Welcome to the Heavy Spoilers show, im your host Deffinition and with Jason Aaron’s Thor Run currently hammering home just how good the character is, we’d thought we’d break down the top 5 graphic novels by the writer that you need to pick up after reading the main series.
Throughout this video friend of the show and Aaron expert, Tom Kwei, is going to be letting you know which books you need to check out if you can’t get enough of the main series.
This is some of the creators best work and each one of these deserves your attention.
With that out the way I just wanna give a huge thank you for clicking the video now let’s get into the breakdown of the Top 5 Jason Aaron’s book to pick up after Thor: God Of Thunder.
Firstly, just to say outright that Scalped is my all-time favourite comic ever. It made me a Jason Aaron fan for life and ultimately lead to me checking out the rest of this list. I mean I liked it so much I actually bought the hardcovers after having the trades.
So Scalped was an ongoing noir crime series running on Vertigo from March 2007 – August 2012 that ran for 60 issues entirely. It focuses on the Ogala Lakota inhabitants of the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation – a world of organized crime, drug addiction, rampant poverty, local politics and proud cultural identity and much like Dicken’s London or David Simon’s Baltimore, The Rez, feels a character unto itself.
One who’s epic sprawl encapsulates everyone from Chief Lincoln Red Crow, the present of the Tribal Council and corrupt head of the criminal empire feeding off the Reservation, to Dino, a single dad who struggles to make ends meet cleaning up Lincoln’s Casino and who Is eventually engulfed into the crime world itself.
At the centre of the story though and main character is Dashiell Bad Horse, someone who left the Rez 15 years ago because of its horrors only to return to find it even worse: he’s changed however. Issue 1 reveals that Dash is back to bring down Red Crow as a double agent for FBI – I would say spoilers but this heavy spoilers, right? This part of the book is a particular highlight and Dash’s constant terror on being caught and awareness of all the lines he’s crossing is heady
This is just one of a dozen of electrifying threads throughout the pages of Scalped. Every character you encounter throughout the book is skilfully drawn in both senses, you want to learn more from each and Aaron isn’t shy with the flashbacks. These don’t ultimately detract Lindelof style though, rather inform the story intelligently making us reassess characters throughout the narratives.
Nitz for example, the cigar chomping, binge drinking FBI handler in charge of Dash’s post is at first a blowhard asshole, the type Aaron has a unique skill in writing, but when you learn about his relationship with the murdered FBI agents that were involved in a shoot-out by Red Crow and Dash’s mom Gina, amongst others, 30 years ago (something based on a real case), you start to see the character as a blowhard with conviction.
Aaron is superb at redemption arcs too and showing lessons learned through attrition, which we see in microcosm through Karnow, a character encountered briefly in an early issues and one we learn quickly is a charlatan. Able to impress his small town of South Dakota just across the border that he is a war hero but this is something that instantly doesn’t cut mustard is Dash. We learn he is a fraud but one who eventually redeems himself and goes on the hunt through the night to settle it with Red Crow in the endgame.
The weaving of tone is intoxicating, Aaron and Guera as comfortable in a high noon brawl or deep underworld discussions to spiritual leanings into Native American history. I did think early on knowing that there were 60 issues how is he going to keep up this intensity but for the most art the whole run is a white knuckle ride with Aaron constantly throwing exciting developments into the mix and forgoing expectations. The Book is unflinching, depicting harrowing drug use, drunken sex and other peccadillos amongst it and I love the unvarnished approach. Nothing is left on the table or kept under it.
Aaron feels so confident writing this world that he even takes a small detour between a nook amidst arcs to focus on an elderly couple that live far out in the reservation – the writing here is sparse and lyrical with the overall story tender and captivating
I could really go on and on about all the characters and may do more Scalped videos as a whole, but this is really to give you a fragmented overview of sorts as to why you should read this spellbinding, rich, earthy, inspired piece of art. And not least is the work by R.M Guerra himself which is astonishing.
Scratchy and vivid, flinty and expressive I’m in constant awe turning these pages. there’s other good artists on this including someone we’ll get to in a moment, Jason Latour, but Guera’s work is just stunning – mature, grimy vision shot with clarity. All of the characters feel well realised.
