And so we come to the conclusion of the sixty issue Vertigo series Scalped about the fictional Prairie Rose Indian reservation. In the previous volume the tribal leader and casino owner Red Crow had decided to shut down his criminal drugs empire after reconnecting with his spiritual roots. FBI agent Dashiell Bad Horse, undercover on the rez to catch Red Crow committing murder, finally was able to arrest him when Red Crow shot and killed his second-in-command Shunka who was trying to kill Dash. Red Crow had taken Dash under his wing and was grooming him to be a tribal leader after him, but all Dash wanted was to do his job and get off the rez he hated. The reason he was there was that FBI agent Nitz blamed Red Crow for the murder and scalping of two FBI agents in the 70's who were mentors and friends of his. Actually the real murderer was a man called Catcher, who also murdered Dash's mum Gina when she confronted him about outing him as the real murderer. He went on the run after escaping jail in the previous book when a prisoner managed to grab a gun and shot and killed several people including Wade, Dash's father. Dino Poor Bear also committed murder when he shot Sheriff Karnow in the back of the head, having become embittered by his unrequited love for Carol, who is now part of the Poor Bear family studying the traditional ways under Granny Poor Bear. So Red Crow has been arrested, but it's by no means all over, so let's wrap things up.
|Dash arresting Red Crow.|
We then jump to eight months later. Agent Nitz wakes after enjoying a night with several sex workers and greets the day with a big grin. Red Crow's casino is shut down and deserted still by order of the FBI. Dino Poor Bear and friends drink beer under a poster asking for information regarding Sheriff Karnow's death and Maggie Standing Rock is addressing a crowd of people and reporters about some positive news she has.
She introduces the new Sheriff, Franklin Falls Down, who pretty much deserved it after all he went through. And he starts with a Lakota prayer. Which cuts to Red Crow in his cell on his knees praying. He's called to see his lawyer and the lawyer says he hopes he was praying for a miracle "because that's what it's gonna take to get you out of here".
|Eight months later.|
They watch Falls Down digging into the ground and Maggie asks what he thinks. He says Falls Down will make a great sheriff. She says he will but that's not what she means. They are breaking ground for the erection of the "Gina Bad Horse Memorial Community Centre and Powwow Grounds" which Dash paid $80,000 for. He tells Maggie, "I think she would have loved it. That's all that matters."
Back with Red Crow and his lawyer, they go over the charges. The money laundering and corruption ones can be made to go away, but in three days time Dash is going to testify that Red Crow shot Shunka because Shunka had become disgruntled and tried to kill Red Crow. Red Crow looks angry saying what he did was save Dash's life. His lawyer says "Yes. Well, in retrospect... perhaps you shouldn't have."
In the crowd at the site of the new community centre, Granny Poor Bear sees Carol looking at Dash and asks if she is going to talk to him or just stare all day? Carol says that "there's nothing I miss about the way I used to be. Nothing at all".
Granny Poor Bear: "I know that. But you ain'y in jail neither. He's changed, just like you have. That's easy enough to see. Took him damn long enough though didn't it?"
Carol goes looking for Dash, but sees him and Maggi kissing passionately and so she leaves them alone and walks back to the crowd.
|Dash and Maggie.|
It's night and a man has taken Dash to the skeletal remains of Festus, Catcher's horse that he shot in the head. Dash checks the site saying "I'm not looking for a horse. I'm looking for te dog that killed it." But it alls seems to be in vain as he visits the graves of his mum and dad and apologises for not finding Catcher.
At Maggie's place he lays out his investigation but tells her there's been no sign of Catcher on the rez for eight months. Maggie say she guesses that means he's leaving, but he holds her chin and says:
Dash: "Now why would I wanna go and leave... when I was just starting to like it here."
And they kiss. Red Crow's lawyer reports about Dash that he left the FBI, donated the money to build a community centre and has moved in with Maggie. Guy is squeaky clean, even goes to church.
He goes on to say to Red Crow, who is pissed about Dash lying about leaving the rez, that he needs an answer regarding smearing Dash. Red Crow says "no". He tells his lawyer to figure out a way to get him out of prison without messing with Dash. He says he's protecting the rez by protecting Dash. His lawyer says he'll die in jail, "maybe... but at least I'll do it like a goddamn man and not a dog" says Red Crow.
Speaking of dogs, Dash wakes to find several wild dogs in the living room. One of them drops a human bone by his feet as he chases them off. We then cut to the rest of the pack and they have uneartherd a skeleton in The Badlands. It's Diesel's.
Red Crow: "I know that. I accept it. But I refuse to simply wither away. I will not slowly rot. I will not crumble. Yes I will die in prison. But I will die with dignity."
