he knew he was FBI.  Catcher says the Thunder Beings told him.  Dash also asks if he meant everything he said in the car the other day.  Every word says Catcher.  Dash puts his gun away saying "then let's talk".
Dash confronts Catcher.
We don't see the outcome of that conversation, we then cut to Falls Down driving up to Catcher's trailer.  Then we see the FBI and Red Crow's men all searching for Ben.  Shunka ambushes Nitz and holds a knife to his throat telling him to call off his men.  Nitz just tells him and Red Crow to go fuck themselves.  Shunka knocks him out and stands over him saying "next time."

Then Shunka finds Ben.  Shunka tells Ben he used to track mountain lions for kicks where he grew up.   He wants Ben to tell him who helped him excaped the police station. Then we cut to Johnny crew driving up to the police station where Red Crow is.   Then we see Diesel in a car with Newsome.  He asks to be uncuffed and Newsome lies that he's going to be put up in a hotel until they have time to debrief him. Then Diesel lunges at him, taking Newsome's gun and shooting him through the head as the car careens off road.  Dash is there to "rescue" him and as Dash guiltily looks at the blood stained window and the dead Newsome, Diesel tells him to get going to Dash's car.

Johnny's crew spread out in front of the police station.  Red Crow tells his men not to do anything no matter what happens.  He doesn't want to turn the place into a battlefield.  He goes out alone to meet Johnny Tongue, he says "I got nothing to say to you, Johnny.  Just do what you came to do".  And Johnny smashes him across the face with his machine gun and knocks Red Crow to the ground. He keeps beating and kicking Red Crow and holds a gun to his head.
Johnny Tongue hands out a beating.
Elsewhere Diesel and Dash are walking and talking, well it's mostly Diesel talking.  He says they could run away to South America, he has contacts there and there's always demand for people who can do what they do.  He says fuck Nitz and the FBI, they worked their assholes off for shitty pay and the promise of a lousy pension.  If you're not doing anything to do with terrorists who gives a fuck?

Diesel: "Fuck 'em.  They lost two good agents tonight. The two baddest fucking Injuns the bureau ever saw, am I right?"

Dash says nothing.  Then he pulls out a gun and shoots Diesel in the lower back, then his legs.  As Diesel collapses in agony he says he doesn't remember this being part of the plan.  "This was always the plan" says Dash.
Dash begins his toture and murder of Diesel.
He said when he shot the twelve-year old boy that if he ever got out of jail he's kill him.  Diesel calls him stupid saying he could have walked away clean tonight.  Dash says he doesn't fucking care.  And shoots Diesel in the leg again.   Diesel screams to just kill him like a fucking man. But Dash methodically shoots him in the legs and arms while he screams obscenties at him.  When Diesel passes out after two full clips, he wakes him and shoots him in the balls.  He then stands and watches him suffer, when he finally stops twitching he puts one in his brain.

Dash: "I don't throw up like they do in the movies.  I don't feel suddenly overcome with panic or remorse.  I just look down as this man all shot to fucking hell... and I feel pleased."

Back with the manhunt.  Shunka is demanding the name of who helped Ben escape the police station still while Ben begs to be let go. Then he starts to say who it was... and Catcher shots Ben through the head with his rifle, "I did that for you, Gina.  I did that for your boy. If you should see him in the spirit world, this man I just shot... please tell him it weren't nothin' personal".
Catcher saves Dash's skin.
Shunka tries to go after him, at first thinking it was Dash.  But Catcher calls down saying "I know who and what you are.  I can see your spirit animal.  It ain't my place to kill you".  And he then disappears leaving a confused Shunka behind.

We return to Red Crow having the wounds he sustained in the beating being seen to. Shunka comes in and tells him his witness took a bullet to the brain before he could tell him anything.   Red Crow says that Johnny Tongue beating him down in front of his people was a way of saving face, "he couldn't afford to kill me, he knew that.  Just wanted to put me in his place."  He gets dressed and tells Shunka to get a gun and come with him.

At Catcher's trailer, Falls Down ventures inside and finds many pictures of Gina pinned to the wall and the words "I'm sorry" written in blood over them.  He realises Catcher is the murderer and goes to phone for back-up but gets knocked out by him before he can do so.

Johnny Tongue and crew are returning to their hotel.  Johnny says "Red Crow's a smart motherfucker. He knew he fucked up.  And knew he was beat." They go inside their rooms to find the people they left there dead and Red Crow standing with a gun over the bodies.   Then he and Shunka unload into Johnny and the rest of his crew until they are all dead.
You don't fuck with Red Crow.
Next day Dash shows the photos of Diesel's body to Red Crow saying he was the FBI agent.  He buried him in the Badlands.  Red Crow says he leant on Sheriff Karnow and found out it was Nitz who arranged Diesel's release from jail.  He also contacted some Kickapoo and they told him Diesel had tried to bring racketeering charges against the casino there.  Dash said he found out via his dealer, when he was high he liked to brag.  Red Crow asks him how he feels now and Dash says "like I wish I could do it again."  Red Crow shakes his hand and says he did good.

We then see Agent Newsome's body discovered and a rage filled Nitz kicking his car in frustration.  Falls Down has disappeared and can't be raised on his radio.  And finally Carol is leaving hospital and is told she is pregnant.  The final page shows Red Crow soaking in a bath. Dash looking at himself in the mirror and Carol crying out in silent anguish.  End of volume.
On that cheerful note..
We this is certainly an action packed set of storylines.  Dash plumbs the depths ever lower by getting the one FBI agent who seemed like a mostly decent guy killed by Diesel so he could have his revenge on him.  I know he made a promise to Shelton that when he caught the man who killed his mum he'd make him suffer, but the level of cold blooded torture Dash metes out to him is appalling.  The fact it conviniently solves the problem of the rumoured FBI agent on the rez is just a bonus extra.  Dash doing this deed will bring him closer to Red Crow and the significant look he and Shunka exchanged shows hints of the problems yet to come of Red Crow favouring Dash over Shunka.  Catcher remains an intentionally infuriating character, he saves Dashiell's hide by murdering poor Ben, somehow knowing the right place and time to be, and now he's taken Falls Down hostage to keep word of his murder of Gina from getting out.  He seems to think Dash has a great future linked to the rez and we are starting to see Dash make peace with his life there, apologising to his mother's grave was a major step forward.  And finally we once again see why you don't fuck with Red Crow.  He murders Brass almost as a reflex action and yet he takes a beating to stop a war breaking out and so he can silently deal with the gang when they don't expect it.  Jason Aaron as usual gives nuanced and believable characters while R.M.Guera's art gets more detailed and exquisite with each collection.  Join me in a few days for part one of "Rez Blues".

