(Image Comics, 2014)
Writer – Jason Aaron
Art and Color – Jason Latour
Letters – Jared K. Fletcher
Color Assist. – Rico Renzi
I remember going to the theater to see Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson in Walking Tall. I didn’t know much about it, only the star and basic premise, which was enough. Sometimes its good to be able to turn off your brain and just enjoy a little righteous ass kicking. I distinctly remember wishing that the movie lasted for about ten or twenty more minutes. Just a little more smashing of bad guys, a few more swings with the taped four by four. But it was not to be, and because of that, I will always remember and enjoy re-watching that film.
Southern Bastards, from writer Jason Aaron (Scalped, Wolverine) and artist Jason Latour (B.P.R.D., Wolverine & the X-Men) takes every bit of the South and infuses it into this book. All of the stereotypes are laid bare, from the love of football and ribs to the brutal violence that lurks behind closed doors and in the shadows of the night, broken only by napkins and the bouncing arcs of yellow headlights. They are both southerners. Both seem to have a great handle on what and where they come from, and love it for what it is, like any good hometowner. It’s a southern story by southern creators.
The story is pretty simple. The prodigal son returns after forty years to clear out his childhood home. His parents are both dead. His uncle recently committed to a nursing home, and Earl Tubb is only in town for a few days. Coach Boss seems to have taken over the town with a band of rugged former football players. It is Clint Eastwood in Gran Turino meets The Rock in Walking Tall. It is violent. It is a morality tale. I feel like I can see where this is going (which I’m sure isn’t true…you can never really see the road ahead all that clearly), but I don’t care, because that’s where I want it to go.
Jason Latour puts the dirty part of the South out on Front Street on the first page, but through his work gradually and cunningly shows the grit of southerners. Through Earl’s clenched jaw. In three consecutive panels where you see Earl wrestle with is decision to stay incognito, out of the fight, in his determination to cut down a tree and the focus on certain other symbols as that is happening, it all infuses the character with those attributes that we most want to see in him. We see the righteousness, fortitude, and willingness to do what is right in the face of bodily harm. These are all conveyed without dialogue, only with Latour’s work, and he does it brilliantly.
In Southern Bastards I found a book that brought back that “Walking Tall” feeling that I experienced at the theater. I watched the pages flip quickly by and felt that familiar anxiousness that it was almost over. Just like with any great book, you never want to see the end. But unlike the film, I can look forward to an equally great second issue, because I (think) I see where this train named Earl Tubb is headed, straight and narrow, and the tracks beset by wild beasts with human faces. There is a large stick in Earl’s future, and I can’t wait to see him swing.
Brad Gischia is a writer and artist living in the frozen Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is married and has three kids and a dog, who all put up with his incessant prattling about comic books.