On the way to the showers another prisoner hands off a scalpel to him. Once inside the showers he starts speaking Lakota until all the other prisoners file out leaving him alone. And he starts to cut his wrist.
|Red Crow starts to commit suicide.|
Dash has followed the dogs and relives torturing, murdering and burying Diesel as he does so. He gets close to the grave site but people are already there investigating it. Meanwhile Red Crow's lawyer is talking to the rez gang bangers about finding something on Dash they can use. Dino says the problem is Red Crow doesn't hate Dash. But he knows a way to make Red Crow hate him even more than betraying and arresting him. At Diesel's grave site,Falls Down says's it's definitely murder unless they know of a dog that can shoot a pistol.
Falls Down asks the other man how he found the body, the man says he hit a dog that was on the road with a femur bone in its mouth and so he walked out that way and began looking. There were fifty dogs there, "it's a wonder he ain't strewn across The Badlands." They start gathering evidence and Falls Down says he'll call the FBI when he is sure its a murder, which it totally is.
Catcher shoots the tied up ex-tribal elder through the head saying that he was no protector of the rez or its people, "that's still my job". Then he leaves with around ten wild dogs in tow. Red Crow is called to the phone to speak to his lawyer while still cutting his wrist. But he decides to take the call anyway.
|Abortion makes Red Crow mad.|
Falls Down returns to the police station and tells his secretary to get agent Nitz on the phone. Then he sees a package on the table, dropped off by Dino, it's got a bagged up pistol and a photo of Diesel's shot to pieces body in it. Falls Down can can only say "Jesus fucking Christ."
At Maggie's house she sees Dash kneeling in the garden praying. He tells her he doesn't deserve her, he isn't the person she thinks he is, "I've done some very bad things." He starts trying to explain, but Falls Down appears and asks to speak with Dash in private. He tells Dash that he was sent a gun and the bullets match those that killed the person buried in the Badlands, Diesel. And Dash's fingerprints are on the gun.
Falls Down says he is here because he owes Dash, who saved his life twice. He's here to give him a small windown of time to do something before this murder becomes official, "time to figure things out, To be ready to explain yourself. Or hell... not be here at all."
He leaves and a panicking Dash says to himself he has to run, leave tonight and never come back, "Maggie. Oh God, what do I tell Maggie." Then she calls him in to hear a news report on the family Catcher killed, and Dash knows it's Catcher from the words he wrote on the trailer the family were in, "Maya Owicha Paka". And Dash knows Catcher is back and he can't leave the rez until he is dead.
|Nitz gets mad as a well.|
We cut to Falls Down at Maggie's farm. She says she hasn't seen Dash and anyway why isn't he chasing Catcher instead. He's killed nine people now, four tribal council members, three wives, two kids. Falls Down says he is hunting him too, he's driven over more of the rez in the past two weeks than he had in the previous forty. He hasn't been home for daysm he sleeps in an empty cell, "don't blame me 'cause I have to be here Maggie. Blame your goddamn boyfriend." He leaves noting that one of her horses is missing... Which is tethered close by the burned out husk of Catcher's old trailer. Dash is living inside.
Dash: "During the day, I lie on the ground where my mother was murdered and pretend to sleep. As soon as night fallls, I get to work. Trying to salvage the wreck I've made of my life."
As he mounts the horse, he thinks that he doesn't care about clearing his name, he did do what the papers said he did. And he'd do it again, but killing Diesel wasn't where he went wrong, "my mistake was in who I left alive". And Catcher watches him froma ridge saying "Looks like the boy's finally come around."
|Dash gets to work.|
Inside Maggie's house the FBI are tearing it apart looking for evidence of where Dash might be. Falls Down ushers her outside after Nitz threatens her as well. Dash then calls her on her mobile. She says she doesn't believe what they are saying about him. He tells her ever since he was born on the rez he found reasons to hate it.
Dash: "You gave me reasons to love it. I wanted to thank you for that... Just promise me one thing. Promise you'll try not to hate me,, when you hear about the things I've done. And the things I'm about to do."
He hangs up and looking at himself in the mirror and starts shaving his hair off with his combat knife. Then he mounts his horse and rides off.
That night he goes to the graveyard and he yells out that he knows Red Crow is there too. He says he is not here to kill him, he just wants to talk. Red Crow says he doesn't believe him, everything he told him has been a lie. Dash says they can shoot each other or call it even, he put Red Crow in jail, and now Red Crow has him headed there soon enough. They should concentrate on something more important, Catcher.
Dash says he intends to find him tonight and kill him, and he could use some help. He says Red Crow promised him they would find her killer together and make him pay, he might be a liar, but he's depending on Red Crow being a man of his word. Red Crow falls silent, Dash takes this for acceptance but then as he walks towards him Red Crow shoots him in the shoulder.