Friday, 15 September 2017

Scalped Book 5: High Lonesome (#25-29)

"I swear to you I'll save your son" - Catcher

Continuing with our look at Scalped, the crime thriller set on the fictional Prairie Rose Indian reservation. The backstory is that in 1975 two FBI agents were murdered on the rez by one of a group of four Indian radicals, Lincoln Red Crow, Gina Bad Horse, a man known as Catcher and the one man found guilty of the crime, Lawrence Belcourt who is serving life in prison. Another FBI agent called Nitz has fixated on bringing the other three to justice and has placed Gina's son Dashiell who is also an FBI agent undercover on the rez to find any murders he can pin on Red Crow.  Gina has also been murdered by Catcher, although only we the audience know he did it right now.  Dashiell is having a hard time coping with the stress of being undercover, where one wrong move will mean his death and in the previous book began a heroin habit to help deal with it.  Red Crow has headaches of his own, his new casino was part-funded by money from an East Asian criminal gang and their leader Johnny Tongue sent his sadistic enforcer Mr. Brass to deal with any extra-curricular crimes that might threaten his investments.  At the end of the previous book, Red Crow discovered Mr. Brass gouging out the eye of Dino Poor Bear and broke Mr.Brass's nose before having him arrested.  This plotline goes on hold for this volume as we get to see just how close to bottom Dash's life has quickly become as well as some one-shots exploring already established characters further as we hit the halfway point of the series. Artists are R.M. Guera who did issues one, four and five.  Davide Furno did two and Francesco Francavilla three.

THIS THEN IS THE REZ: An unseen narrator tells us that in 1876 Crazy Horse dreamed himself into the world and Custer got what was coming to him on the banks of the Little Bighorn.  In 1890 the Lakota believe the "Ghost Dance" will protect them from bullets.  They were wrong and at a place called Wounded Knee there is a massacre.  By the end of the century the Lakota warchiefs have all been murdered.  The Black Hills ripped of their gold and a great reservation reduced to tattered scraps of the least desirable land. Then the Christians came and beat them for speaking their native tongue and worshipping the wrong gods.  And then ultimately everyone forget them. But even now, over one hundred years later "they're still here".

The narrator is revealed to be a black man travelling onto the rez via a coach.  Now he's a confidence trickster who goes by many names and his real one is never told us, so to make quoting him easier I will call him "Styles" the first name he takes on in the story as he talks to an Indian travelling back to the rez, asking him why they stuck around here all those years. The Indian says it was so they could keep themselves sovereign and also keep their culture alive, "we fight back every day by surviving".

He asks Styles if he is an anthropologist, Styles just says he is a history buff.  The Indian introduces himself as "Bob Winslow" and tells Styles they have a lot of history here.  There's Wounded Knee and Little Bighorn and the Red Cloud school and also a new casino.  Styles says he might check the casino out.
Later as he checks into a hotel under the name "Winslow Griffith" he thinks that it's sad how that old man believes his own bullshit about "fighting back against the white man" by staying out in the middle of nowhere, dirt poor and forgotten. He himself escaped a poverty stricken childhood and believes the problem is that the Indians have "never learned to deal with the white man".  He opens his cases to reveal make-up kits and various disguise accessories.

He's gone from street hustles and email scams to multi-million dollar swindles that involve whole teams.  He was a confidence trickster and swindler, a loanshark and pimp.  He walks into the casino and sits down at his favourite game, blackjack.  He counts cards but is careful to do it in such a way he is undetected not always successfully.  Because if you are caught in a joint run by the likes of Red Crow you're in serious trouble.

Styles: "Back in the old days, I never woulda set foot in a shithole casino like this.  Especially not one run by a mad dog like Red Crow.  But things change.  When times is hard, you do what you gotta... just to get by."

Later he is admiring a pole dancer as he thinks about the most successful crew he ever ran, but one is in jail and the other dead and he's "working Injun joints in the middle of fucking nowhere". He pays the pole dancer to come back to his hotel room and have sex with him.

We cut to them post-coital.  She asks if his name is really "Moses Johnson?"  Styles says his mother was a religious freak.  He thinks that actually she was a trailer park whore.  She asks if he has kids, he says no while thinking "two or three at least".  She says she does have kids and needs to get home.  He offers her another two-hundred bucks to stay the night. He thinks:

Styles: "Fuck your kids.  You're mine now.  I bought you".

He says they don't have to have sex while he thinks of all the degrading things he wants to do to her and she can do to him. He lies about what he does when she asks then says he's never met an Indian before while thinking "tell me your secrets whore, so I can steal them.  Just keep talking so I can keep lying".

Next night he is made-up to look different and is back playing cards.   He's narrates that card counting needs to be done by a team, one counts the cards until he knows the deck is "hot" and then signals another player who swoops in and lays down the big money.  When done by yourself you have to strategically lose hands so the house doesn't get wise, "unfortunately for me, if there's one thing I ain't never been... it's patient".  And he gets a menacing hand on his shoulder.
Styles gambling away.
That night he is back with the same sex-worker.  His getting caught in the casino has affected his sexual performance and he can't get it up.   When she natters on about her being in stable employment, he repeatedly calls her a whore in his thoughts, "you beautiful little whore."  He asks her why she stays here, it's where the government left her people to die.  It's like the Jews deciding to settle at Auschwitz.

Styles: "I want to take you away from here.  I want to tell you my secrets and I want you to love me for them. I have no one.  I want you."

But as his thoughts run out of control he realises, "now I've gone and done it... now I'm even lying to myself."  She sees all the make-up in he bathroom and asks him about it but he brushes the question off to try having sex again.

Next night he's "whited up" and is playing cards while he thinks this is no way for him to be living.  He needs one last big score and this time he won't blow it on cars, pills and women. He fantasizes about "one last score and I can leave the nickel and dime life forever."  Then Dash stumbles past him and upon seeing him Styles whispers "holy fucking shit" to himself.

Outside on the payphone he rounds up some mates to help him with something he has now just planned, he just has a couple of loose ends to clean up and they need to get down here in two days.  Back in his hotel room he starts cleaning every surface as the sex-worker lies in bed watching with bemusement.  He tells her it's time to go and puts a pillow over her faces and shoots her in the head, the pillow acting as a silencer.
Styles blackmails Dash.
Then he goes back to the casino on the day his big score is planned and confronts Dash who is obviously as high as a fucking kite on smack.  Styles says he remembers Dash and he knows he's a fed, he busted him three years ago, and who must be here investigating Red Crow and if he doesn't help him rob the casino tonight he will "rat you out to Red Crow in a second.  I will sign your fucking death warrant".  And he tells a barely coherent Dash to come with him, right now.  And if you want to find out what happened next, that tale is told in the final issue of this collection so keep reading!

BEEN DOWN SO GODDAMN LONG THAT IT LOOKS LIKE UP TO ME: We join Britt "Diesel" Fillenworth in prison due to his murder of a woman and her twelve year old son.  And he's praying for them.  He also prays for his people, the Kickapoo, who never accepted him.  He prays for his mom who killed herself when he was ten.  He prays for his father even though he was beaten by him. 

