By Alex Mansfield
It's important to take a rest after a big meal. Let everything settle, work its way through the digestive tract before digging into that waiting slice of pie. And after that huge heap of raw, ensanguined ribs that Jason Aaron and Jason Latour served up in the opening four-issue arc of Southern Bastards, I'd say a second to catch our collective breath is certainly in order. It would be a welcome reprieve, if it weren't so damn grim. That's what's on the fifth issue's menu, however, and it is beyond satisfying.
Aaron take his time in this issue following the events of the fourth issue and lets the dust cloud linger long enough to keep the reader uneasy. We're teased with a few new characters, the mayor and his wife, redheaded twin bankers and a wild man of the wood, all of whom will undoubtedly be doled out in good time, but this issue focuses much of its formidable efforts on Coach Euless Boss.
In Craw County, there's right and wrong, sure, and yet the line between good and bad seems much more blurred. In a setting so primal, where do the lines of morality get drawn? Other than the football field, that is. Aaron provides snippets of the formative moments that shaped Boss and in doing so adds dimension to his unrelenting drive to be the last man standing. He's not a sympathetic character, far from it, but he's more real, more grounded, than your standard Mafioso thug. In his mind, he's earned everything he has and no one, not Thurman Green with his freak athleticism, not the senior squad of his starting high school football team, and sure as hell not Earl Tubb, is going to take it from him. It's a brutal portrayal of a man who stopped backing down a long time ago and Aaron continues to deliver the authentic dialogue, compelling characters and slow-cooked pacing that made the first arc so great.
Whereas the initial Tubb-focused issues employed a dirtied, sepia-washed array of reds, yellows and browns that conveyed a sense of an inescapable, unyielding heat that complimented the furor of impassioned acts of violence, Latour lets this issue cool down considerably. Save for the heavily rouged flashback scenes, a good of this issue is awash in appropriately somber grays. It is a visual anomaly, both rich in detail and stark in feeling. Obviously, Latour's pencils and inks remain wonderfully on point, giving every cock-eyed glance, every arrogant sneer and every humble building's façade a perfect weathered appearance. His depiction of Boss is a triumph in itself; who else could make a hard-assed old man in short-shorts look so damn menacing?
The diminutive world of Craw County has a wealth of stories left to mine and Aaron and Latour clearly intend to harvest them all and salt the earth when they're done. Tonally, Southern Bastards remains a bleak, but fiery beast unlike anything else. The foundation is continuing to be laid, in between stick beatings, stray dog attacks and glasses of the sweetest teas this side of the Mason-Dixon line. It has yet to reach the point, at its still nascent state of being, of becoming too dark or austere to continue. Instead, there's still far too much left unsaid and too much left unexplored. But folks, something tells me it's going to be a while before that sweet pie is ready to be served.
Southern Bastards is published by Image Comics.
Alex Mansfield is a simple being. Born and raised in New York City, he has an appropriate fear of nature and an unyielding suspicion of small talk. All of his understanding of pop-culture and basic human interaction comes from comic books and The Simpsons because what else is there, really? Currently a writer and Assistant Editor for All-Comic.com, you can also follow him on twitter @focusedtotality