Red Crow: "You wanna make peace? You shoulda thought about that before you murdered my grandchild!"
Dash takes cover and shouts that he doesn't know what Red Crow is talking about, Red Crow rants that he knows about the abortion. Dash is confused, what abortion? Then it hits him that Carol was pregnant and didn't tell him. And his denials convince Red Crow that Dash didn't know about the abortion so he leaves. Dash staggers on saying he didn't need him, he'll get Catcher himself but he collapses and Catcher looms over him saying "will ya now?"
|Red Crow waits for the inevitable.|
Dino: "I for one think it's time to stop sitting around waiting for scraps from the table and start pulling up a chair of our own... meaning we find Red Crow tonight. We take every fucking dime he has. And if he doesn't like it... we kill him."
Dash comes around in Catcher's truck. His wound has been bandaged but he's tied up. He rages at Catcher who tells him to stop being ungrateful, he's patched him up, given him a ride and now he's going to kill a man for him...
Dino's gang break into Red Crow's casino office. There is money pile don the table. Red Crow is hiding as says that it's all the money he has left, if they want it all they have to do is reach out and take it. One does so and gets shot through the throat. Dino orders the others to spread out and find Red Crow.
Red Crow says that this isn't the first time Dino came into his office looking for money. Dino says it will be the last. Red Crow says he knew someone would come after his money he just hand't pegged Dino as the smart one. And he comes out of cover, firing two guns and with a knife between his teeth.
|Catcher brings Dash to the fight.|
Upstairs Red Crow is systematically taking out his attackers by gun and knife. He shouts at Dino about saving his life when Dino lost his eye. "I never asked you to" says Dino as they back out of the office. Then Catcher appears shooting at them saying no one kills Red Crow but him. Suddenly a pack of wild dogs come running towards the casino and attack the men who were going to kill Dash. Dash then kicks the shit out them and as the dogs run into the casino, Dash manages to get his hands unbound. Inside he bumps into Dino and asks him what he is doing. Dino says "I'm getting what I deserve. Now you will too".
We then get four panels with insight into what each man is thinking. Red Crow thought he'd rise above the fighting one day, he was a fool. Catcher thinks that one day he killed the woman he loved, but now his last chance to make good with his ancestors is to kill the right man. Dash thinks everybody deserves to die, himself especially. And finally Dino, fashioning a molotov cocktail out of a bottle of booze and some dollar bills thinks, "fuck every fucking one of 'em."
In the graveyard, the FBI are investigating the shots fire there. One agent has a file that just came from the agency that Nitz really needs to see. Nitz keeps interrupting him saying they have to find Dash. But the agent gets through to him and says the knife wound from the tribal council member's family made by the knife of Arthur Pendergrass aka Catcher also match the knife wounds made to the two dead FBI agents back in the 70's. As Nitz looks over the file, he is told there are reports of shots fired at the casino. And Nitz takes off in his car alone.
A vengeful looking Nitz strides into the burning casino, no doubt reflecting on a life chasing the wrong man, hating the wrong man, letting the real culprit go unpunished. He is really pissed. The three men inside all have flashes of memories of Gina then all three pull the triggers.
Catcher takes two bullets to the chest, and he realises it's all over for him. He thinks about how he had a vision that someday he'd kill a lot of people and took it to mean he'd be a great warrior. It wasn't what he wanted, he wanted to be a writer and "write stories about elves and dwarves and heroes on epic quests". He wanted to create not destroy, but it wasn't the will of the Great Spirit and that was all that mattered to him.
He wanders off, while Red Crow lies on the floor and asks why Dash shot him when he turned his gun on Catcher. Dash says that makes them even. Dash sees Catcher walking away and imagines himself filling him with bullets and then scalping him. But he doesn't do it, Nitz comes walking in and Dash lets him go after Catcher instead.
|Nitz and Catcher go down in flames together.|
Catcher: "My name is Arthur James Pendergrass. People called me Catcher. I listened to the voices in my head. I leave this world worse off than I found it. I was either a prophet or a murderer. I don't know which, but either way... I die a goddamn fool."
Dash meanwhile carries Red Crow out of the back of the casino. Red Crow thanks him, but Dash says he didn't do it for him. "I miss her too kid" says Red Crow. Dash says he is going now, Red Crow pleads with him to stay. He can make Dash's murder charge disappear. He says Dash belongs here, and he need a heir. Dash speaks Lakota to him and departs.