Diesel: "About the only person I don't pray for is myself... never have.  Me and God got something of an arrangement going.  He fucks with me from on high.  And I endure.  I endure like a motherfucker.  So bring it on, God, you cocksucker you.  Diesel can hack it. Amen."

In the other cells the Indians in there mock his prayer and one-sixteenth Kickapoo identity.  They say him murdering a woman and child sounds like what a white man would do. Diesel grits his teeth and stays silent.

We go back twenty-four years and we see young Britt armed with a bow and arrow playing on his own.  Some young Indian men appear and ask what he's doing and he tells them he is being a Kickapoo brave. They say he's pretending then but Britt says he's not pretending, he's one-sixteenth Kickapoo.  Or he used to be until him and his mom got kicked of the rez because he didn't have enough Kickapoo blood.
Young Britt, desperate to be an Indian,
One of the Indian gang says he has the makings of a fine Indian and he'll talk to the head of his tribe about making him a member.  Britt just needs to be there tomorrow with a "membership fee". Britt enthusiastically agrees.  He's living with has dad now his mother is dead, his father is a deadbeat who "never taught me nothin' in life except how to take a beating".  He takes his father's money stash then goes to bed thinking he'll be "a real Indian. Acknowledged and accepted.  At last."

Next day he returns to the meeting place jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of joining their tribe which appears to be the Commanche.  He starts spouting all sorts of trivia, but the gang leader takes his money and they go and buy cigarettes. They tell him to wait there while they go to a secret tribal meeting.  So Britt says he'll wait and they drive off. He waits. And waits.  And waits.  Finally come the night he realises he's been tricked and trudges sadly back to the place he and his dad live in.

Once there he is confronted by his father who yells at him for stealing his money and thrashes Britt with his belt.  Next day a bruised and battered Britt confronts the men who took his money and attacks the leader with a knife.  He is taken down easily and the gang leader says that'll cost him another fifty bucks.  But Britt tells them where they can find a lot of money and pot too, just please stop hitting him.

He returns to the trailer.  His father is passed out drunk so Britt takes his gun and puts it by his hand. Then he quietly calls the police saying someone broke into the house.  We cut to twelve minutes later.  Britt is standing watching the Indian gang being arrested for breaking into the trailer and killing his dad.  He had told them when to come and emptied his father's gun of bullets so he'd definitely die in the shoot-out.  The cops haven't told Britt yet, they think he probably thought his life couldn't get any worse.  But he's alone now.  Britt just grins to himself and in that moment, Diesel is born.
The birth of a bad guy.
Back in the preset he contemplates the fact that after his dad's death he "gave up on the idea of ever really belonging anywhere anymore".  He was sent to an orphanage and we cut between his first day their as a kid and his exercise in the prison yard in the present.  He stabbed a kid who tried to bully him in the eye with a pencil, while the Indian that taunted him does it again and Diesel smashes his face in before using a shiv to scalp him.

Diesel: "You motherfuckers will learn to fear me, I promise you.  Even if I gotta scalp every last fucking one of you. The Diesel has spoken".

And with those defiant words, this chapter ends.

THE BALLAD OF BAYLIS EARL NITZ: It's time for some backstory on Nitz whose vendetta is fueling the plot and why he's kept that vendetta alive over thirty-odd years.  It begins with Diesel in prison talking to Agent Newsome.  He wants to know why he's still in jail and Newsome says he killed a woman and a twelve-year old boy, "we can't just snap our fingers and get you out of there."  Diesel demands to talk to Nitz but Newsome says he's away on business.  Actually he's in the room perusing a porn magazine. 

Diesel hangs up in a rage saying Nitz owes him after what he got from Red Crow's office, and Nitz comments that maybe he should stop scalping other prisons if he wants to get out.  Newsome asks what it was Diesel got for him but Nitz changes the subject and asks about Dash who he's told hasn't checked in for two weeks.  Nitz decides to fuck it, he'll sort it all out when he gets back and leaves.

As he packs he thinks that he didn't used to believe in spiritual journeys, but the trip he's doing now counts as one. It's not about God or anything:

Nitz: "This is spiritual in the sense that men who've been through war together know spiritual.  This is the kinda shit you don't talk about you just do."

He's been waiting a long time to do it.  And we see him thirty-two years ago at the murder scene of the two agents killed by one of the Dog Soldiers in tears, swearing he'll kill every one of "those fucking redskin cocksuckers".
Back in the present he visits his first ex-wife, Marci.  She tells him to fuck off, he says he was in town and thought he's drop by.  She says after thirty years, really?  He says she doesn't have to let him in as she lets him in.  They have lunch together as they make small talk, he has two sons with her who don't ever ask about him.  She then asks him "so you wanna fuck or what?"  He grins and says "I thought you'd never ask."
Nitz and ex-wife.
Eleven minutes later they finish copulating and she tells him he can't stay, if he wants to be coddled he can try his other ex-wives.  There are five, though one died a year ago and he celebrated by finding the ugliest prostitute he could and fucked her for three days straight.

Marci starts checking out his scars, one where his dead wife stabbed him, one where she stomped him, one from a mechanical bull and booze and several bullet wounds.  Then there is the long scar across his belly that causes Marci to turn her back and tell him to get out.

He silently gets dressed thinking that scar is the one that still scares her, "it's the reason she left me."  A criminal called Maggart took him down and slashed him so deeply he nearly disemboweled him before leaving him to die.   But two agents found him, Robert Bayer and Steve Berntson and saved his life.   They were old school, met in Vietnam joined the bureau under Hoover.  They visited him every day in hospital, more than Marci did.

Things changed after that between him and her.  He couldn't let it go and when Maggart got let off on a techincality he was waiting outside the courtroom about to shoot him.  But Bayer and Berntson stopped him, "they saved my life a second time.  Six months later they were dead".  They were the two FBI agents murdered on the rez. He thinks that those two men were saints, good family men, great lawmen and the best friends he ever had.  

Nitz: "And on June 26, 1975, somebody shot them both in the face, and then took a knife and cut their fuckin' scalps off.  Somebody will pay for that.  I'll see to it. No matter what the courts say.  No matter what it takes. What lines I have to cross.  What laws I have to break.  No matter who gets hurt."

He reaches the graveyard and walks over to their graves holding an evidence bag.  He mulls that he could have moved on a long time ago.  Transferred to a cushy job and retired.  The young agents are all chasing Jihadists now, "they got their war on terror.  I got mine."  He isn't going anywhere until his friends have been avenged and their killer has been made to answer.
Nitz at his friends graves.
We flashback to four years ago.  Red Crow is shackled on his knees and Nitz is holding a gun to his head.   He yells at Red Crow to tell him that he killed his friends or he'll shoot him in his lying face.  Tell him he shot and scalped them.  He's seen a photo of his office and two scalps in his trophy case.  Are they his friends scalps?  Red Crow just grins silently at him and no matter what Nitz threatens, he doesn't say a word.

In the present he is sitting drinking beer by their graves.  He wonders if he should have killed Red Crow there and then but instead he intends to tear down everything Red Crow worked to build, eventually he'd admit what he's done and then he'd die.

