By Jason Aaron & Jason Latour
How does the saying go? Once your good name is lost, there is nothing that can bring it back? Coach Euless Boss has long been a man to be reckoned with in Craw County, an imposing figure unwilling to shy away from violence. Indeed, he has been more than willing to bloody his hands in a very vicious and public manner, as readers discovered at the conclusion of Southern Bastards’ initial arc. Such brutal demonstrations, though, did little to soil his public image. Coach Boss was a man to be feared and respected both in and outside the county. As the head of Craw County’s Runnin’ Rebs high school football team, he was a living legend. His name stood for something noble. The problem with such glory is that it can be intoxicating and quite blinding. Under its influence, judgements have been known to cloud. From there it only takes a single poor decision to irreparably tarnish your stature, as Jason Aaron and Jason Latour compelling illustrate in the latest installment of Southern Bastards.
Events have been slipping out of Coach Boss’ control ever since the suicide of his mentor/loyal assistant Ol’ Big. Big’s death shook Boss beyond the mere loss of a confidant but also the fact that the act was a reaction to what Boss’ life represented. Simply put, Ol’ Big could no longer live with enabling Boss’ behavior. In the aftermath, Coach Boss has grown uneasy, including where it matters the most: on the playing field. The season has been going badly; the Rebs are losing more than their fans are accustomed. Boss overhears disenchanted whispers musing about removing him from his position. Desperate times have arrived. Unfortunately, Boss’ own response reeks of desperation.
This is backdrop to Bastards #16’s opening sequence in which Boss and two henchmen drive into neighboring Locust Fork County for a brief meeting with Theron Goode, the star of Locust’s own football team. Locust is next on the Reb’s schedule and Boss is aiming to make sure their breakout receiver is not part of the starting lineup. While his two associates hold Theron’s parents at gunpoint, Boss does his best strongman impersonation. However, already the shine appears faded. In past confrontations, artist Jason Latour has imbued Boss with an imposing figure of steel nerves. He possessed a glare which could silence a room. Here, though, Latour gives him an entirely different manner. Boss now appears to be a man trying to strike a pose, placing more faith in the appearance of his weapon than his ability to wield it. When Theron accuses Boss of betraying the game, Boss offers up some unconvincing ramblings about how he could have masked his involvement. Theron is having none of it, however. Until this moment, he had idolized Coach Euless Boss. “In my mind [always] I was playing for you, Coach.” Despite this fact, Theron has no trouble summoning the courage to defy his hero. The Coach Boss standing in his room is not the one who inspired Theron, and thus, is unworthy of his respect.
This shift in perception is not limited to Theron. When the Runnin’ Rebs march onto Locust’s field, they are greeted by virulent jeers from the opposing fans. There is no respect accorded the visiting team, a realization reflected in Boss’ craggy visage. His incident with Theron spun out of control, leaving the teenager and his parents badly wounded; days later, Theron’s parents remain in intensive care. Theron, for his part, hobbles onto the field, determined to use every ounce of his strength to deal the Rebs another defeat. In this way, he reminds the reader of a younger Euless Boss. The adolescent Boss was an outcast, barely able to hold his place on the Rebs team. In this way, he was different from Theron, who is a natural athlete. What they share, though, is an iron determination. Just as Euless was once willing to undertake the worst of beatings in order to earn his place on the squad, Theron is ready to experience intense pain in order to defy Coach Boss’ attempt to rig the game in his favor. Theron still believes in the integrity of the sport, and by extension, his own as well. “This here . . . This is how a man wins, Coach. On the damn field.” In contrast, an increasingly sour Coach Boss grasps desperately at his own survival.
Such subtle character work by writer Jason Aaron has long been essential to Southern Bastards’ success. Latour for his part, continues to illustrate the series with a sketchy style which matches the hard-edge tone of Aaron’s scripts. Latour’s action sequences are as brusque and vicious as the Locust’s howling monkey mascot. There are times though, when Latour’s coloring grows lusher, lending a melancholy air to the proceedings. Moments such as the issue’s opening image of a car ambling along a rural road remind readers that there is beauty in this country, even if it is often overlooked for grimier elements.
Aaron and Latour are crafting an increasingly incisive portrait of Craw County, wherein even key inanimate objects acquire their own personalities. The weapon Coach Boss brandishes at Theron has a long, violent history. On the ride back to Craw County, it rests on Boss’ knees in a menacing manner, suggesting that it brings protection and ruination in equal measures. Is it more cursed that hallowed? In the end, it snatched away Earl Tubbs’ life instead of sparing it. Will its relation with Coach Boss conclude in a similar fashion? These are questions which will need to wait for another day. For now, it is enough to observe that the latest chapter of Southern Bastards is This Week’s Finest.