“Why You Should Read This” #2 - Southern Bastards
[CONTENT WARNING]: Viewer discretion advised.
Full disclosure: I was originally going to write this column about Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov, but while listening to a podcast interviewing Jason Latour, I got the urge to give this comic a try, and I just had to push Extremis back. Sorry, Warren. Maybe next week.
Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, two guys from The South.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up in Mexico. I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but we moved to Central Mexico when I was 2. I didn’t come to Texas until I was in the third grade, so English is actually my second language.
I’ve spent the last 16 years living in the valley. I played tennis in high school. I drink sweet tea like it’s water and I like my coffee black. I’d go to football games on Fridays. I went to church every Sunday till I didn’t. I could go for BBQ whenever. The best brisket I ever had was in San Angelo. I don’t wear cowboy boots but I feel most comfortable in blue jeans, and I ain’t opposed to some Lynyrd Skynyrd in the car.
McAllen isn’t really like The American South you see in the movies. In some ways, it kind of is, but in many ways, it’s just a growing metropolitan area. I like King of the Hill because it’s about Texans in a small-ish town closer to the idea of The South that people have, and yet it is still closer to McAllen than it is to Small Town, Mississippi.
And yet, we all know that, in some places, The South is still alive. Going up to San Antonio, people tell you not to linger too long in towns past Falfurrias till you get to San Antonio. I’ve gone to Orlando and Clearwater in Florida and folks there tell me about towns near Jacksonville, or the Georgia border. You hear of small towns where they still fly Confederate flags, that aren’t super friendly to strangers.
I spent some time telling you about me because I’m as much of a southerner as you can find down here, while also not being quite born and raised. I love the South, I grew up here. I love the food and I love the people, and yet I also see it as an outsider, and I see its flaws, and a part of me hates it.
Southern Bastards, published by Image Comics, is written by Jason Aaron (Thor, Wolverine and the X-Men) and drawn by Jason Latour (Spider-Gwen, Winter Soldier). Aaron is from Alabama and Latour is from Charlotte, North Carolina. The first volume of the series that I’ll talk about here, titled Here Was A Man, consists of issues #1 through #4. Earl Tubbs, a man from Craw County, Alabama, returning to Craw County to pick up his father’s old home, who sees how his small, football-obsessed home town changed over the last forty years.
Jason Aaron, whom I was a fan of since his first arc in Thor: God of Thunder, is excellent here. I’ve been somewhat critical as of late of his work, as I think he can lose a little steam over time, but when given a smaller, more intimate story like his early Thor or this book, he shines. His character work is excellent. He knows how to write a put-upon man, and he knows how to write a man who is hurt, and maybe a little broken inside. You can see the bones of a similar path here as he does in his pre-Foster Thor here.
The biggest credit here goes to the setting. Being set in Alabama, Craw County comes alive in both its writing and its art. The characters come alive, with Aaron’s dialogue feeling natural to the small, football obsessed town, and Latour’s art getting across the rugged, dusty feel of the town. Every scene feels organic, every character real.
Latour excels at adding details to let you read a character’s history in their face. You can see how downtrodden each character is, how rough their lives are. and you can see the difference from the bullied to the bullies from a characters shirt to how tattooed their arms are. The buildings and the landscapes look right out of a time capsule, stuck in a time before the now. It is descriptive art and design of a very high caliber.
This team knows exactly how to ramp up the tension and deliver incredible moments of character and action. Latour’s colors are the cherry on top, utilizing a muddied palette that contrasts with the reds and oranges of his flashbacks, and his layouts are, at times, masterful (no doubt with a spectacular script from Aaron). The rarely-used 12-panel grid makes appearances here, which work as a culmination of every single element, and it’s use in issue #1 legitimately made my heart run faster. Drama, action, and gorgeous art. It’s good comics.
Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have crafted a love/hate letter to every small town in the South, all of their charm and barbecues and football and tailgates, all of its dirt and dust and trucks and guns, and yes, all of its bigotry and bullies and hatred and assholes. It doesn’t pull its punches. It’s brazen and graphic, and almost mythical in its presentation, because in the end, nothing is perfect, not even our home towns, and sometimes we have to confront that ourselves.
Southern Bastards is available to order as either a trade paperback collecting issues #1-#4, a premiere hardcover collecting #1-#8, or if you want to try it, an Image Firsts reprint of issue #1 for a dollar. Subsequent issues are available as follow up TPBs collecting the total 20 issues, or a second premiere hardcover. Stop by Limited Editions Comics and Collectibles to orders yours today. You won’t want to miss this.