Monday, 8 September 2014

Southern Bastards, Volume 1: Here Was a Man Review (Jason Aaron, Jason Latour)

Jason Aaron returns for his first creator owned work since Scalped with Southern Bastards (choosing Image as publisher over Vertigo this time around) alongside fellow Southerner, artist Jason Latour. 

Earl Tubb is coming back to Craw County, Alabama for the first time in 40 years. He’s going to clear his hated, long-dead father’s house of stuff before getting the hell back out. That is until he realises what a festering swamp of injustice his childhood hometown has become. 

Drugs, crime and corruption rule under the unwavering glare of Coach Boss, the owner of the local BBQ joint and coach of the county’s football team, the Runnin’ Rebs. And when Earl sees that a murder at the hands of Coach Boss’ goons has happened without the culprits being punished, he puts his plans to leave on hold while he metes out justice - southern style! 

The main theme of Scalped (and if you haven’t read it, seriously check it out - it’s comics at their finest!) was the tense relationship between fathers and sons; Aaron returns to that theme with Southern Bastards. Though the father is dead and buried many decades gone and the son is in his late 50s/early 60s, his dad’s legacy is still affecting Earl as he realises he isn’t that much different from him after all, and (corny to say, I know) though he left the south, the south never left him. 

If you’ve read Aaron’s Punisher MAX books (another must-read if you haven’t already partook), you’ll know he does the one-man vigilante story perfectly, and he brings that similar intensity to SB. His Earl Tubb is more or less Frank Castle - they’re both Vietnam vets and both can handle themselves just fine in a fight. They have a singular purpose, once they set their minds to it, and fear is no obstacle. The difference is that Earl has a family still alive and is much more human in general. 

There’s also another Marvel element in this book as Earl gets a mighty stick for a weapon from his father’s grave tree after a bolt of lightning blasted it in half. That scene felt like it belonged to a mythical story or perhaps a Thor comic, of the kind Aaron’s written for the last couple years. SB feels like the convergence of a lot of his recent comics work in one place. 

Both Jasons have written about their love/hate relationship with the south with Aaron firmly of the mind that though there are things he loves about it, he will never go back there again (he lives in Kansas) while Latour talks about how he’ll never leave the south. The impression I got from reading Southern Bastards is actually very one-sided: it’s a hellhole! 

Right from the first page the tone is set: a mangy dog is taking a massive dump in front of several signs advertising churches on the side of the road. All throughout the story, Latour colours the book in muted, dark reds as if Craw County were actually in hell, while the townsfolk go about their business, turning a blind eye to evil. From the tattooed scumbags who hospitalise an innocent child, to the complicit attitude that allows the local football coach to act like a mafia boss of the town and get away with murder just because he wins them matches, SB is all condemnation of what the South stands for. 

Also, I’m no Southerner, but if I had to list the things that make up the South, I’d say: ribs, religion, football, and the Confederacy. So maybe there’s some truth to those stereotypes because all of those assumptions are present and correct in SB! 

Southern Bastards is a very grim comic full of violence and darkness, but it’s presented with such skill from both Aaron and Latour that it’s enormously compelling to read. Jason Aaron is back with another vicious tale from America’s heartland - and it’s a welcome return.

Southern Bastards Volume 1: Here Was a Man

No comments:

Post a Comment