Southern Bastards by Jasons Aaron and Latour, truly doesn’t give a fuck if you like it. This attitude could be off-putting, but instead helps it rise above the tropes in which it risks entangling itself. The basic story of Southern Bastards is equal parts As I Lay Dying and Walking Tall. There’s a haunting family legacy on the Old Farm, and that legacy is of a sheriff who literally cleaned up the town with a huge fucking stick but who was, perhaps predictably, a giant asshole to his family. The story picks up forty years after his death with his son (now an old man himself) coming home to pack up everything in the Old Homestead. Luckily, there’s a whole mafia-type crime scene in town which is still murky by the end of the first issue, but which will surely give the Old Bastard plenty of heads to butt up against.
I’m not super familiar with Aaron’s writing on its own. I read the first arc of Scalped but never finished it, and I read his work on the Battle of the Atom crossover, which I’m doing him a favor and not holding against him. He’s clearly lived in this world for a long time before committing it to paper, and he makes sure to itemize his street cred at the end of the issue. It’s a little over the top, but that works in favor of the Southern Gothic aesthetic. Who finishes reading a Faulkner story and goes, “Everything about this story was totally reasonable”? I’m excited to see where he takes these characters and the metaphors he’s laid the groundwork for, and some of which he’s already demolishing.
Jason Latour deserves exceptional praise for this book. The art manages to work so hard, and fire on all cylinders, and it somehow comes off as a breeze or a lark. These feel like places that Latour has been, and he’s just drawing them from memory, and it makes the whole book feel lived-in. For a land as alien as this one is to me, the fact that I can practically smell the barbecue joint is mighty impressive. I’m not sure I’m sold on his work coloring his own art, but it works for the aesthetic of the book and doesn’t feel out of place. Call it personal preference.
This book is also a well-packaged whole. A couple weeks ago in my review for Skinned, I mentioned the packaging of a comic from cover to endpapers to back cover is an artistic undertaking in itself, and Southern Bastards hits that nail right on the head. I don’t feel like I’m diverting myself from my real life to read a story, I feel like I’m diving into a wholly realized world contained in the 35ish pages of this book. Whether or not you want to dip your toe in the world is your call.
I’ll be straight with you and admit that I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time. I follow Latour and Aaron on Tumblr, and they’ve been doing a bang-up job of giving me just enough to want to read the book, and not enough to know exactly what ride I’d be in for. Having just gotten off said ride, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I don’t know what ride to take next.
This amusement park ride metaphor is falling apart.
I liked this issue; I liked it very much. I don’t know what the next issue holds for the characters in terms of arc or action, and that both excites me and makes me a little bit leery. But maybe that’s the point? Maybe the South, this sort of weirdly untouched wilderness in the US where Tapout branded shirts have penetrated the culture, but the fact that the Confederate flag is racist has not. Maybe this is a land of uncertainty, where anything can happen, and old chains can be broken.
Regardless, this is a rich world, full of characters who are disgusting, and haunted, and thoroughly compelling. Pick this book up.
Writer: Jason Aaron Artist: Jason Latour Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 4/30/14