I’ve never been to what’s widely referred to as simply “the South.” If Southern Bastards is any indication of life past the dotted line, I can assure you that my itinerary won’t be changing any time soon. The newest saga from acclaimed Jasons Aaron and Latour, Bastards is like a shot of bourbon that burns in the best way, an angry, aggressive debut that’s damn near perfect.
Set in the heart of Craw County, AL, Bastards tells the story of one Earl Tubbs, former college football star and local legend. Away since the death of his Sheriff father some forty years ago, Earl returns to the the barbecue soaked streets of Alabama to set some family affairs to rest. He returns to a town scared, one lorded over by a mysterious “Boss” who seems to have his name on everything from ribs to rednecks. It’s not long before Earl becomes unwittingly involved in a local shakedown, setting off a chain of events that’s almost certain to end poorly….
I’ll tell you one thing – Jason Aaron sure knows how to set the mood. The opening panel instantly shapes the tone of the book, promising a stark, no holds barred look at life in the South. The pacing is superb, as Aaron seems content to let the story tell itself, ably mixing forward plot progression with quiet moments of genuine sentiment. His Craw County is a character in itself, a dilapidated snapshot of days long gone. Of course, the real scene stealer is Earl. Grizzled and worn, Aaron brings a real lived-in quality to the character that’s etched within every line of his face. He’s a bit of a mystery to start, yet we’re able to glean that he’s a man of conviction, and ability. Though up there in years, Earl is still built like a tank, and his molasses-mouthed drawl hides what we assume to be a fairly significant history. What that history is remains to be seen, but when a “slow burn” is utilized this well it makes for some pretty riveting stuff.
Of course, none o’ them fancy words would mean squat without the incredible visual stylings of co-creator Jason Latour. His art is a lesson in restraint, his panels moody and affecting without being overly cluttered. Earl himself is a revelation; there’s a heaviness to the character, a world weariness that drapes over his massive shoulders like a shroud. What we don’t learn through the words Latour gives life through the art, a true artistic collaboration. It’s obvious that Aaron trusts Latour implicitly, as many of the panels are bubble free and driven by art alone; they also happen to be some of the best panels in the book. Also worth mentioning is the strong color work throughout (provided by Latour and Rico Renzi), the seedy hues and vibrant washes really selling the bleak world in which the characters inhabit. This book isn’t pretty, it’s nasty, and I for one couldn’t be happier.
Southern Bastards already has the look of a winner, showcasing two of comics’ premiere talents at the top of their game. The story is equal parts dangerous and enticing, and in Earl Tubbs we have a lead that we genuinely want to know more about. Comics don’t get much better than this, so grab a sweet tea, rack up some ribs, and dig in to some true southern-fried fare.