Marci comes up behind him saying she knew she'd find him there.   She says those two agents were a "horrible influence" on him.  Their wives don't miss them as much as Nitz does. "Fuck their wives" retorts Nitz. Marci says he knows he sends money to their kids whereas he hasn't seen his own children in years.  Nitz says she doesn't understand.

She asks what happened to Maggart, Nitz says he moved away and he never saw him again.  Marci says she knows when he is lying and he's going to pay for the things he's done.  "You were a good man once.   I remember that.  Do you?" she tells him.  Nitz says Bob and Bernie were good men, "they're all that matters to me now."

Marci says they've been dead thirty years now, where does that leave Nitz?  "With a goddamn job to do" says Nitz.  And what will happen after that she asks?  She came to remind him he has family and if he wants to catch up he still has the time.  Because no matter what, these men will still be dead and Nitz will be alone.  Nitz says without them he'd have died a long time ago, she says he did.  And she walks away.
Yeah real saints.
We then get a flashback to good ol'Bob and Bernie showing Nitz a "surprise".  They have Maggart tied up in the boot of a car.  They stopped Nitz killing him outside the courthouse because that was the wrong way of doing it.  But Nitz still deserves his revenge and they offer him a gun.  But Nitz asks for a knife and Maggart screams and screams and screams.

Back in the present Nitz takes the scalps out of the evidence bag and with a trowel buries them on the two graves.  He tells them he hasn't got their killer yet, but the day of their revenge is coming.  Having finished, he thinks maybe he should say a few words but all he can think of is "fuck it".  He fucks everyone from Marci, through to Red Crow, the bureau, everyone. "Fuck'em all.  Who fucking needs 'em.  Not me, that's for goddamn sure." And that brings this chapter to a close.

I'LL NEVER GET OUTTA THIS WORLD ALIVE: We begin with tribal cop Officer Falls Down returning to the rez after his trip up to Kansas to talk with Lawrence Belcourt. He has a murder to attend to, it's the sex-worker "Styles" killed in the first chapter. Also attending the scene is FBI Agent Newsome who says women are dropping like flies round here.  Falls Down says it wasn't an Indian who did this, it was a black man who rented the room.
Falls Down comes back to the rez.
He snipes at Newsome saying he must be what passes for FBI these days.  He asks where Nitz is and is told he's away on business.

Falls Down: "Whoring it up, most likely. He still got that thing for underage girls?"

Newsome asks who the woman was, Falls Down says she was a dancer at the strip club called Margarette.  Newsome asks if this has anything to do with what happened at the casino afew nights ago.  Falls Down doesn't know what he's talking about, he was away when whatever it was happened.

Newsome asks how the Gina Bad Horse murder is going, Falls Down says about as well as their investigation into Red Crow.  He wants to talk to Nitz because he thinks Gina's murder is linked to the FBI murders in '75.  He then asks Newsome if he ever worked a murder before. He suspects Newsome wasn't top of the class which is why he ended up out here and he's working a murder now so get to it.

We cut to Lawrence in prison.  He walks out into the yard and speaks with the leader of the black gang in there.  He tells the man he knows Red Crow pays him to look out for Lawrence.  The man won't admit to it but say Lawrence shouldn't rock the boat.  But Lawrence tells him to get a message to Red Crow, "tell him I know who killed Gina Bad Horse".

Back with Falls Down he goes into his office with the files on the FBI murders with a post it note from Newsome telling him  not to ask him for anything again, "asshole".  Falls Down smiles and says to himself "thanks Newsome, but you're still a prick." He then goes over the files in detail.  The FBI agents came under fire when driving onto land occupied by the Dog Soldier Society.   When more agents arrive on scene the agents are dead from multiple gunshots, all native suspects have fled.  In 1978 three are acquitted of the murders due to lack of evidence and eye witness testimony.   In 1980 Lawrence Belcourt was convicted, witnesses who say he bragged about the murders later recanted  claiming FBI intimidation. The debate over who fired the shots continues to this day, no one present at the murders have ever spoken publically about it and presumably never will.
The FBI killer finally revealed.
We then get a flashback to the murders.  The agents and Red Crow exchange fire.  Lawrence is terrified and Gina is pleading with Red Crow to stop shooting.  Catcher is hit but only wounded.   The two agents sit injured against their car having thrown their guns away and surrended.  Gina demands to know why they shot at them, the FBI say they started it.  Lawrence tries to calm the situation as an angry Gina points a gun at them. Red Crow also tries to calm Gina down and she turns away from the agents to argue.  Suddenly the FBI agents are taken out with one head-shot each courtesy of Catcher.  Gina runs to a tree and leans against it to vomit.

In the present Catcher is standing by Gina's grave.  He apologises to her saying "it was all my fault.  Always was.  I wish I'd listened to you."  He says he never should have shot the agents and let Lawrence take the fall.  If he hadn't maybe he never would have lost her, "I'm sorry I had to kill you Gina".

Catcher: "I always loved you, you know.  I dreamed about you for years before we even met.  I wish just once I'd had the courage to tell you that.  Maybe if I had you woulda listened. Maybe we could have saved each other. Maybe you'd still be alive."

In the past, Catcher watches Red Crow and Gina embrace and kiss.  Lawrence is panicking.  And then Catcher takes his knife and scalps the two agents, "you wanted a war, didn't ya Lincoln?  Well now you got it. Hoka Hey motherfuckers!"
Catcher escalates what he did.
In the present Catcher muses that they'll be coming for him soon and may already be on their way.  This narration takes place over Falls Down reading the files and wondering whatever happened to Catcher.  Catcher says that a Bad Horse has to lead if the rez is ever going to make it out of the darkness.  He promises he'll do anything to save Dash and this chapter ends.

ROCK BOTTOM, POP. 1: We jump back a few days to "Styles" and his plan to use Dash to rob the casino.  We see that after sex with Carol he smoked heroin, then went out to buy more and the dealer gave him a hypodermic loaded with heroin as an extra for being a good customer.  Sat wasted at the casino bar, Styles tells him it's time to rob the casino.  Dash is completely out of it though.

He staggers over to the garage door where the armoured truck will be coming in and opens it before collapsing.  One of Style's gang says Dash is in no fit state, he'll blow it for them.  The door opens and the security guard asks what the hell, and one of the gang stabs him through the nose into his brain. Angrily Styles tells Dash if he fucks up again he'll join the guard in death.

Dash starts remembering things. In the army, as a kid seeing his dad doing blow, just a few hours ago smoking drugs with Carol.  As the gang load up on cash he slumps to the ground cuffed to a rail. The rest of the gang move out with the cash, but Styles stays to deal with Dash.  He notes how the undercover life seems to have taken it's toll on Dash so his death seems somewhat inevitable.  Dash asks who he is:

Styles: "I'm Wesley Willeford.  I lie for a living.  But now it's time for a moment of truth."

