Aaron And Latour’s ‘Southern Bastards’ Feels Like Going Home Again [Review]
It was beginning to feel like Jason Aaron and Jason Latour were holding back. Not holding back their talents, obviously, but not showing us just how savage they could be. In the year and a half since the conclusion of Scalped, Aaron has written a slew of great Marvel books. After the last issue of the razor-sharp Loose Ends, Latour penned an arc of Winter Soldier and is now taking on Wolverine and the X-Men. Since the ends of their respective creator-owned series, everything that each creator has done has been top-notch superhero comics. But they were still superhero comics.
As great as their work in superheroes may be, Aaron and Latour have done their best work far outside that realm. In their best books, bullets kill you dead, horrible people do horrible things, and there always seems to be a redneck around the corner. After hanging around the superhero world for a while, the pair team up for a trip down south with the new redneck crime series Southern Bastards. And baby, it feels like going home again.
In Southern Bastards, a grown man returns to his childhood home to put the past behind him for good. Forty years after he left, Earl Tubb comes back to Craw County, Alabama, where BBQ, religion, and college football reign supreme. With his uncle going into a nursing home, Tubb just wants to close down the family home and leave as quickly as possible. But shortly after he arrives, old memories come back to haunt him, and he is soon drawn into the dark underbelly of violence living in his old home.
At first glance, Southern Bastards may look like any other redneck exploitation, especially structurally. Recalling the original Walking Tall and dozens of other B-movies and TV shows, Southern Bastards uses all the staples of the genre without shame. The Southern hero returns to a small town to discover things aren’t what they seem, and takes matters into his own hands; the villain is a “Boss,” who controls businesses, townspeople, and the sheriff, a clear reference to Dukes of Hazzard; there’s even a confrontation in a restaurant punctuated with a badass punchline, a beat written into every action film with a Southern accent.
But this book is much deeper than that, much darker and sadder than your standard redneck crime story. Earl Tubb is only thought of as a hero because he played football. His dead father Bertrand Tubb was the real hero, a legendary sheriff who cleaned up Craw County with only the help of a club made from a tree branch, a reference to the story of Buford Pusser, immortalized as Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall.
But Earl’s feelings about his father are complex, and hiding somewhere in the folds of his face – it’s worth noting that Latour draws Tubb so wizened and squinty you only see his eyes once – are the deep scars of trauma. Bertrand was buried with the branch he carried, and it grew into a hulking black tree that comes up from his grave and looms over his grown son. While Earl will certainly come into conflict with Coach Boss and kick a truckload of redneck ass, there’s an emotional core to this story already elevating it above standard genre fare.
Like Preacher, there’s an edge of the grotesque – the comic begins with a splash page of a dog taking a dump, after all, a scene which Latour somehow imbues with menace and darkness – and promises of increasingly violent acts to come. But unlike Preacher and many other comics set in the American South, there’s an authenticity to Southern Bastards that gives it a sharper edge. Unlike Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour are true southern boys. Aaron grew up in Alabama, Latour in North Carolina, and in numerous interviews leading up to the book’s release, both have made note of their mixed feelings on the South.
Knowing that bit of information (and if you’re reading this, you probably knew it too) seems to give more weight to Southern Bastards, an extra layer that makes the pain more present, and characters, no matter how grotesque, more real. When a neck-tattooed redneck takes a piss in the middle of the street in the middle of town, you get that sense that they’ve seen somebody do that. Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t, but the notion of authenticity is as good as the real deal, and their portrayal of Southerners comes off more like Flannery O’Connor than Ennis/Dillon.
Aaron and Latour, who have collaborated and handed-off projects before, have really hit on something with Southern Bastards, and are both operating at their best in this first issue. While all of Aaron’s superhero work has been emotionally resonant and tinged with his love of mayhem, this is the first comic since Scalped that has shown just how deep and dark and nihilistic he can get. Latour, who has deservedly gotten a lot of heat for his writing lately, reminds us that he’s also an incredibly talented artist, with a style that looks more like it came out of Paris than North Carolina. In Southern Bastards, his cartooning reaches new heights, and he conveys the complexities of Earl’s emotions with just a few pen-strokes.
Southern Bastards #1 is an engrossing first issue, an unnerving introduction to what looks to be a dark, violent, and sad. In other words, exactly what you want Aaron and Latour to be doing. A proper Southern Gothic hiding in the skin of a trash genre, Southern Bastards is a must-read.