31st Oct2014

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Southern Bastards Vol.1′

by Dan Clark

southern-bastards-cover

If you follow anything I do, you know my articles and reviews tend to be movie centric. Well in the spirit of expanding horizons I am entering new territory for myself and reviewing comics. So for those comic book aficionados out there feel free to take my reviews with a grain of salt as I have not fully immersed myself in the world of comics in quite some time.

Fittingly the comic that helped bring me back to the current comic book landscape is Southern Bastards. Writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour have created a book full of emotional gravitas and brutal violence. They took the story of the reluctant hero and added in some modern day sensibilities. One that slowly builds to a boiling point, and when that boiling point is reached it will be hard to not feel devastated.

For anyone who has watched the 1970’s cult classic Walking Tall or its less than stellar remake the story of Southern Bastards  may at first feel familiar. The idea of a man returning to his home town to find it lulled with crime and filth. Sicken with what he has seen he decides to clean up the town using not much more than a trusty stick.

Earl Tubbs’s father was that kind of man, but Earl never wanted that life. He did not follow in his father’s footsteps to become sheriff, and instead of picking up his infamous stick he had his father was buried with it. As soon as he could Earl left for Vietnam to escape his hometown. Now in present day he finds himself back in the one place he tried so desperately to avoid.

As a character Earl Tubbs has the grimace of Clint Eastwood and the bravado of John Wayne, however he has just the right amount of self-doubt to make him into a more complex character. Whether it be destiny or just dumb luck he is forced into the one role he wanted no part in.

At the risk of sounding cliché, the location of Craw County, Alabama becomes a character within itself. One that is full of depraved people who look like a murders row of criminals in lowlifes. There are some good people still left, but they are constantly held back by the mountain of corruption that runs rampant.  That corruption is led by who else the high school football coach Euless Boss.  When Boss is not game-playing against opposing offenses he is order mob hits and drug deals. It is a premise that should feel outlandish but never does. The universe is established so well it never loses any believability.

Southern Bastards purposely sets a familiar stage, one where you begin writing the script yourself by the second issue. You can easily get so far ahead of the story you can miss the small breadcrumbs they are leaving.  Sure we begin to see Earl Tubbs wreak some havoc on some oversized goons, and it feels good watching him do it too. Within that viciousness is a story about family and community.  That fact becomes apparent in the closing of the fourth issue. Where the script you were probably writing yourself gets flipped. It is one of those moments that plays against your expectations so well you will find yourself going back to it numerous times to verify what happened actually happened.

Words should also be spoken on Jason Latour’s fantastic art. So much personality is provided just through the character designs.  He draws Earl Tubbs as such as stoic figure you immediately gain a respect for him.  Some of the more questionable town folk look like rejects from Cops with their tattooed covered bodies and disfigured faces. When the violence begins that is when the art really comes alive. The action is kinetic as the blood flies and punches are thrown. You feel it, you become a part of it, and you’ll enjoy every minute of it. It is never just about the violence though. There is a lot more there, and with the final twist at the end of volume one clearly there is an unlimited amount of room to grow.  All this comes together to make Southern Bastards a book that should not be missed.

****½  4.5/5

Southern Bastards Vol.1 is available now from Image Comics.

 

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