To a life-long Yankee like me, born and raised in Michigan, the deep South often seems like a different planet. It’s a place with a geography, culture, and history both beautiful and brutal, where the only thing more important than church on Sunday morning is the football game on Friday. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, both born and raised below the Mason-Dixon line, perfectly capture these strange contradictions in their new crime series from Image, Southern Bastards. As Aaron explains in the first issue, it’s a book about “a place you can love and hate and miss and fear all at the same time,” and it’s clear that the creator are fascinated with the complexities and contradictions of the place and the people that populate it.

Of course, as the title implies, Aaron and Latour are most interested in the bastards –in Latour’s words, “the assholes you might think Southerners are. The ones we’re afraid we might really be.” The questions seems to be if these bastards are the ones making the South such a strange, scary place, or does the place make them bastards? Chances are, based on the first issue, it’s a little of both.

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The first issue follows Earl Tubb as he returns home to Craw County, Alabama where he was a high school football and his father served as sheriff. It’s clear that Tubb wants to be anywhere else but back home, and he’s only back in order to clean out his father’s old home so he can finally put the place behind him. When he arrives, he discovers a large tree growing from his father’s grave, a handy metaphor for Tubb’s connection to Craw County and his father’s influence. As Tubb goes through the old house, memories of his father hint at a dark, violent man who probably made some powerful enemies as sheriff, enemies probably looking to settle some old scores. Like the tree growing from his father’s grave, Tubb’s root extend deep into Craw County.

While Tubb tries to put the past behind him, he inevitably gets wrapped up in gritty reality of modern Craw County, which seems to be controlled by a character called Coach Boss. Although he doesn’t appear on the page, Boss’s presence is felt throughout the book: his name adorns a local rib shack, and a number of unseemly characters mention him with both fear and reverence in their voices. Dusty Tutwiler, a two-bit crook who remembers Earl’s past glories on the football field, hints at a criminal ring operating in the town and warns Tubb that things in Craw County have much worse since he left. It’s clear that Tubb, and the readers, will soon, for better or worse, be meeting Coach Boss (I’m betting on worse).

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Aaron’s script lays out a number of hints about Tubb’s past, his father, and Coach Boss’s control of Craw County. The lack of concrete details about what exactly is going on in town gives the story a tense foreboding: much like the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple or No Country for Old Men, there is a lingering threat of violence that permeates the story. Latour’s art helps create that sense of imminent danger by showing glimpses –always shaded red– of a past confrontation between Tubb’s father and the town’s more dangerous citizens. When thereat of violence becomes real, Latour doesn’t hold back and gives the book a gritty, dangerous feel. That said, it never feels gratuitous: Aaron and Latour just refuse to ignore the grim nature of the subject matter.

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The issue’s title, “Here Was A Man”, is taken from Sheriff Tubb’s tombstone, and although he might be dead, he’s the strongest presence in the story. The few other character’s introduced besides the Tubbs feel a little flat here, but the issue suggests that there are many dark secrets in Craw County to be explored. Like Aaron’s previous crime series Scalped, the history of the place is as important to the story as the actual characters are: it’s what drives them and can’t be escaped. Overall, Aaron and Latour have created a strong groundwork for the series with this compelling and satisfying first issue. Despite the threat of violence, I’m looking forward to revisiting Craw County and getting to better know these bastards.

Southern Bastards can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop, digitally though Image Comics (DRM-Free), or on Comixology.

Overall Score
90 %

With this mysterious and violent first issue, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour craft a dark, twisted love letter to the South and the bastards that make it interesting.

About The Author

Paul R Jaissle is a philosopher, collage artist, and musician. In his free time, he enjoys reading comics (especially ones with Batman in them), listening to power pop, and watching wrestling.

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