The first arc of Jason Aaron’s Alabama epic concludes with the full-speed-ahead force of a freight train in this week’s Southern Bastards #4. The issue is a dark, balmy action tale rife with firecracker dialogue, brutal violence, and the stifling, claustrophobic energy of a small town gone bad wrapped around each panel. The breathtaking issue is as much Greek tragedy as it is deep-fried Southern saga.

The preceding issues introduced Earl Tubb, a big man who has returned home to the backwater of Craw County. Aside from some good barbecue, the homecoming hasn’t gone well. At all. Power, corruption, and lies hang over the quaintness of country living in Craw. The cult of football serves as center anchor in the county’s universe, and the cast of townsfolk, sheriff department officers, coaches, and miscreants all circle around its gravity.

Tubb soldiers through the story with the steady pace of a force of nature. He’s one part Walking Tall’s Buford Pusser, one part Incredible Hulk as he marches to right wrongs that run deep in the fabric of Craw County. Tubb clutches a makeshift club as his only weapon, wielding the knotted branch like a tall-tale legend, a Southern Paul Bunyan out for justice.

Standing against Tubb is Coach Boss, who leads the county’s football team like a general commanding an army or a baron ruling a fiefdom. Simply put, in Craw County Coach Boss is the man. His authority and cold distain is painted by Aaron in understated brushstrokes of characterization. What comes through is absolutely terrifying, what’s left unsaid even more so.

As the two forces clash together, Aaron’s storytelling has rarely been better. The Alabama native delves deep into a culture and territory he obviously knows well. The characters live and breathe. There’s no Chris Claremont style phonetics, but the dialogue lands with a particular rhythm that lets the accents organically fill the reader’s head. What makes Southern Bastards truly grabbing is Aaron’s meshing of Southern small-town revenge with something deeper, something older. It’s the kind of mysterious air that lingers in the South itself, something almost akin to ancient Greek fables in its tragic overtones. 

Artist Jason Latour is also bringing an A+ game to the pages of Southern Bastards, providing pencil, ink and color art for the book. Latour does with his figures what Aaron does with his words– he brings the denizens of Craw to life in all their manic, twisted glory. Tone saturates from start to finish, through Latour’s postures, framing, and small pitch-perfect details like Boss’ crisply bent hat and football coach polo or dopey rednecks sporting No Fear shirts (sleeveless, naturally). 

The centerpiece of issue four is a brilliant two-page beat told via 12-panel grid. The pulsing images bring the the maelstrom of Earl Tubb’s lifelong journey away and back again to a frenzied pitch. It’s a comic art hurricane sure to raise heartbeats. 

Southern Bastards #4 is a slam-bang end to an astonishingly powerful debut arc. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour deliver a story that hits on all cylinders, with character and drama of the highest order bleeding from every page. Craw County’s a nasty place, but then again so’s the world. Looking it head-on takes some intestinal fortitude, but the passage through this American heart of darkness is well worth the trip. 

Rating 5

About Erik Radvon

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