Usually I’d start my review with a joke, but Southern Bastards ain’t no joke. Reckon it’s ’bout as serious as a hole in the damn head. What ya think boys, should I tell ’em why it’s good?
Southern Bastards Volume 1: Here Was a Man (Image Comics)
I walked into Southern Bastards blind as a defensive end with mud in his eyes (look, it’s the first, and only football reference I’ll ever make!) which was good. With no idea what the plot was and only aware the story took place in the south, I didn’t let any prior influence assuage my judgement other than my own. Things set in the south tend to have a certain flavor to them. Perhaps it’s the heat, and all the Bible-thumping, but there’s been an established tradition of the one person who rolls in to deal out justice. And Southern Bastards really is no different when it comes down to that. It’s the same old story, perhaps with some new aesthetic touches here and there, but the tale is as old as pigskin and flatbeds. But hot damn if this beast isn’t three shades of black.
Jason Aaron crafts a story that simultaneously hits your lizard brain and the part of your brain capable of feeling for your fellow man. Using both plot elements glaringly obvious, and wisely kept vague, Bastards sticks you right in the thick of it in Craw County, Alabama. A place where a corrupt football coach runs the town, and the sheriff does nothing. An old man has finally come back to Craw County after many years to clean out his father’s old house. Earl Tubb just wants to arrange to have his now dead father’s house sold, and he figures it’ll only take three days. As for the town he comes back to, he tries to let it be, but events occur which force him to grab a stick and whoop some ass. There’s the surface morality play in Southern Bastards which is obvious, but a bit deeper and there are questions of duty to country, honoring thy father, duty to the place you grew up.
Of course, there’s also the drawings amidst the drawling. Jason Latour provides the art, and woo doggy. Seriously, there’s a dog that keeps shitting everywhere.
Lest I am mistaken, ol’ Latour does the coloring too. This is a book full of a lot of red; you feel sweaty just looking at the damn thing. There’s wonderful use of shadow. Latour’s facial expressions are all grit, a lot of squinting—I kept waiting for Clint Eastwood to walk by. And here’s where I must admit I struggle with these reviews. I love the art, but I’m not a damn art major, so just believe me when I say it’s bad ass, has great action sequences, and lookie at the picture below!
There’s some of the finest rapid fire panel montages I’ve ever seen found in these pages. Cutting between chopping down a tree, and someone being beaten damn near to death, and a character remembering serving in Vietnam, and abandoning his father and home town, for instance.
Is It Good?
It’s real good, man. There’s not an inch of fat to be found in this comic. It’s lean, mean, and about what happens when small towns are left to themselves. It’s about corruption, and how sometimes the only way to deal with the crooked is to revert to violence. Thoroughly southern fried, stylish, and powerful, Southern Bastards will kick your ass. And you’ll still crawl back for more. I know I will.