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The last few issues of Southern Bastards, the series created by writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour, have been pretty diverse and interesting. After they shockingly killed protagonist Earl Tubb at the end of the first arc, the next few issues dealt with his adversary Coach Euless Boss. Now, Aaron and Latour have moved on to tertiary characters, and yet they’re still offering a rich picture of the series. After the last issue focused on disturbed woodsman Brother Boone, Southern Bastards #12 brings us into the world of two minor characters – teen Tad Ledbetter and Materhead, one of Coach Boss’ tough guys.
Tad hasn’t been seen in Southern Bastards in quite some time. Early in the series, he was Tubb’s only friend in Craw County, and Coach Boss used that connection to hurt Tubb by having his goon squad savagely beat the young teen Tad. In Southern Bastards #12, we see him in the hospital, slowly coming out of a coma and having hallucinations. Somehow, he is able to figure out that Tubb is dead and swears vengeance on Coach Boss. On the flip side, Materhead is one of the goons who beat Tad and he has been weighed heavily with a guilty conscious since that time. In Southern Bastards #12, Materhead is starting to doubt his choices and even goes to visit a comatose Tad in the hospital, praying that he recovers.
I wouldn’t have expected an issue focused on Tad and Materhead to be this engrossing. It took the recap in the front of Southern Bastards #12 for me to even remember Tad. As for Materhead, he’s mostly been a background character. So it’s to the credit of Aaron and guest artist Chris Brunner that they are able to make Southern Bastards #12 this engaging. In particular, it is a deft storytelling move to make one of Coach Boss’s crew sympathetic. Yet Materhead comes across that way. Coach Boss was always an idol to him, and Materhead has always been a “team player.” However, now that team playing means beating a kid nearly to death, Materhead is starting to question what he’s doing. This confusion is intriguing and Materhead’s emerging conscious makes him a bit likeable.
There is also an unusual and possibly even mystical subplot going on in Southern Bastards #12 involving a wild dog. On occasion, this dog has appeared in previous issues of Southern Bastards, but mostly just on one panel at a time. It’s a clever move because at the time, the dog’s appearance just seem to be scene dressing, like a detail about Craw County to make readers get a sense of place. In other words, Craw County is a place with wild, mangy dogs running around. In retrospect, however, you can see that Aaron and Latour have been slowly introducing this dog (without giving any context). Now that there is some relevance to the dog, it will be interesting to see where the series takes it.
Part of what makes Southern Bastards #12 stand out, too, is that it is by far the weirdest issue of the series yet. Part of this is due to Tad’s coma hallucinations, which are depicted by Brunner in a really trippy, far-out manner of a Looney Tunes cartoon on acid. His drawing style isn’t exactly like Latour’s, but Brunner manages to make the art on Southern Bastards #12 (in the non-hallucination panels) look enough like previous issues that it’s not jarring. I don’t know how long Brunner will be doing art on Southern Bastards, but he seems like a good choice – someone who has a style similar to Latour but who adds something different.
Another thing that the series has been doing lately is introducing various unrelated parties who are only linked by the fact that they have a score to settle with Coach Boss. This is a nice maneuver, as it adds tension and creates all sorts of possibilities to upcoming issues. Southern Bastards #12 adds two more parties gunning for Boss, though they are at first sight an unimposing pair: an injured teen and an old, wild dog. It’s pretty cool that this issue is somehow able to make those two seem like they could somehow become a dangerous duo.