Tuesday, February 26, 2008


VOL. 1: Indian Country
DC/Vertigo Comics

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: R.M. Guera
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Will Denis
Covers: Jock

I read the first issue on the Vertigo site a while ago, and really was not very impressed. The art made it very hard to understand at least the first half of the book. It was not bad, nor exactly out of place for the story, it just seemed a bit too free of hand, as I was not sure who was who, nor doing what to whom, until I reread it about 3 times. And after seeing some of Guera's other art, I will lay the blame on the colorist, as his other stuff is beyond gorgeous. His work here reminds me of the work of the late Jorge Zaffino, most notably his work on The Punisher Graphic Novel The Assassin's Guild, only with the red, orange and yellow shades of the expansive desert replacing the urban grit hues of blue, gray and black. I only wish his line work was a bit cleaner and offered more expression, though after reading the whole TPB, I can begrudgingly admit his art does echo the tone of detachment that is pervasive throughout the story.

But after my initial reading, I figured this would be a book I would skip and not worry about. But the praise that others in the comic industry have heaped on it and the strength of Aaron's other work I have read, The Other Side, which I completely and thoroughly enjoyed, made me rethink this. So I finally read the first TPB over the weekend to see if it improved.

Well the first issue was still hard to get through. Though the disorientation might have been intentional, as the introduction of the main character is as jarring to the reservation community as to the reader. As a single issue, i am not sure that it works, but as a part to the whole story, it sets up the story nicely. I just find it too bad that writing for the trade is the main thrust of comic bookdom . There are too many dangling pieces in the 1st issue, not really questions, as there are those as well, but just things that do not line up with the story, or at least it seems. A minor point really, as I am reading the trade, but it does echo another reason why I was dismissive of the story when I first read it.

Overall I am quite glad I opted to give this a second try, as the book plunges into a far grittier reality than I gave it credit for and while I am not exactly enamored by any of the characters, nor do I think I was intended to be, I am overly curious to what is going to happen to them. I will present the issues I had with the book first, get it out of the way, before I get to the good stuff, as other than the dusty pallor from the art, there really are not many problems with the book. The biggest is that even though it runs through two story lines (a 3 and 2 parter), there is no sense of an ending, as the ending is nothing more than a prompt to return to the buffet for seconds. And while I can understand the desire to reel in return readers, this just seems desperate. The story is compelling enough for me to want to return for more. This ploy just stank of over the top sloppy storytelling. The final few pages would have been amazing as the first few of the next story line, as they are exhilarating as the buckshot violence scattered throughout this book. It would have been akin to the first blast of a fire fight breaking up one of the numerous meth labs within this story. Here, it just falls flat, like an extraneous dead body in any of the aforementioned fire fights.

The other issues I have are really just questions about things that should become clearer as the story goes on. And in fact this issue of murkiness is really quite prevalent throughout this book. And really this story telling trick would make far more sense in a book taking place in a swamp than the dust bowl of South Dakota reservation life. It impinges too much on the central urgency of the book, which Arron really demonstrated well in the second and third issues, by framing it with linear jump cuts of ever increasing tension and decreasing time to a final hail storm of bullets. And while he really was able to aptly drive this portion of the story, the other elements, which to the main story are far more relevant drift off to the margins.

Aaron's construction of his main character, Dashiell Bad Horse, is the biggest strength this book possesses. While Bad Horse is far from a likable person, he is an amazingly compelling character. He could easily have been constructed as or fallen into a parody, as he is yet another prodigal son returning home. And of course he has baggage, all prodigal sons must have baggage... only his shines brightly in the sun and glistens with blinding reflection from his FBI badge. He is here to infiltrate his old tribe as it bores through its past and prepares to get rich off Casino Gambling. He also is the son of a Indian activist in the vein of AIM who was present when two FBI agents were killed, a'la the Leonard Peltier case. And of course, his FBI handler still holds a grudge that he was unable to put Bad Horse's mother or the away for the murders.

The plot, murkiness issues aside, is a compelling one. Bad Horse is there to enact his handlers forsaken justice and deal with his own scars from spending 13 years embedded in the Badlands. His twitchy impulse for violence, ready to implode at any moment, and near death wish force situations that could be paved over, like the desert for the foundations of the casino, to literally seep with tension. The next book in the series seems to deal more with Bad Horse's history, which I am sure will answer some questions raised in this book, but for now he plows through the land and the story leaving just enough of a semblance of what is going on.

One puts down the book eager to return to the reservation to see where the next dead bodies will land and just how an area as scared as the Badlands can heal if it were awash in Casino dollars. I will be back to read the next book at least.

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