Published on October 2nd, 2014 | by JCDoyle0
Southern Bastards Vol 1 – Comic Review
This week sees the release of the first collection of Jason Aarons hard hitting Southern Bastards. It’s a nasty tale of bad people in a scared community too afraid of those in charge to stand up for themselves.
It all starts when Earl Tubb returns to his home in Craw County, Alabama, with the sole intention of sorting out his long dead father’s estate but he couldn’t have imagined the trouble he’d get into. By chance he meets an old friend who is already beyond saving as a decent human being but Dusty Tutwiler doesn’t deserve the brutal beating he receives. Tubb steps in the first time Tutwiler gets threatened but this doesn’t save the deadbeat and ultimately just entwines Tubb in the local affairs. He has no desire to stay in his childhood home but once he gets involved with Coach Boss, the big man in town, his destiny seems set in stone.
His father was sheriff of the town back in the day and got a reputation as a hard but fair man. His signature form of justice was a beating with a large stick, an almost mythical weapon that was buried with the sheriff when he died. When Tubb is on the brink of leaving town, a lightning strike decimates a large tree that has grown on Tubb’s fathers grave and left in the charred stump, like Excalibur poking from the stone, is the mighty Stick. Tubb sees this as a sign and heads back into town to make someone pay.
The following confrontations are brutal and messy and an unfortunate consequence is the cruel attack upon a young boy who befriends Tubb. In a fit of rage, Tubb belittles the current sheriff, a useless figurehead who acts in Coach Boss’ best interests, and takes on half the thugs in the town. A final confrontation with the Coach himself leads to a shocking conclusion to the first story arc but there is a final twist in the tale.
Jason Aaron weaves a tightly knit story around the violence incorporating Earl Tubb’s present hatred for his home town and flashbacks to his experiences in the Vietnam War, the place he used as an escape from the hell hole he is forced to return to. The flashback sequences involving his father and then the war are brief but they lay the groundwork for Tubb’s current dilemma and the twist at the end of the first arc. Aaron has created some very strong characters and made them empathic or truly detestable. For example, the naivety and hero worship that the young Ledbetter boy shows towards Tubb is convincing and understandable because Tubb’s is painted in such a good light in contrast to most of the characters featured in the comic. At one point Tubb states:
“This county ain’t all bastards. Can’t be. There’s good folks here too.”
But they aren’t featured heavily in this story; Aaron is not interested in them yet. First he wants to show you just how detestable the people are so that you can get behind whoever decides to clear up the town, just like in a classic western movie: the hero is a bit of a scumbag but compared to everyone else the sun shines out of his arse.
One of the most striking things is the Sports theme running through this first arc. Coach Boss is obsessed with American Football and he is the coach for the local team. Nothing can disrupt the game or his team and this appears to be the basis for his strangle hold on the town. Everyone seems to allow this state of affairs to continue because they want their local team to keep winning. But the references don’t stop there; Tubb’s fathers weapon of choice was a stick that he wielded like a baseball bat. The metaphor of control via sport is followed through in the late Sheriff’s standing in the town: while he ruled by the bat, he was in charge and the mantle then passed to the Coach who now rules by controlling the team. Earl doesn’t make any headway into the town, he isn’t able to make an impact on the people’s lives, until he picks up his father’s stick and the battle between American Sports is renewed.
To match the brutal violence and the ugly nature of the characters, the artwork is particularly grotesque and simplified to a certain degree. There is a prevailing red and orange tinge to most of the colour work which creatures an unnerving feeling to each and every scene. The character designs are mostly twisted and gnarly figures that have been shaped by the violence they dispense or the fear that fills their lives. The faces of the major characters act like visual representations of their personalities in much the same way that Chester Gould created his characters appearances to reflect the type of people they were: Coach Boss even shares a similar appearance to Prune Face from the Dick Tracy strips.
Southern Bastards is, in the end, a surprising comic. On the surface it appears to be a one trick pony; hicks fighting each other over a scrap of power but as the narrative unfolds there is a very well crafted plot underneath populated with interesting characters. Even the villains of the piece are constructed with care so that they are more than ‘thug number 1’. There are touching moments, moments of surprise and, of course, the moments of brutality that should make you wince. And this first story arc is really only the set up for the main story yet to come. There are more Bastards coming to town and I bet they are going to be mighty pissed off when they find out what happened to Earl Tubb, a man who simply wanted to leave town.
Title: Southern Bastards Volume 1: Here was a Man
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason Latour