I think that Image Comics has in all honesty become the new Vertigo Comics. They're putting out some truly boundary-pushing, unique comics that you might not expect would work—yet somehow they do—and Southern Bastards is among one of those titles.
Jason Aaron is ever the interesting writer, and while I found his Scalped to be lacking in some ways, its strong points were still well done, mainly when it came to the more personal, character-focused issues. I was eventually won over by his Punisher MAX run, which I found came close to what Garth Ennis had done with the character in his original take on the same series, and found it kept true to the tone that Ennis had set. I also found his Thor run to be magnificent, combining a metal aesthetic with machismo to produce a rather gripping story about faith, hatred, and regaining confidence in one's self. Esad Ribic's artwork didn't hurt anything either; he is simply one of the best comic artists working today.
Initially, I was rather skeptical of the idea of Southern Bastards. I remember one of the guys at my local comic shop talking to me about it, and I told him that I thought it sounded silly. I suppose that it was rather snobbish of me to say at the time, considering that comics can get quite silly at times, but this was one of those times where I felt I had to cross a line. But as I read it, I was converted to the Cult of Aaron. As much as I hate 'Hollywood pitches', I've heard this series be called 'If The Coen Brothers made Walking Tall' and I'd say that the comparison is quite apt. Aaron's balance between absurdist humor and intense drama and suspense is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers style, though I find that Aaron doesn't go quite as much into the absurd as the Coens do, preferring a much lighter touch on its more satirical elements.
Aaron has a knack of repeating himself in terms of ideas, and in some ways it can fall a bit flat. His Dr. Strange run was basically a rehash of the stuff that he was already doing with Thor, except it had an anti-magic zealot instead of a god-hating alien. But with Southern Bastards, he does it very, very well. While taking a similar set up as Scalped, he ditches the more chaotic pacing of Scalped and has a much more specific, focused pace on the narrative. It is quite fascinating to see how Aaron grew from his time writing Scalped to see him pace himself so immaculately and solve all of the issues that I've had when reading a lot of comics as of late, as well as the issues that I had when reading Scalped. Aaron somehow manages to make this silly little story about an angry old man taking on an evil football coach into something that's actually gripping, while also not being afraid to lean into the more sillier aspects of the idea. It showcases the power of a confident writer at the top of his game.
Latour's art is also unique, bringing a bouncy, energetic style while also keeping it grounded and something that could be more credible, bringing a very unusual style to the series that is very much its own thing, much like the series itself. I do have issues with it, like for example I don't know why the main character looks like the dad from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, but those are minor nitpicks compared to the massive amounts of praise that I lobby at this series, and especially with a first volume as strong as this one.
The strongest aspect of this arc is Earl Tubb's journey into embracing his destiny as the man who will bring fire and brimstone down to Craw County and continue his father's footsteps as Craw County's Avenger. It's very subtle, and carries a lot of nuance and emotion that surprised me as the volume moved along. The pace was brisk, yet concise. Aaron never wastes any time, yet allows the quieter moments to define Earl's character. It is top tier storytelling from a writer at the top of his game. Other strong moments include when Earl beats the Coach's thugs with his father's walking stick, the football game scene, considering my love for the gridiron, when the lightning strikes the tree and Earl gets his father's old walking stick, and the final confrontation between Earl and Coach Boss.
As much as Scalped reminded me of Frank Miller at his weakest, Southern Bastards reminded me of Frank Miller at his best, keeping things simple while adding in layers of complexity to make the story more spicy. Aaron manages to exceed Miller in how he manages to tamper his own interests in machismo and badassery enough to where it doesn't get in the way of telling the story that he wants to tell, and he manages to tell it extraordinarily well.
Yet again, it's a series with a strong beginning and core concept and conflict, and I can only hope that it can get better from here.
Jason Aaron's Southern Bastards, Volume 1: Here Was a Man can be found at your Local Comic Shop, Amazon, or Comixology.
Britton Summers spent much of his childhood collecting action figures and toys, and through that hobby discovered a love for comic books that's continued to this day. His love of storytelling led him to want to become a writer, so he is currently in college pursuing a degree in Journalism and Broadcasting. Britton lives in Oklahoma with his parents, dog Alexis, and cat Jerry.