Review - Southern Bastards #1

"Three days is all I figure it'll take."

Returning to one's old stomping grounds is typically an experience that's trying more than enjoyable. For whatever reason, there's something in us that resents returning home. The south is a geographical area that's especially good at conveying that sense of dread and Image Comics' Southern Bastards #1 offers such a setting. The book is written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Jason Latour.

Craw County, Alabama, is home of Boss BBQ, the state champion Runnin' Rebs football team and a lot of ignorance. Earl Tubb is an angry man returning to tie up some loose ends and forever put the town behind him. The thing is, the town has swirled downwards, with a man named Coach calling the shots. Earl is reconciling the past of the legend of his father, Bertrand Tubb, with the present of those currently calling Craw County home.

There's been a recent fascination with the dirtiness of the south, with properties like True Blood, True Detective and Justified showing a world that many would prefer to blissfully ignore (save for True Blood, which has that whole vampire thing). The point is, the south as a setting is very powerful and a character unto itself, something Aaron really taps into extraordinarily well in Southern Bastards #1. Earl is a quiet beast, entirely content with merely passing through the town he formerly called home. Places like Craw County have a way of remaining fixed at one point in time and this is something that Aaron makes pervasive throughout the book. Something in Earl resonates in the reader, in that we can all relate to the hometown malaise that seemingly falls over places where we grew up. Every return visit feels like the area is stuck in one particular point in time for some reason.

What Aaron offers in terms of story, Latour matches with art. There's an ugly grittiness to the illustrations; for instance, characters are depicted as ravaged by the same town they call home. Craw County looks like an extremely small town, with the stereotypical locales constituting the majority of the town frozen in time. A lot of the characters' facial expressions are hidden behind shadows, which is ok because most relay some sense of trepidation on the part of the cast. Latour relies on blacks, reds and yellows that underscore the ugliness found in Craw County. The staggered panel layouts also remind the reader that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Southern Bastards #1 is a very visceral book. Both Aaron and Latour grew up in the south, so in a way there's a certain catharsis in the book. The thing is, it offers something that anyone who's ever spent some time in one place can relate to. While the south gets the most attention in terms of being a place that's a little strange, just about any place in the world can have a similar effect. Aaron offers up a very strong lead character in Earl, who is saddened by the fact that the town he left hasn't changed, even if he's not very outward facing about it. Latour's art is very harsh and fits the story perfectly, convincing the reader that Craw County is a pretty awful place. Southern Bastards #1 is a book that's done very well and offers a great combination of script and art that's a strong read.

Southern Bastards #1 is in stores April 30 with interiors below.