He turns and points his gun at Dash.  And somehow the hypodermic needle full of drugs that Dash had in his pocket gets stuck in Styles.  He'd swiped Dash's jacket after the security guard was killed and got blood on his so he accidentally stuck himself that way.
Very convenient.
Anyway the syringe wasn't just filled with heroin, the dealer remembered Dash from a bust a few weeks ago.  So he put rat poison in his little extra.  Styles collapses, foaming at the mouth.  Security bang on the door, Styles starts firing at Dash who manages to dodge the flailing bullet aiming.  He keeps trying to say Dash is FBI but by the time the guards get in he's died and Dash is suddenly feeling very, very sober.

Released from his cuff and knowing there is the rest of the gang out there who know he's FBI, he takes a shotgun and walks out to where they were waiting and methodically blows away each one of them.  Then he walks off.  Red Crow arrives on the scene and picks up the syringe and asks where Dash is.  He's gone back to Carol.  He wakes her up and says he has something important to talk about, "what do you know about the FBI?"
Dash clears up loose ends.
Well as the series reaches the mid-point we get a volume of revelations and character history that help explain why certain people are acting the way they are. First of all we see how Dash has crumbled under the stress of the undercover life spending his days stoned out of his mind.  It's interesting that it takes a man who lies for a living to exploit a man who is living a lie.  Dash is in desperate need of someone to talk to hence is decision at the end to open up to Carol, and we'll see how she takes that in the next volume.  We also finally get the true story on who killed the two FBI agents that fateful day, the mysterious Catcher who seems to live entirely off the grid as even Falls Down, who is doggedly pursuing leads in Gina's murder case, doesn't know where to find him.  We also get his confession of killing Gina as well, presumbably because she was going to out him as the murderer.  Despite all his mysticism, self pity and apologies he's well... kind of a dick. Talking of dicks, we get some insight into Diesel and Nitz finally.  Nitz comes across as repugnant and corrupt and the men he sees as "saints" party to a sadistic murder they set up.  Diesel is more interesting, as I said you can see the precise moment the enthusiastic young kid died and the Diesel persona began.  It does give his character more depth although it doesn't excuse his actions one bit.  The vast majority of people who grow up in shitty households don't turn into full blown psychopaths, Britt unfortunately was one who did. Jason Aaron taking time to flesh out all the major characters is what gives this work its richness and depth, and the chapters drawn by R.M Guera continue to be impressive. Next volume we return to Red Crow's dealings with Mr. Brass and the Hmongs in "The Gnawing".

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Scalped Book 4 : The Gravel In Your Guts (#19-24)

"An honourable man sure.  But that doesn't make me a nice guy" - Red Crow

Continuing our look at the American Indian crime noir story Scalped, a Vertigo title by writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M Guera.  Set on the fictional Prairie Rose reservation where a new casino has opened, the backbone of the story is a vendetta by FBI agent Nitz against the one-time members of an Indian radical group The Dog Soldiers.  In 1975 two FBI agents who had come on to the rez for reasons unkown were shot dead.  Present at the murders were Lincoln Red Crow, Gina Bad Horse, a man known as Catcher and Lawrence Belcourt.  Although all four were caught, only Lawrence who was tried in a different jurisdiction was found guilty.  Now, thirty years later Nitz has fixated on linking Red Crow with a murder, any murder, to have him put away for good and he is using Gina's son Dashiell, an FBI agent going back to the rez he grew up on to do the investigating while undercover.  He has another agent in play as well, the one-sixteenth Kickapoo white man called Diesel who in the previous book murdered a sex worker then gunned down her twelve year old son when he came to seek revenge.  This hit Dash hard as he had taken the kid under his wing and taught him how to shoot while bonding with him.  Another on-going plot thread is finding the murderer of Gina, who was revealed to be Catcher at the end of the last volume. Red Crow is now tribal leader and owner of the new casino but has headaches of his own in the form of Mr. Brass, an enforcer for the East Asian criminal gang who part funded the new casino who is here to deal with any threats to the place.  Dash has hooked up with Carol, Red Crow's estranged daughter and in this volume we'll find out just why she hates her father so much as he tries to deal the many problems besetting him.

THE BOUDOIR STOMP: Art by Davide Furno.  We begin twenty-four years in the past.  A young Dash is watching his father Wade chopping out lines of coke on a mirror as he rants about the government wanting people to watch "make-believe shit" so they don't open their eyes as to what is going on in the world.  When Dash asks what he is doing he tells him it's "grown-up stuff" and he never wants to cath Dash doing it and making the same mistakes he has.  Gina comes home and screams at him to get out, then hugs Dash saying she's sorry he had to see that.
Dash's deadbeat dad Wade.
In the present, Carol's husband is moving out under the watchful eye of Dash.  He says Dash is welcome to her, "I'm done with her. Had my fill.  Bitch is all yours."  Once he is gone, Dash goes inside and he and Carol make love.  When they have finished she thanks Dash for coming over, she was afraid her husbnd would beat the shit out of her when she told him to go.  She'll be divorcing him when she can "afford to".

She says the only reason she married him was because he was white and she wanted to "piss off my dad."  And she hoped he might be the one to take her away from the rez.  Dash asks if she had ever come close to getting away and she says she had in the past, the man was called Graham and worked for her father. "He died" she says when Dash asks what happened to him.  Dash asks if that was when she and Red Crow stopped talking, she doesn't answer but says she hears Dash is living in his mother's place now.  They both get up to go to work.

We then cut back and forth between Dash at his job on the tribal police and Carol as a waitress in a local diner.  Then we jump to Dash watching from afar as the dead twelve year old boy Shelton's family mourn at his grave.  Red Crow says he thought he'd find Dash here.  He tells Dash that he knows the last couple of weeks have been tough on him but he's handled it well and now he's offering him a promotion.

Red Crow: "You'll be working directly under me.  No more of this tribal cop bullshit. You'll work out of the casino.  You'll have your own crew.  Your duties will consist of whatever the fuck I say."

He tells Dash to take some time off to think it over.  As for Carol he is fine with him fucking her but he better not pick up any of her bad habits, because then he'll become a liability and "that, I will not abide."  He walks off leaving Dash alone in the graveyard.
Shelton's funeral.
Carol is having another annoying shift with people propositioning her and feeling her ass up.  Then she sees a woman feeding a baby and a sad look crosses her face.  After work she goes and buys some drugs and goes home where Dash finds her and they make love again. They contemplate each other in silence as we jump backwards and forwards between how they think of each other and what they are coping with.  Whatever else they may be they do seem to have feelings for each other based on more than just lust.
Strong feelings but can't spit them out.

She tells him she wants to get high, and Dash leaves.  Carol cooks up the black tar heroin she brought earlier.  She falls backwards in a drug induced reverie and flashes back to seven years ago.  She is heavily pregnant and her boyfriend Graham appears and says it's time to get in the car they are leaving right now.

She protests that she isn't packed and sees bullet holes in the car, he says he'll explain everything but she needs to get in the car,  She sees a bag with lots of packages of either coke or heroin in the back.  She realises he's stolen that from her father.

