Recently, I re-read the first issue of Jason Aaron, R.M. Guéra, and co.’s Scalped – and was surprised to realize just how exactly it adheres to the first issue structure that writer Kieron Gillen later laid out on his tumblr, in 2018:
In its opening 20 pages, Scalped deftly satisfies the criteria of Gillen’s First It. It introduces most all of the book’s main characters, establishes their motivations, and sets them spinning against each other. There is a lot of work accomplished in those 20 pages, but none of it feels like work. All of it feels like story, and a compelling story at that.
You will notice that Gillen (nearly) defines successfully executing the First It as covering “anything you reveal when hyping the book” and “showing you can competently execute The Pitch.” I read Scalped in collected editions, which means that before I bought it, I likely read the blurb on the back of Volume One. That blurb, essentially, is Scalped‘s Pitch.
Let’s see what the blurb has to say about what I’ll find inside Scalped Volume One:
By page 20 of issue one, Scalped has delivered nearly everything that its back cover blurb promised. That is pretty damn impressive. But it’s nothing compared to what’s coming in Scalped‘s Second It, which notably, is not covered in the blurb:
(Spoilers, by the way, if you want to go ahead and read Scalped now without me ruining the first big twist for you.)
Scalped‘s Second It is the reveal that Dash Bad Horse is not just a tough guy returned to a home he hates (which again, could be a compelling story on its own). No, Dash is also an FBI Special Agent. And he’s come to Prairie Rose to help the agency take down the man who’s now his boss, and who could have him killed at any moment.
That reveal sure as hell wasn’t included in Scalped‘s Pitch – which is, of course, the magic that gives Scalped‘s last two pages their power. Discovering that Dash is FBI is a huge surprise, as most great Second Its are. And it certainly “speaks to the actual truth of what the book [will be]” and “gives a sense of the book’s direction.”
The remainder of Scalped‘s run deals with the turmoil that Dash’s presence on “The Rez,” and the secret motivation behind it, inflicts on him and the people surrounding him. All of the remainder of Scalped follows from issue one’s many setups – but most of its greatest moments stem directly from pages 21 and 22.
Which, I think, clarifies exactly what the First It and Second It are, as well as how they meld together to create a successful first issue. The First It is a series’s groundwork, and the Second It is a series’s propulsion. The First It is the stuff that would keep you reading the series if it were a novel; the Second It is the thing that makes you want to go buy a second issue of the series immediately after reading the first.
So, that said and structure aside, does the first issue of Scalped succeed? In answer, I can tell you that a) back in ’08 or ’09, I returned to my local bookstore and bought Scalped Volume Two almost immediately after finishing volume one and b) I recently re-read all ten volumes of Scalped in the span of two weeks. Because I just couldn’t stop reading it, after finishing that first chapter.