By Zeb Larson
The basic plot of this particular issue isn’t a particularly difficult one to anticipate. Under what set of circumstances could Materhead find himself in the hands of Roberta Tubb and expect anything other than a miserable outcome? Running through those specifics isn’t really worth your time as a reader. And yet, for a book where a reasonably alert reader could predict every main beat that comes your way, this is one of the book’s strongest issues. It succeeds at the emotional and thematic level by tying together the theme of home and family that have been present throughout the book.
Southern Bastards is a book that has always been about the difficulty in escaping yourself and who you are. In some issues, it’s about the fact that we never get away from the first place we called home, even if we spent most of our lives trying to burn it down. Here, it’s more personal, and it’s at its most effective in the relationship between Earl and Roberta, told through flashbacks. Considering how much Roberta’s arrival in Craw has been anticipated and built-up, we’d seen relatively little of the relationship that she shared with her father. Something overly nostalgic and sentimental wouldn’t have been appropriate for this book, and what we get is certainly appropriate. It makes it clear that while Earl was never a violent man towards his family, he could never escape his “Craw County bullshit” either.
Roberta was never terribly fond of that side of her father, the side that simply can’t let an issue go and instead has to go after it with the fury of a charging bull, but she can’t get away from it either. So too was Bert Tubb, whose sense of right and wrong was so sharp that he’d bust up a person if he felt they deserved it. None of them can ever seem to escape who they area: the best they can hope for is some awareness of it, and a bit of regret after the fact. In this issue, she’s definitely her father’s daughter, and she’s crossing lines that even he might have hesitated to go over (then again, we never saw that much of him when he was in Vietnam). It’s fitting that Roberta does her business at the Rubicon Motel (even if it’s perhaps a little easy), because with what she does, there’s not going to be any going back. But walking back isn’t something that the Tubbs can do.
And yet, for all the satisfaction I feel watching Roberta dispense a badly-needed ass-wupping, I can’t help but feel a sense of regret. This is the same road her father walked down, and it didn’t end well for him. Southern Bastards is not Walking Tall, because the rot that exists in Craw County isn’t just because some bad guy moved into town and nobody’s gotten rid of him yet. There’s something deeper in the culture of this place that produces bad men, and there’s a strikingly thin line between the bad men and the Tubbs who give out nickel beatings to people who deserve them. I’m curious to see exactly how that tension is developed, especially given all of the Rubicon imagery we’re treated to.
Southern Bastards #18
Writer: Jason Latour
Artists: Chris Brunner, Jason Latour
Publisher: Image Comics