I don’t know how to start this last review of Southern Bastards. It’s been 8 phenomenal issues, one after the other, and at the end of this arc, Aaron and Latour have left me feeling betrayed and excited in the best possible way. Last issue, Euless Boss got supremely dicked over by life, as appears to be his station for the first twenty years or so of his existence. This issue begins one year later, after a humiliating year as a ball boy for the Rebs, as Euless seeks out his daddy for help. They say you don’t always get what you want, but Euless Boss gets what he thinks he needs from his daddy before Aaron and Latour let him finally get a win. The story jumps forward in time to check in with the sorry state of his coaching staff in the present day, and there’s a tease as to the person we’ve all been waiting for to show up in the next arc, “Homecoming,” to come see about her daddy, Earl.
This book is, in a lot of ways, the big brother to Aaron’s other recent creator-owned miniseries, Men of Wrath. They’re both deeply set in the south, they both feature a lot of father/son//father/daughter dynamics, and they both expose families who are built upon foundations of violence. Where Men of Wrath was a good story, it didn’t give you much chance to develop empathy with the characters (I mean, kind of spoiler alert, I guess, but the main guy in Men of Wrath drowns a baby on like, the third page); Southern Bastards forces you to empathize with their characters and then punches you in the gut for being weak. In essence, it’s a series of perfectly-told, almost Faustian stories about these men who want to be better, and the only way they can figure out how is to be worse.
Over the last three issues, a lot of us have been feeling kind of sorry for Euless Boss. He’s catching it from all sides with no reprieve, and it’s been long enough, book-wise, since he put Earl Tubb in the ground, that he seems pathetic. And then this issue comes along. This fucking issue comes along and punishes you for forgetting that bad guys are bad guys. There’s a fatalism to the morality in this book, a sort of sense that the awful things that will happen will not discriminate between people who are sad sacks and people who are not. It makes me fearful for Earl’s daughter, while I still hope she puts a bullet in Coach Boss.
Of course, this book would not work if it were poorly written or poorly drawn. Each issue has been expertly done on both sides. Where Aaron inspires pathos, Latour shows you the gritty edge of these Southern men in every panel, reminding you in the harshness of his lines and their angularity that this is not a nice place. There’s no singing birds and kindly magical Uncle Remus down here; there’s only bleakness and the will of the strong to put down the weak. The best comparison I can think of for Latour is that he strikes me as a more refined Michael Avon Oeming, especially in his color palette. Where Oeming works very flat and simple, Latour goes for a deceptively simple, angular line, and a much more nuanced color palette, even though he’s working in this overly-red tone of Craw County.
This book has been a delight every month. For a dude from Cincinnati, whose only real experience with the South has been one trip to Mississippi in high school and having to go to Simon Kenton, KY to take the SATs, this book hit me like I’m sure Deliverance hit people in the 70s. The South is mean, and majestic, and ugly, and full of capabilities for wonderful things, if you know where to look. It just doesn’t always live up to those promises. Thanks for the ride, from one bastard to another; I can’t wait to keep reading.