Three months later, there is a big funeral going on with lots of attendees. Falls Down is there as is Maggie, she is quiet and sad and tells Falls Down she hasn't seen Dash. She asks why he is still chasing him, Falls Down says he killed a federal agent "that doesn't just go away." He asks if he is still on the rez, Maggie says he can't let them take him away, "it would kill him to leave this place now". Then she clutches her mouth and stomach and runs off.
Carol watches her go, then organises the Poor Bears for going to the cemetary. Dino's kid Angie is asking after her daddy. Carol says Dino is "busy" right now, but she'll hold her hand the whole way. They walk back into the main room and a woman comes up to Carol saying she thinks her son is on drugs and is stealing from neighbours and she doesn't know what to do. Carol says she should come by the house and they'll make some tobacco ties together. She should also find out what her son is using, if she can't find out, bring some of his trash and she'll know. After that comes the hard part but she'll do her best to help, she promises. The woman says "thankyou. Thank you Mamma Poor Bear". Carol walks to the coffin saying "don't thank me". And inside it is Granny Poor Bear, finally at rest.
|RIP Granny Poor Bear.|
|Red Crow's new life.|
Red Crow: "I'd forgotten how quiet it gets out here. No slot machines ringing or shitty old cars roaring. No FBI crawling through the walls like rats. No gunshots. Out here you can't hear nothing. Nothing but the turning of the Earth".
The FBI smash there way into Maggies house. She's sitting distraught in the bathroom. A pregnancy test next to her and it's positive.
We end this book and this series with Dash sitting on a hill thinking about all the good things he remembered about growing up on the rez, the good things he had forgotten about.
|There was always good there when he chose to remember.|
Dash: "I've been all over the world from one shitty corner to the next. I've spent a lifetime trying to get as far away from this place as I could get. I'm sorry momma. Sorry it took me so long to realise. This is where I belong. This is the only home I'll ever have."
He hitches a lift from a passing car, the driver asks where he is headed and Dash says "I wish I knew". And the final image is the car driving past the sign saying "You are now leaving Prairie Rose Reservation".
A spectacular conclusion to a spectacular series. There have been two major plot threads running through the series, firstly that a person can change, but second that your past will always catch up to you. Dash was going to be denied a happy ending the moment he put that first bullet in Diesel. Meanwhile it does feel somewhat karmic that Nitz, after years of focusing on the wrong man would give up his life to end that of Catcher and it's interesting that Dash stood by and let him have that revenge too when he had just as much of a right to kill Catcher too. The insight into Catcher's mind, his doubts over the fact he might actually be mentally ill and not choosen by the Great Spirit to carry out killings in it's name, are interesting. The revelation that he only wanted to be a writer sparks some sympathy but otherwise he was a monster who deserved being shot and burned to death. Dash had always been subtley making his peace with life back on the rez so it doesn't feel too odd that after the eight month gap he'd be as involved as he was. Some development of Maggie might have been nice, previously she was last seen spitting in Dash's face for being Red Crow's lapdog, but I think we can infer that he arresting Red Crow would have reversed her opinion of him. And Carol gets a beautiful ending, taking over Granny Poor Bear's work as the resident knower of the old ways. To balance that out we have Dino, now it seems de facto leader of the rez's criminal element. And I quite liked Red Crow's final fate. Taking a lesson from Hazel and Mance's story, he now listens to the turning of the Earth. Yes he's somewhat of a Karma Houdini, but I just think his story ended the right way somehow.
Overall this is one of the best series I have covered so far. It was very much a character piece, building a set of people round Dash's storyline who you found more and more about as time went on. Although the story was very grim in places, it never forgot that there was good aspects to rez life, those aspects becoming more apparent as Dash's opinions changed over the course of the story. It didn't shy away from heavy topics like drug use and abortion, treating them without judgement but just as logical extensions of the choices the characters would make. It didn't sugar coat the struggles and poverty experience by Indians and the opening of the casino proved to be nothing more than a way to funnel cash into Red Crow's pocket rather than benefit the rez itself. And what of Nitz's vendetta? We had already found out why the agents were on the rez, but his focus on Red Crow, the source of all his hatred and yet innocent of the crime he wants him punished for, proved to be his folly even though it drove much of the action during the overall storyline. He gets balanced out by Officer Falls Down, a good and uncorrupted man who nevertheless will do the job asked of him and arrest Dash. Dash, once he hated the rez, but as his good memories return and the place becomes almost free of criminality he can't think of anywhere else he wants to live. But now he has to, leaving a pregnant girlfriend behind too. It's a sad ending for him, but this story has always been described as a noir and those never have happy endings for the main character so perhaps it was expected. Anyway, I can't praise writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M. Guera enough for giving us a complex situation full of well rounded characters and exciting action. It's another series the Vertigo label can be proud of hosting.