Southern Bastards #4 by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour
This week Southern Bastards reaches not only the conclusion of its first arc but also a defining moment in its larger narrative. Three issues ago, Earl Tubb returned to his childhood home of Craw County, Alabama. He had departed the area as a young enlistee in the army and never looked back. Indeed, it has been forty years since he last set foot in the county. He figures that he can ride into town for a day or two, pack up his deceased father’s old house and skip back out of town as quickly as he entered. Trouble is, well, there’s a lot of trouble.
It would seem that there is something rotten in Craw County. The son of a former police chief, Earl is unable to turn his back on injustice, especially when one of the victims wanders onto the high school football field, mid-game and in a severely bloodied state. Soon Earl is poking around the edges of the town’s more dubious elements, and just as fast finds his ears full of warnings. For better or for worse, Earl ignores any attempt to sway him from his quest for justice.
Issue four is centered on the showdown between Earl and the minions of a man named Coach Boss. It is full of the visceral action sequences that readers expect from Aaron and LaTour. In addition, though, there is an intriguing exchange between Earl and Coach when the two men finally meet. Earl speaks about how he remembers what Coach was like when they were teenagers. Coach was the outcast, constantly picked on by the seniors. As captain of the football team, Earl admits that he could have easily put a stop to the bullying, except “I guess I just didn’t give a shit.” This triggers a violent reaction from Coach, which in turn sparks their final violent struggle.
The shadow of the past has been an important theme of Southern Bastards from the beginning. Earl’s father was a local hero, who was not afraid to use extreme force. Earl has spent all of his adult years running away from that legacy. Now as he faces down a mob of criminals, while the current sheriff stands aside, Earl is closer to his father than ever. At the same time, Aaron raises questions about the long term effects of bullying. Was Coach Boss driven to his current vicious behavior in order to prove himself as superior to his former tormentors? After all, it is not uncommon for those picked upon to grow into bullies themselves, just as it is not unusual for men like Earl to wake up one day and realize that they are much closer to their father than they ever guessed (or feared).
Aaron ends this issue with two twists, neither of which I saw coming. They are fitting final notes for this first arc, which leaves the status quo of the series completely upended. I am not sure what to expect when the second arc begins, expect that I shall be there to spend further time amidst Southern Bastards.