Graham: "This is the key to everything we've always dreamed about, baby.  Getting off the rez.  Starting a new life.  I did this for you Carol.  I did this for our family. Now get in the fuckin' car".

They go speeding past the edge of the reservation and Graham whoops that they are finally free.  Carol is unsure saying if her father catches him he'll kill him, but Graham says her father is history.  She feels the baby kick and puts his hand on her so he can feel their daughter moving.  As he tells their unborn child all the things she'll have suddenly the back windscreen is shot out.
No escape from the rez.
A car draws level with theirs firing upon them and Graham loses control and crashes it.  He is killed and Carol takes a bullet to the stomach. As she cries in agony the men who ran them down come over and when they realise who she is, call Red Crow. We cut back to Carol in the present, still drugged up, holding her hands over her stomach.

Dash is drinking heavily in a bar when a woman comes up to him.  She slaps him saying he got her nephew killed, she shouts that she was going to take Shelton away from this place and he went and taught him how to shoot, "you got him killed, Bad Horse! It's all your goddamn fault!"  He says nothing as she is escorted off the premises, he just reaches for his drink.  Later that night he drunkenly contemplates suicide and holds his gun to his head several times, then says to himself, "no.. it ain't all my fucking fault."

Back in Carol's past she is drinking away after getting out of hospital.  Red Crow approaches and offers to buy her one. He said he'd tried to see her in hospital but she had told the nurses not to let him in.  She asks what the fuck he wants, and he says "I want to tell you I'm sorry".

She explodes at him saying is he really sorry for killing Graham?   Red Crow says he didn't know she was in the car or that she was involved with that "motherfucker." He didn't even know she was pregnant.   She says fine he's sorry, "now get the fuck out."  As he leaves he asks if the baby was gonna be a girl or... she cuts him off shouting "get the fuck out!"

She orders more whiskey but a creepy man sitting at the bar says he has something that can really get her fucked up.  She says she can't fuck him, can't fuck anyone for another six weeks.  He says her mouth still works doesn't it?  He then says he's kidding but if she does want to party his name is... she says she doesn't care what his name is "let's just go." And we see her again in the present in her squalid house smoking heroin off tin foil silently.

Dash has gone to White Haven Sheriff's Office to see Diesel, the man who murdered Shelton. He sits down and Diesel whispers that Dash knows they are both working for the same team now.   Dash says he knows and Diesel demands to know "when the fuck you guys getting me outta here?"  Diesel says as far as he is concerned he can rot in this place.
Dash and Diesel talk.
They have a short back and forth where Dash accuses him of shooting Shelton down like a dog and Diesel saying it was self defence.  And him killing his mother was an accident, she liked getting choked and he got carried away.  They regard each other in silence then Dash tells him:

Dashiell: "If I ever see you outside of these walls again... I'll kill you.  I swear to fucking Christ".

Diesel laughs at that saying the kid had more balls than Dash does.  He doesn't think Dash is cut out for this work, "a blind man could see it".  As Dash goes to leave, Diesel says he's Dash's best friend on the rez.  Red Crow and Nitz would feed him to the dogs at the drop of a hat, "without me, who the fuck else you got left to turn to?"

He goes to Carol's place and they lie together just holding each other for a while.  Then they get up and Carol starts cooking up more heroin.  As she smokes it Dash looks at her, then he asks "can you show me how to do that?"  She replies "sure" and as this arc ends, Dash starts smoking heroin as well.
Dash gives in to temptation.
THE GRAVEL IN YOUR GUTS: R.M. Guera is back on art duties for this Red Crow-centric four parter.  We begin three weeks in the future.  Red Crow is in his car outside the Badlands Cafe.  He looks at a small bundle on the seat and says "I'm sorry" to it before walking inside the cafe and opening fire on people's unseen inside.

Back in the present Dino Poor Bear got his car fixed with the cash Red Crow gave him and he is speeding along the road with his friend Griff.  Unfortunately this results in them getting pulled over by two corrupt cops.  They "fine" Dino the five-hundred dollars he has on him and tells the pair of them to cover the rest of the fine they have to deliver something for them to an address in Nebraska. After the cops have gone Dino and Griff drive off but the water pump in the car breaks and Griff, terrified of repercussions if they fail to deliver the package, flees leaving it with Dino.

In the casino Red Crow is being told by Shunka that he needs to see Hmong enforcer Mr. Brass who is staying in the casino hotel.  Inside his room we see Red Crow looking at something which enrages him while Mr. Brass apologises for the "mess".   Red Crow says angrily:

Red Crow: "Listen goddammit.  This is my place. My rez. My fucking rules. I don't let nobody come in here and disrespect me like this."

Mr. Brass says the place was built with his employers money and he's been sent to keep an eye on the investment.   Red Crow demands to know what he is looking at here then.

Mr. Brass says he is a man of "certain peccadillos, it's true" and has to unfetter himself from time to time to allow him to work with a clear head.  And there is much work here to be done.  Red Crow's people are undisciplined.  They run deals behind his back, trafficking in drugs and guns.  The organisation lacks structure and the chaos will lead to problems his employer wishes to avoid.

Red Crow yells that Mr. Brass is the one going around gouging people's eyes out, "this is not the way we do things around here!"  Mr. Brass says he looks around and sees nothing but filth, people wallowing in alcohol, content with their own ignorance and poverty.  Red Crow stands at the head of the pack:

Mr. Brass: "I know everyone you've ever killed to get where you are, my good chief, so don't presume to labe me a hypocrite, sir.  It's far too late for you to go adopting a sense of moral indignation".

Red Crow says he expected less arrogance from someone who just a few short years ago was sleeping with monkeys and wiping his ass with his hand.  He and the rest of the Hmong have "the stench of the banana boat" on them and they dare insult him and his people?
Mr. Brass's mess.
If Mr.Brass is going to keep going the way he is he will bury him on the rez.  Mr. Brass shrugs the threat off saying he's never be that foolish and now he can go and leave him to enjoy the rest of his meal in peace.  But also send up someone to clear up the mess and we see two bloody shackled corpses of a man and a woman in his bed.  Red Crow walks out in silent fury.

Dino meanwhile got ahold of a bicycle and rode it to where the package needed delivering to.  The man who takes it from him is quite impressed and hands over Dino a delivery fee saying if he wants to make some real money to come and see him. Later at the rodeo Dino is attending with his daughter and his friends.  Griff comes up and apologises and Dino forgives him.

Red Crow is also at the rodeo at an award ceremony.  As he walks off he asks Shunka if he found out what he asks, Shunka says not yet and that he thinks they should disappear the kids, but Red Crow says he wants to know who they were.  Then he is told an old woman wants to speak to him and he tells Shunka to wait as he goes to speak with Granny Poor Bear.
Gina's soul bundle.
She has a small bundle on the table in front of her.  It's a "soul bundle.  It's Gina's soul".  It has to be given to someone who will keep it for a year who must live a harmonious life, no fighting, no arguing "everything they do must help to purify this soul".  Once that is done it can be released and travel the spirit path and "return to wakan tanka".  If it isn't done the soul will wander the earth lost and alone forever.

