Southern Bastards #4 wraps up the series’ first arc, going down as heavy and satisfying as a full slab of ribs with side of mac and cheese.
Previously, in Southern Bastards: Earl Tubb has returned to rural Craw County, Alabama, after forty years. Son of the big stick-wielding, hard-charging sheriff, Tubb left Craw County years ago to fight in Vietnam. He’s returned to find a county ridden with crime and violence, ruled over by Coach Boss (y’see, he’s both the high school football coach and the town’s gang boss; he also owns the local vendor of fine barbecues). As much as he wants to leave again, Tubb is ensnared in a heated feud with Coach Boss’s thugs.
JUST THE BEGINNING
In Southern Bastards, Aaron and Latour have put together a story that’s a country-fried, Southern Gothic amalgamation of Walking Tall, High Noon, and Friday Night Lights. There is a deliberate cinematic quality to the four issue arc, which is all the more surprising due to a last page swerve which shows all of this is essentially a prologue. It’s a daring move, and one that only works if the preceding 3 issues and 24 pages provide a complete, entertaining narrative. And they do.
Southern Bastards #4 finds Earl Tubb backed into a corner that he can’t leave even if he wanted. His only option left is to beat down the forces of Coach Boss using the same stick his daddy used as sheriff to lay down the law so many years ago, all by his lonesome. It’s a familiar set-up, but one which Aaron has utilized well, drawing the characters in broad strokes that make the characters’ motivations easy to grasp, but with enough unique flavor to garner emotional investment. The bulk of issue #4 is Earl’s fight with the town’s criminal element, in broad daylight on the town’s main street. This issue also provides satisfying answers, as we learn what makes Coach Boss tick and get a little more insight on the townsfolk.
The bulk of this issue is action-oriented, which works to Jason Latour’s artistic strengths. His characters have all the grit of a Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood, and the energy and power of his scenes are just as brutal as anything you’d see in those stars’ movies. Latour’s color scheme is especially effective. Most of the colors are muted, providing a dingy, swampy, sweaty atmosphere. The only thing that pops is the red. And oh, how there is red. The red that colors Tubb’s memories of violence on the football field and Vietnam, which Latour contrasts in the modern day with oranges and yellows. This is used to best effect in a wordless, twelve panel per page, spread that juxtaposes all the violent imagery from past and present. The snarling dog motif throughout serves as a summation of the series to date. The one place Latour’s art falters is when he strays from his carefully rendered art, and uses what looks like digital effects, most commonly on the character’s tattoos. They look like decals on the characters arms and necks, pasted over the skin rather than being a part of it. It’s a distracting look. The lettering provided by Jared K. Fletcher deserves a mention, as it gives good emphasis and rhythm to the dialogue.
BOTTOM LINE: ORIGINAL RECIPE, EXTRA CRISPY
Southern Bastards is a stellar entry in the revenge/crime genre. The final page swerve promises to complicate the narrative even further, taking the series in a direction that is rife with potential to explore some interesting issues rooted in the setting. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have made it clear that this book is something of a return to their roots, as both were born and raised in the South. There’s a rich metaphor embedded in the comic pages, as Earl Tubb’s stand may resonant with everyone who both loves and hates where they come from, balancing the idea of leaving a bad situation against trying to make a place worth saving better for everyone. Southern Bastards #4 is a delicious slice of sweaty country noir that’s just getting started. Check it out.