In another tale of a reprehensible individual at the top of a devoutly corrupt enterprise masquerading as a barely legal one comes Southern Bastards, Aaron’s bittersweet address to the South – a comic that simultaneously celebrates the beauty of that world whilst also demonstrating all its rotten practices.
The setting is Craw County, a world of BBQs, criminal enterprise and most importantly, football, football football. And the man at the centre of every pass and payoff is Coach Boss – a man who has dragged himself through so much dirt to get to the top he can never be clean.
Not as nourish or complex perhaps as Scalped, the series is still right up there with Aaron’s best in the way that it balances and out and out sports drama against a thrilling action-story replete with characters with more flesh than the cooking on offer at the Boss BBQ.
Jason Latour absolutely knocks it out of the park with this deep fried art style, his antebellum colours rich and greasy. The two Jason’s worked together on Scalped and Aaron clearly saw a kindred spirit with his vision.
Despite being grounded in thick stereotypes the comic is a constant surprise. Who you are set to believe is the main character is killed early on for example with his daughter later entering the fray for revenge. Aaron is a master of setting multiple motivations around a single event, like in Scalped where all the different people of Prairie Rose circulate around the opening of the casino here the residents of Craw County are built expertly leading up to a big game for the Rebs, Coach’s team and the beating heart of the story.
Volume 2 however Gridiron, telling the story of how this supposed pipsqueak in coach boss rose not only to play football to a high level but manage it too is exhilarating, with more twists than an American football play that I’m never going to understand.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN
By Crom! Jason Aaron and Conan The Barbarian is just a match made in heaven isn’t it? I didn’t know if in Conan lore there was another name for heaven so I did a bit of research and turns out there isn’t, but he did once fight a bear from heaven back in 1980 which is what I’d like to see when I die.
Magical journeys, outrageous beasts, rippling muscles, it’s all here.
And as I say, prior to this my Conan knowledge was little more than the movie and some feverish Joe Rogan endorsements but I loved this and from what I can tell old school fans of the series feel like this could be a lost manuscript of the days of yore.
For those not in the know, Conan is essentially the ultimate fantasy warrior and Aron demonstrates this in the first panel by showing Conan being born on a battlefield with his mother cutting the umbilical cord with a knife that no doubt is soon to be plunged into an enemies’ throat asap. So metal!
There are no real interweaving plotlines or deep rumination on character motivations and backstories – there are giant snake beheadings however, so what do you want?
THE OTHER SIDE
This was essentially Jason AARON’S breakthrough and his first meaty piece of work
His cousin, Gustav Hasford, who wrote the semi-autobiographical novel The Short-Timers (1979), on which the feature film Full Metal Jacket (1987) was based, was a large influence on Aaron.
Aaron’s breakthrough and first proper work – mention his cousin writing full metal jacket
In 2006, Aaron made a blind submission to Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, who published his first major work, the Vietnam War story The Other Side, which was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Miniseries, and which Aaron regards as the “second time” he broke into the industry. Following this, Vertigo asked him to pitch other ideas, which led to the series Scalped, a creator-owned series set on the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation drawn by R. M. Guéra.
The Other Side tells the story of two Vietnam war soldiers. One American, Billy Everette, and one Vietnamese, Vo Binh Dai. – with the cover beautifully Illustrating that these are two man inectricably linked throughout this conflict, not enemies as such, just the other side
– Billy doesn’t want to go to war, he tries to contract VD even T not to go whilst Dai volunteers form his village to die for his country – what follows throughout the book is a punishing interrogation of war: how it dissolves resolve and sanity
This story is slightly different in its pacing and tact what I’m used to from him. There are elements you’d expect and that you’d see in all the previous 4 mentioned titles, but the war aspect obviously draws it down different avenues. Despite it being an early work it’s mature and solid
The art too by Cameron Stewart is top notch, even though we weren’t there man it really feels like we are with this intensity, the line work unflinching and severe – The Other Side is an ugly-pretty book.
The Other Side is a human story that takes place in a hellish war-scape and despite not being a huge fan of war comics, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It’s painful and poignant, unafraid to ask big questions and score them with white-knuckle thrills
And that’s our list, I just wanna give a huge thank you to Tom for dropping this video on the channel, if you wanna check out more videos by him then I’ll leave a link to all his other channels in the comments section below.