Image Comics' Southern Bastards has a lot to offer people who enjoy a good crime/revenge comic like I do. There's palpable tension, a sense of some serious wrongs that need to be righted, and people fighting each other with bats (one of them the remnant of a tree that grew out of a grave and was struck by lightning) in the middle of the street.
But, you might say, there are lots of crime comics out there. Heck, Jason Aaron, the writer of Southern Bastards, has penned a good many himself. Scalped and his Punisher run, to name a couple. Southern Bastards is something really special, though, because of the way Aaron and artist Jason Latour embrace its setting so deeply and wholeheartedly.
Specifically, the book takes place in Craw County, Alabama, but it also serves as a deep dive into the culture of the South as a whole. There are aspects of the story that could only occur in a the setting of a small, Southern town. The creators, both Southerners themselves, do an amazing job of presenting a story that could be compelling to anyone but hit exactly the right notes for people who have lived in or near places like Craw County.
Here are some key examples of what I mean so you can enrich your experience if you pick up the first trade paperback volume, which came out last week.
The all-powerful high school football coach may seem downright silly to people who haven't lived in towns where pigskin isn't a religion (second only to actual religion), but Southern Bastards' wonderfully named Coach Boss (also the owner of a barbecue restaurant) doesn't really strain credulity that hard.
The South is a place where for decades sheriffs were the most powerful people in the counties they governed. Now, one could argue that football coaches wield that kind of power. In Southern Bastards, Coach Boss uses that power to some really, really uncivilized ends.
From the subtle change of "U-Haul" to "Y'all Haul" to the signage on buildings to the creation from whole cloth of a mascot for sweet tea named Sugah Jug, Southern Bastards is loaded with jokes that readers who know these parts of the country will notice if the look closely. These details aren't at all necessary to the plot, but they add a richness to the reading experience that can't be denied. Latour has clearly put a lot of personality (and probably a lot of jokes to make himself laugh) into these pages.
It isn't that everyone in Southern Bastards dresses the same -- anything but -- but they dress in a way that does an amazing job of showing that the people of Craw County are of a certain, lower class without making them flat-out stereotypes.
These are just the kinds of clothes people wear: lots of brand and team logos, work clothes, Affliction shirts, items modified to push back the oppressive heat (and really, it's the humidity). I've known people like who dress like this. There's a brutal honesty to the clothing the characters in this book wear.
Many of the major events of Southern Bastards' first arc take place in the aforementioned Boss' BBQ.
That's not entirely realistic. Contrary to what some may believe, Southern towns, even the small ones, have municipal buildings and courthouses where disputes are settled in a civil manner. But plenty of towns in the South definitely have local restaurants -- often barbecue establishments, sometimes diners in the traditional "meat and three" model -- that serve as gathering places for locals to mingle with the powerful, and occasionally for the powerful to do their business.
The business doesn't usually involve homemade bats, but Southern Bastards is about a particularly difficult circumstance.
So far, there's only been one -- in issue three, Aaron shared his mom's recipe for fried apple pies and they look awesome -- but I'm really, really hoping for more.
And listen, a lot of books by Southerners that I have read have, intentionally or not, become cookbooks at some point in their pages. That's just tradition.