Granny tells Red Crow that he is going to keep it.  He says it should be a family member, like Dashiell.  Granny says he's in not up to it.  "This is Gina's last chance, Lincoln.  And yours as well.  Don't squander it".  And she walks off leaving Red Crow contemplating Gina's soul in silence.

Thirty-five years ago and the Dog Soldiers (which is more than just the four involved in the FBI murders) are having a meeting.  Red Crow reveals that he knows one of them is working for the FBI.  Ask they discuss who and what they'll do to them when they find out they hear raucaus laughter close by.  Some hippies are partying there.
Hippy fight!
Reggie Standing Rock goes over to explain to them that the mountain is sacred to his people and he'd appreciate it if they took their party elsewhere.  One of them says it's still a free country, so Red Crow punches him. The Indians and the hippies exchange blows, with Gina slapping one of the women around and the hippies make themselves scarce shouting they can keep their mountain.  "The sixties are over you shitbirds! Go get a fucking job!" shouts Red Crow after them. Then he and Gina embrace and kiss passionately.

In the present Red Crow is looking at Gina's soul bundle back in his home.  He talks to it saying they were too alike, even if she'd never have admitted it.

Red Crow: "Too quick-tempered.  Too stubborn.  Too full of ourselves.  Too much damn gravel in our guts.  Still I always figured we'd somehow end up together.  Just never like this."

The little bundle of tabacco and sage is all that's left of Gina Bad Horse. Friend, fellow activist, co-defendent, lover, rival, bitter enemy.  Now she dead and he is the keeper of her soul.

He thinks on how he been respobsible for lofty responsibilties.  Multi-million deals, the lives of his men, the fate of whole communities, "but never anything like this."  He screws up and she's lost forever, "and I'll have yet another ghost to haunt my dreams."

Later Shunka comes in to tell him of Mr. Brass's latest activities.  He cut up a dealer for selling coke on the side, angrily Red Crow says he knew about that, the man was doing it to support his large family. Shunka says the Hmongs are trying to prove a point, "and this shit ain't gonna stop.  You either cave in and kiss their asses... or else get bloody".

Red Crow says he doesn't want a war.  Shunka will let their boys know to refrain from extracurricular activities for now, let Brass think he's made his point.   Shunka says Brass is never going to stop.   He's also found out who the two kids Brass killed were, two runaways, no one is looking for the boy but the girl was called Geraldine Standing Rock and Red Crow knew her grandfather.

He drives out to see Phyllis Standing Rock who starts by telling Red Crow it's been thirty-five years since Reggie disappeared.  Red Crow says he is here about her grandaughter.  Phyllis says she had never had a chance, always in trouble since she was old enough to know better.  Her mother dumped her on her, after her father Reggie disappeared she gave up on life and is a waitress somewhere else now.
Phillys Standing Rock.
She says if the find Geraldine she doesn't want her back, can she be arrested for her own good?  Red Crow says he'll see what he can do.   She says this wouldn't have happened if Reggie was still around.  She says she doesn't believe what they say, that he was a snitch for the FBI.  If anyone would have known it'd be his "goddamn wife".  Red Crow leaves as she says, "ain't no hope for any of us no more, is there Red Crow? No hope at all! 'specially not for you, ya bastard."

Time passes, Dino is now fully working as a drug coriour for the two cops.  We then cut to Red Crow meeting with Jigger the head of the local Bureau for Indian Affairs.  He says it's in his interest that the reservation flourishes and what's this he hears about the Hmong?  Red Crow says the discussion is over, then Jigger drops a bombshell, "you got a Fed in your house."  He's probably working for Nitz and has been there for a few months.  Red Crow yells "it's bullshit!"  And drives off.

Back thirty-five years ago.  Red Crow is confronting Reggie about being with the FBI.  Reggie protests his innocence, but Red Crow demands to know why and hopes it wasn't merely for money.  As Reggie continues to deny it Red Crow grabs him round the throat and starts choking him:

Red Crow: "First thing you learn when you witness a killing is that it ain't at all like it is in the movies.  In the westerns I watched as a kid, a cowboy'd take an arrow in the back and instantly fall over dead.  First man I killed.. I had to strangle for eleven minutes."

We see him stumble away from Reggie's corpse as he thinks how there is no honour or glory in killing. Just the dying howls and them shitting their pants. Sometimes you do to, sometimes exhausted, sometimes jacked on adrenaline.  And in the end you stand over something that doesn't look human anymore and you swear you'll never do it again, "and sometimes you might even believe that lie".
Red Crow's first kill.
There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe all life is precious and there there are others like him who "accept the cold hard fact that sometimes people have to die for the greater good."  That's the world he sees and the only way he's never known how to be.  We then see him kneeling on a prayer mat with Gina's soul bundle in front of him as he prays and thinks, "I'm trying Gina.  I promise you I am.  I'm trying to be something different."

Three year ago Dino is making out with his girlfriend, she tells him to put a condom on but he promises her he won't come inside her.  Cut to the present and his daughter Angie is crying away, Dino is on the phone and tells Granny to deal with her.  Granny says Angie has an ear infection so Dino tosses her some cash for medicine.

Granny says his job cleaning up at the casino doesn't pay this well and she warns him that after the last time he got in trouble with the law she said if it happened again she'd kick him out of the house for good.  She says if she finds out he's dealing drugs she'll call the cops on him herself, Dino says not to worry "I work for the police now".  They are waiting outside and Dino gets in the back with a big box of deliveries to make that day.

Time goes by as he works as the drug delivery boy.  As he does so he remembers that one day an astronaut came to their classs and talked about walking on the moon.  Dino became obssessed with being like him, dreaming of flying through space.  He thinks it's funny that all those years spent dreaming and here he is all those years later "and I can't even get the fuck out of Shannon County, South Dakota".

They make one more stop to the home of an old man called Andy Short Bear.  His son owed them money but he's in a coma in hospital so the two cops say his debt has passed on to him and start beating him when he refuses to pay.  Andy recognises Dino and asks what he is doin with these "hoodlums".  As they beat him some more, Dino runs outside.

An accidental knife to the face.,
Andy grabs a knife and swings at the two cops before making a beeline for the door.  Unfortunately he crashes into Dino and accidentally stabs himself in the face, much to the two cops amusement and Dino's horror.  Later they drop Dino off and he stashes his money before washing the blood off his hands and checking his daughter.

