Reviewed by Derek Flynn
Southern Bastards is a new series from Image Comics.
Ok. That’s a lie.
Southern Bastards is not actually a “new” series. I’m late coming to this book. Like, a year late. And yes, I heard all the great word of mouth and read the great reviews. Even our own Stephen Hardman gave a glowing review of issue 10 on this very mag.
Ok. So “new” is pushing it. But, I just got into it so it’s new to my world. And you’re in my world now, boy!
(Is it already obvious from my stereotypical Southernisms that I’m way too into this book?)
Southern Bastards is written and drawn respectively by the dual Jasons: Aaron and Latour. If you’re familiar with Jason Aaron’s writing, you’ll know it can be brilliant, brutal, and often preoccupied with the Deep South. Southern Bastards is no different.
Except it is different. It’s very different. It plays out like a TV series. And I mean that in a very good way. It’s extremely visual (thanks, in no small part, to the amazing artwork by Jason Latour, which I will come back to.)
Southern Bastards is (partly) the story of Earl Tubb who returns to his hometown of Craw County, Alabama to deal with the house of his uncle who is in a care home. Earl is the son of the town’s legendary Sheriff and he carries that legacy around his neck like a tombstone. When he realises that the town has changed dramatically since his father’s death – and is now in the hands of a sociopath named Euless Boss – Earl decides to take matters into his own hands.
So far, so “been there, read that”. But while it might seem like you’ve read this story before…trust me, you haven’t. Things take a very strange turn about four issues in and suddenly, you find yourself feeling sympathy with the character you were supposed to hate. After that, Aaron and Latour take us on an insane ride that is violent, visceral and shocking, but at the same time is also startlingly original, and above all entertaining.
To reveal any more about the plot would spoil the wonderful twists and turns in this story. So I won’t. But there are a few things that I can say. Firstly, Craw County is not a nice place to live. Its population is divided between people who are bastards, and spineless people who take shit from bastards. It is a town of grey areas. There are no black hats and white hats. The “good guys” are just less bad than the “bad guys”, and they too are broken and haunted by demons. As for the “bad guys”, there are times when – despite yourself – you almost feel sympathy for them.
To pull off that kind of writing takes a deft hand and Jason Aaron has that in spades. A Southerner himself, he also has a keen ear for dialect that never strays into sloppy, generic Southernisms. (I especially love the way everyone says “You’re gone …” for “You’re gonna …”)
Latour’s art is angular and scratchy, and it suits the story perfectly. When the characters explode (as they often do), Latour unleashes his genius, making them a mess of jagged lines and fury. His use of colour is also striking, as are his covers.
All in all, Southern Bastards gets a very enthusiastic thumbs up from me. But be warned. This book is not for the faint of heart. It’s bleak, it’s violent, and the humour is pitch black.
Maybe that’s why I love it.
Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician with a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. Derek’s short story “The Healer” was recently featured inSurge, an anthology of the best new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press. He is also a regular contributor to http://www.writing.ie where he writes his “Songbook” column. And because he obviously has a lot of time on his hands, he is currently working on his latest solo album.
Like most writers, he is fuelled solely by caffeine and self-doubt.