Next day Dino is phoned by his parole officer Falls Down who is up in Kansas on the Gina Bad Horse murder.  He niggles at Dino asking if he is in any trouble which Dino denies. He says the cops Granny has seen him with are "two degenerates".  Dino denies any wrong doing again.  Then he gets pissed off and says no one is stepping forward to pay his bills or give him a better job so he can get of the rez and get his daughter what she needs.  Then he tells him to leave him the fuck alone unless he has a warrant and slams the phone down. Falls Down mutters "damn it, son.. you ain't ever getting of the rez"

Sometime later Dino is being observed making drug deliveries by Mr. Brass and his two bodyguards, he says the people here are like animals.  When Dino gets him Granny tosses his things out of the house in a bag saying "you don't live here anymore."  His sister is in the hospital from smoking God knows what and may lose the baby.  Dino brought the junk into their house and she can't have it here no more. Dino tries to come in and get his daughter but Granny says she is staying here.

Granny: "It ain't safe for her to be around you.  I'm sorry if you can't see that.  I put all your money in that bag.  We don't want any more of it here.  God be with you boy".

And she closes the door on him, leaving him alone in the road before he picks up his things and walks away.  The two cops pull up behind him and asks if he wants a life.  When Dino declines and tells him he quits they get nasty and point a gun at him so he gets in the car.
Granny tosses Dino out.
As they drive they discuss Shunka's orders to lay low for a while, but as Red Crow don't pay their bills they gotta look out for themselves.  While they talk, Dino thinks about people like his Granny who are old and live in walking distance of where they were born.  But he never wanted that life, he was never happy on the rez and thought he was destined for something bigger.

They park up outside the Badlands Cafe and go inside.  Dino goes to the bathroom to wash up as he thinks life is all about luck.  Some folks get to be astronauts "and then some folks get the kinda luck that sucks dick".

Dino: "They get born with the deck stacked against them and can't never seem to catch no breaks. Some folks just get fucked by fate.  Fucked 'til it hurts.  Fucks 'til it bleeds.  Fucked 'til it kills ya."

And over this narration we see the two cops lying dead, their throats slasheds.  Mr. Brass is standing there smiling as usual and says politely to Dino, "I want to talk about your future."
Uh oh.
Thirty-five years ago Gina slaps Red Crow when she realises he had something to do with the disappearance of Reggie Standing Rock.  Red Crow says he was FBI and moves to hold Gina, who tells him "no! Don't touch me!"  Don't ever touch me again!" And she walks away into the snow. 

In the present Shunka is itching for a fight with the Hmongs.  Under false pretences he lures Red Crow to a place where he has been keeping the bodies of the two kids Mr. Brass murdered.  Shunka introduce them as James Dowd and Geraldine Standing Rock.  He thought Red Crow might want to meet them.

He then shows the wounds on them saying the were inflicted pre-mortem while he was raping them, "he fucked and stabbed them to death, all at the same time."  He made the girl watch what he did to the boy then did her the same, does he want to know where they found the semen inside her.  Red Crow yells at Shunka to pack his things and get off the rez which doesn't seem to bother Shunka much.  Indeed later as he is packing, Red Crow comes up and asks where Brass is.

We then join Red Crow back where this arc started in his car outside the Badlands Cafe.  He apologises to Gina's soul bundle and goes inside gun in hand.  There he finds Mr. Brass in the process of tearing out Dino's eye.  He seems pleased to see Red Crow saying "I was just re-educating a few of your citizens".

Red Crow tells him to put the knife down as he points his gun at them.  Mr. Brass enquires as to if he's lost his mind.  But Red Crow says he's has enough of the Hmong on his rez they are done here.  Then he shoots one of the goons right in the head,  And gunfire between him and the second breaks out.
Red Crow may be old but he can still move.
The other goon gets ahold of Red Crow and the roll around on the floor kicking and punching unti Red Crow uses a knife to pin the man to the floor then blows his brains out.  Mr. Brass drops the knife as he says Red Crow would never dare shoot him.  Angrily Red Crow says fuck him and "every piece of shit member of your cocksucking mongrel fucking race!"  Brass calls him a stupid man saying stupid things and gets pistol whipped by Red Crow breaking his nose.  Red Crow then tells him "you're under arrest you sick little fuck".

Back in the past, seventeen years ago, Red Crow has paid an impromtu visit to Gina's house.  Dash is sleeping and Red Crow comments he looks like an angel.  Then he says to Gina that he is running for tribal council and wants to count on her support because he has heard she's been speaking out against him.  She says she won't let him worm his way into politics she wants the whole rez to know what he's capable of.  But he draws his gun and points it as the sleeping Dash saying "what exactly am I capable of, Gina?"

He says just because he used to fuck her doesn't mean he'll let her stand in his way now.  She is to stay out of his affairs, "the reservation needs a man like me whether you like it or not".  He finishes up by making a threat to hurt Dash if she doesn't play along then leaves and she slumps to the ground in distress. Back in the present.

Red Crow: "My name is Lincoln Red Crowm, and I consider myself an honourable man. Spiritual.  Respectful of my elders. Kind to animals.  A tender lover.  Benevolent politician".

But none of that makes him a nice guy as we see images of Dino in hospital with a banaged eye and Granny Poor Bear with him.  He's killed a lot of people in pursuit of his dream and he'd kill a hundred more to see his vision through,  "to carve a better place in this world for my people".  We see an image of Mr. Brass in a jail cell nursing his broken nose.

That's who he is and that's all he always be. He does what he does because someone has too, and if it doesn't make him popular so be it.  No one will shed tears when he dies, but that's all right, "ghosts are best forgotten anyway.  Who's got time to worry about the dead?  It's trouble enough just trying to live."  And we see Granny Poor Bear receive a package, it has Gina's soul bundle in it.  And that brings this volume to an end.
Gina's soul returned.
So lots to take in here.  I will first off say I think the first arc is let down by the art.  David Furno's crude charcoally style doesn't come off very well when placed against Guera's meticulous and beautiful work.  That said, lets move onto the plot.  We're finally given the very good reason Gina loathes her father, killing her baby and boyfriend in one fell swoop leading to a hard drugs habit that Dash, not a person we have seen deal at all well with th guilt and pressure he's come under, has decided to take up and it'll be affecting him through several volumes to come.  Red Crow is once again at odds with the only people who could make him look like a good guy, the Hmongs.  Dino once again ends up being the woobie of the series as he has now been tortured and lost an eye as well. Shunka also gets some credit for having the balls to stand up to Red Crow and admit Mr. Brass is a problem.  Of course with him in prison now, word is going to get back to Johnny Tongue and the crew he runs which means the possibility of a gang war being brought on to the reservation as well.  Finally Granny entrusting Gina's soul bundle to Red Crow in the vain hope it would force him to live a better life failed.  Red Crow finally knows what he is, and he isn't going to change, not for anyone.  As he says at the end, living is the problem not listening to ghosts from the past. Interestingly the scene where he points a gun at the sleeping Dash would appear to be around when Gina decided to send him away from the rez.  It's not stated outright but one can make that inference. Once again Jason Aaron mixes action with strong and detailed character work while R,M Guera delivers grittily gorgeous artwork perfectly suited to the story.  So join me, techinical issues not withstanding, for "High Lonesome" in a few days time.